In the last few years, come sometime in mid-winter, I’ve started feeling the itch. The urge to get back to Alaska. It’s about that time now, and the urge is stronger than ever. So, I was intrigued, of course, to come across an article in Orion Magazine (my favorite magazine of all time) on rewilding. It’s a conversation with George Monbiot, a Brit and the author of a book on how we can work to reintroduce and cultivate wild spaces. The book has already lit a fire with many readers, and it is set to be released in a few months in the U.S.

Environmentalists or no, we are all intrigued by the incredible biodiversity of the past, and the large and magnificent predators that used to roam the earth. But, you may be surprised to know that this was widespread. For example, there were once elephants, rhinos, lions, and other large and impressive species in Europe. Says Monbiot, “Of course, in the Americas it was even more extraordinary. You had Argentavis magnificens, a bird which seems to have had a twenty-six-foot wingspan. You had the saber-tooth salmon, a Pacific salmon nine feet long which had these fangs which stuck out over its lower jaw. You had the giant beaver, Castoroides ohioensis, which was the size of a black bear. It was eight feet from nose to tail. Giant armadillos the size of small cars. The ground sloths which pulled down trees. Loads of different kinds of elephants, including mammoths and gomphotheres and mastodons. Giant lions. American cheetahs. It goes on and on. But almost all of it has been exterminated everywhere now, so it’s much harder to bring back.”

During the conversation, Monbiot mentions that the notion of rewilding is inspiring because we could all have a Serengeti at our doorstep. “But,” asks the interviewer, “the Serengeti has lions. Will people’s fear of apex predators be a hindrance to rewilding?”

Monbiot’s response is quite hilarious to me: “There’s no doubt that some of the animals I’m talking about as candidates for rewilding are dangerous, though in most cases that danger has been greatly exaggerated. In North America, for example, there are sixty thousand wolves, and the average number of people killed every year by wolves is zero. The average number of people killed by vending machines is ten. We need a way of weighing the risks that dangerous wild animals might pose against the delight and wonder they would bring to our lives….”
Nice one.
And how can this notion of rewilding inspire us to protect the natural world, inspire our work as environmentalists working to create a less destructive society? Does it replace traditional activism?

“I wouldn’t argue for a moment that we should stop campaigning against all the bad stuff that’s happening. We have to maintain those campaigns. But they become very difficult to maintain if all we are trying to do is create a slightly less bad world than would otherwise have developed. That is basically the aim of modern environmentalism—trying to make things a bit less bad. That’s not, in itself, an inspiring aim.”

Right on.

“We need something which can motivate us, and I believe that nothing is so effective as a vision of a far better world than we have at the moment. Rewilding offers that vision. But rewilding also offers new human freedoms and new human pleasures which perhaps we can exchange for some of those older ones that we’re trying to restrict, because a lot of the time we’re saying to people, “Please consume less. Please travel less. Please reduce your impacts on the planet.” If we can say, “We’re trying to create a better world here, better than the one we already have, a world which is richer in wildlife, but also richer for human life, richer in experience and possibility,” then that, I think, is a far more inspiring message.”
The article is online. Lucky you. It’s a fascinating article that I highly recommend.
http://www.orionmagazine.org/index.php/articles/article/7966

2 thoughts on “Rewilding

  1. I can’t help but wonder if rewilding is part of that infactual fallacy that Europeans have that led to Manifest Destiny and conquering the ‘wild.’ I would go so far as to say, the ‘wild’ is much rarer than we think, because indigenous people shape their landscapes as any other animal does. It might not be seen to the overly-beleagured ‘civilized’ eye, but it is there. This country was not founded on wilderness. This land was someone’s domestic home. So, then, what is the point of ‘rewilding?’

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  2. Agreed. And that’s why I’m not a naturalistic romantic. In a very important way, we human beings are animals, primates, who inhabit the world just like any other animal, right? And I think this fallacy of two different worlds (the wild natural world and the civilized human world) allowed the idiots of the past to name one as good (civilization) and the other as bad (wilderness). So, naturally, the brave white European men had to conquer the wild natural world (and the “savages” who appreciated it) in the name of civilization (and God and country).

    Still…….I am impressed and inspired by the notion of rewilding. The reason is basically because we need to find some way to correct the attack and assault on wilderness. Yes, the categories of “wild” and “civilization” are permeable, but at the same time, our ecosystems are collapsing, our resources are being depleted, species are going extinct (by almost 200 a day, I hear), and we are polluting the hell out of our habitats. The problem is greed and overconsumption brought to you by the technology of industrialization. Rewilding can be a tool to restore some balance and sanity, I think, to the situation. We desperately need to de-industrialize and drastically reduce consumption, right? Well, incorporating more wilderness seems like a good way (along with others) to do that: setting aside wild spaces (and not destroying them for raw materials) and incorporating more wilderness into our civilization.

    And I like rewilding too, because wilderness makes me happy. It seems good for the soul to be more integrated with the wild wild world.

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