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?”
“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.”