Environmentalism is most powerful when it’s for the environment’s sake

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Bury Free Press, 22nd May 2015

As we head into the summer months, we start leaving our homes and going into the great outdoors. But if George Monbiot is right, speaking at the Theatre Royal on Monday night, soon we might not have anywhere to head to. Kicking off Bury’s Festival of Ideas, he gave a talk on what it means to be an environmentalist.

So what is the best way to convince people that matter that they should care about the environment? Monbiot certainly wasn’t the sort of hippy fruit-loop you might expect from a leftist environmentalist – he talked with fervour and zoological knowledge about the rational arguments for the preservation of our world. Interestingly, he appealed to the interests of the audience themselves – that we could go to new, larger and wilder reserves to experience the diversity of British wildlife. I wonder if it’s not more genuine and persuasive to argue for the environment for its own sake. Isn’t there an innate beauty about the preservation of the natural order of the world? Must we, as the humans who have desecrated our habitats, derive any sort of pleasure from protecting other species? And is it really likely that your average property developer cares that much about taking his kids to see some rabbits and robins on a reserve?

It is incredibly important that we take environmental issues more seriously. But we needn’t do it so the middle classes can drive their German luxury cars to conservation areas on Sundays to enjoy respite from the city. We should do it because it’s a moral obligation of ours to not systematically destroy other beautiful, sentient animals. Self-interested arguments will not convince a human race which has already ripped up the world for its own gain. Monbiot’s cause is right – that’s all he needs to convince me.

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