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A personal view
The Life Lobby


It was a phrase that brought me up short - as if I had read it as a casual, throwaway remark in a routine newspaper report, a line that said ‘all civilised people agree that the lives of children under five are expendable’, or ‘only fanatics believe that the family has any importance in British life’.

That is to say, you find something you believe is absolutely essential, of absolutely central importance - and someone says airily, with an air of immense authority, that your central concern is everybody else’s side-issue.

The phrase came in a report on forestry, but it was not the piece itself but the isolated phrase that got to me. It seems that commercial forestry in the UK would be much more successful were it not for ‘single interest groups such as the wildlife lobby’.

It seems to me that it is a tiny bit rough, not to say short-sighted, to relegate an issue like the future of the planet to the margins. But that is what is happening before our eyes. Those of us with an interest in wildlife are increasingly seen as something like football supporters: people absolutely passionate about something that doesn’t really matter, and which doesn’t mean a thing to half the population.

We have an interest in ‘the environment’. What the hell is that? It is something that gets in the way of progress, that’s what. It is something that stops the rest of us making money. I don’t know how they have managed this, but it is a brilliant stroke.

The short-term-interest types - politicians and business people - have managed to turn the most crucial concern of life into an irritating distraction. They behave as if some half- baked kid had got into a business meeting just when things were getting serious.

The word ‘environment’ was tremendously sexy and right-on when Greenpeace stole headlines by charging whaling ships on a Lilo, but those days are gone. We are left with hard work in conferences and discussions on a million subjects all over the world.

The fact that we have a place there is thanks to the boom in environmental concern of the 1970s. It is a hard-won position, and it needs to be consolidated, not marginalised. After all, it represents a massive constituency, even if it is one that gets ignored and patronised. The RSPB has a million members, and that doesn’t mean that there are only

a million people in this country sympathetic to environmental concerns. It means that there are a million prepared to pay good money to add their voice to the throng. There are many more than a million people out there concerned about the environment.

We need to break out of the place on the margins, to which the short-termists try to condemn us. We are not a special interest group. There are special interest groups among environmentalists: those that lobby on behalf of dragonflies or plant galls, and good on ‘em, too. In one sense, those that concern themselves with the huge term ‘wildlife’ can be called a ‘special interest group’.

But whether you are lobbying for natterjack toads or white- tailed eagles, pine martens or the Kerry slug, we are all part of a very much larger thing. We are concerned with the future of the planet: with the future quality of life: with the future possibility of life.

Life on this planet works as a web of millions of strands, each strand a different species. Every strand you break weakens the structure: humans are part of that structure and therefore dependent on everything else.

Environment groups find themselves like parents at an increasingly rowdy children’s party. There is jelly all over the ceiling, and we are saying in a voice of assumed calm: ‘children, if we don’t all behave ourselves all the toys will be smashed and there will be tears before bed-time, no one will get any good night stories, and there will be no parties ever again. And you will have only yourselves to blame!’

And the business people and the politicians shout yah-boo-sucks, who cares about boring old grown-ups? We don’t care what mama don’t allow, gonna trash our environment any how. And soon the sitting room is trashed and the good times are over, the sausages on sticks are trampled into the carpet and someone has poured Coke over all the electronic toys. And we will be in the position of being able to say ‘I told you so’ but there will be scant compensation in that, not when the birds are all dead and the planet is uninhabitable for humans as well. For that is the single issue we represent.

We are not peripheral figures. We are central. We are not a single issue group. We are The Life Lobby: and all those that breathe are members. Or if not, they bloody should be - for their own sakes, and for the sakes of their grandchildren.

 Reproduced from
RSPB Birds magazine Spring 2001
with permission
Simon Barnes