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 elses 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 doesnt really matter, and which doesnt 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,
thats what. It is something that stops the rest of us making
money. I dont 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
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
doesnt 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
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 childrens party. There is jelly all over the ceiling,
and we are saying in a voice of assumed calm: children,
if we dont 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 dont care what
mama dont 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.