St. George the Monbiot comes as the bringer of grim tidings:
You want to know who we are? Really? You think you do, but you will regret it. This article, if you have any love for the world, will inject you with a venom – a soul-scraping sadness – without an obvious antidote.
The Anthropocene, now a popular term among scientists, is the epoch in which we live: one dominated by human impacts on the living world. Most date it from the beginning of the industrial revolution. But it might have begun much earlier, with a killing spree that commenced two million years ago. What rose onto its hind legs on the African savannahs was, from the outset, death: the destroyer of worlds.
Strong stuff. There follows a familiar catalogue of man's depredations, before the heartfelt conclusion:
Is this all we are? A diminutive monster that can leave no door closed, no hiding place intact, that is now doing to the great beasts of the sea what we did so long ago to the great beasts of the land? Or can we stop? Can we use our ingenuity, which for two million years has turned so inventively to destruction, to defy our evolutionary history?
None of this is new, of course. The only change is in the over-written and overwrought presentation, with George as the Seer with the Courage to tell us the Truth.
The interesting point here though - which Monbiot doesn't touch on - is that all these findings about our evolutionary past, and the slaughter of the Australian and American megafauna on first human contact and so on, rather blow out of the water the whole "noble savage" idea which has so animated the Left since its formulation by Rousseau over two hundred years ago. The history of civilisation isn't, we now learn, the story of evil Europeans imposing their depredatory ways on the formerly happy peoples of the rest of the world, who had till then been living in a state of blissful harmony with nature. It didn't all start going wrong with the Industrial Revolution, or with capitalism, or with European imperialism. Slaughtering animals and generally imposing themselves on the environment is just what people do - Europeans, Africans, native Americans....everyone.
Which, when you think about it, fits in much more happily with a right-wing rather than a left-wing philosophy. Which perhaps is why George didn't touch on it, writing as he is for the CiF faithful.
As for the future, well, yes, we can do something about it. We are doing something about it. People are more concerned about green issues than they ever were. Those "great beasts of the sea"? It's the West which has seen the error of its ways and leads the campaign to protect the whales. Elephants and rhinos? It's a foolish pre-modern Chinese folk medicine which prizes their ivory; again the West is on the right side here. It's science which shows the problems, and can provide solutions. Not for everything, of course...but there are certainly grounds for optimism. Miserable George should try reading Steven Pinker's "The Better Angels of our Nature", and maybe something by Matt Ridley. And drop the hair-shirt.