There are books that make me laugh and books that make me think. But there are very few books that actually change me as a person. Feral by George Monbiot is one of those books. It has transformed fundamentally how I think about the world and has inspired me to be more courageous in challenging the received wisdom of our times.
In Feral, Monbiot explores the profound impact that we as a species have had on the land and the sea around us. And it’ll come as no surprise that this impact is generally far from positive.
Taking the reader on a journey from depths of the sea bed to the forests of South America to the rugged Pembrokeshire coast, he sets out a shameful catalogue of the destruction that we have wreaked.
Particularly striking for me was Monbiot’s analysis of how the Lake District, which is romanticised extensively (see my review of James Rebanks’s The Shepherd’s Life) and has recently been awarded Unesco ‘World Heritage’ status, is essentially a barren landscape that has been – and continues to be – destroyed by sheep farming.
At the heart of this all lies the profound insight (Monbiot’s rather than mine, sadly) that we have a natural tendency to see how things were when we were younger as the ‘good old days’. Even if things back then were just as disastrous. So when people set out to ‘restore’ areas of countryside, they inevitable attempt to make then how they were twenty or thirty years ago, rather than how they would be if nature were left to its own devices.
But all is not lost. Monbiot proposes a bold approach to ‘rewilding’ our countryside and our seas, allowing nature to take back control and to leave such areas to thrive without our ‘assistance’. Specific examples that he explores include fencing out grazing animals in upland areas to allow trees to regrow, re-introducing lost species and facilitating the re-establishment of trophic cascades (look it up – it’s fascinating) to keep species in balance.
Some of his ideas are going to make Mr. Monbiot a bit unpopular. But one of the things I like about George and his writing is that he isn’t worried about being popular. He’s more interested in doing the right thing and trying to make the world a better place. In challenging what we do and why we do it. And that, in my view, takes true courage.