A Focus On Nature

A Vision For Nature

The end of tomorrow – by Chris Foster

Welcome to our series of blog posts in the run up to the general election (7th May 2015). Over this month AFON members will share their own Visions for Nature: what they want the natural world to look like by 2050 and how they want to get there. We have created a hashtag on Twitter so why not join the conversation? What’s your #VisionforNature?

Maybe I’m not much of a visionary: I found writing this hard going. Partly I suspect it’s down to the great posts already shared in this series. What original thing could I possibly say about the future of the natural world? Besides, the whole project has already been summed up for me by Ed Marshall’s beautifully blunt and simple point: people need to start giving a damn about nature!

Ideas turned through my mind, reflecting the things that worry or energise me the most. I daydreamed about climate change slowed, of mini wild revolutions that see lawns become meadows and every bland urban park become a nature reserve. I imagined a kind of agrarian utopia where a new, small-scale, locally practiced agriculture truly respected nature and gave new life to our landscapes and the people and wildlife that inhabit them.

But is the future really something we can or even should contemplate? Just as I started to put fingers to keyboard I was reading the new essay collection by American farmer-poet-naturalist Wendell Berry, who is fast becoming something of a hero of mine. The title of the last essay leaped from the page: “On Being Asked for ‘A Narrative of the Future’”.

This should help! I thought. To describe my hopes for the state of nature in 2050 is indeed to write a kind of narrative of the future.

I began to read the essay:

“So far as I can see, the future has no narrative. … That is why ‘take no thought for the morrow…’ is such excellent advice. Taking thought for the morrow is, fairly predictably, a waste of time.’

Now that’s an intellectual spanner in the works!Is he right? Berry is a wiser, more experienced thinker and writer than I by far. The future hasn’t happened and our best current projections of catastrophe may be wrong. Even if they are right, we stand to gain little by expending too much time worrying about them. So is A Vision For Nature just a waste of time?

Well of course I’m not going to say so! But nor do I believe it is. Humans seem hardwired to worry, and to invest hope in the future. For better or worse, how we think about the future guides our present actions. These are likely to be better, I think, if we’re imagining a good future. All of the visions shared so far in this series are grounded in fragments of the good world we see around us. We know they are possible futures because to an extent they area already with us, just not fully realized.

Berry goes on to suggest that the best way to secure the future is to dwell on what is good right now. This is how we can achieve our collective vision: if an action is right for the future, it is also right for today. Now is the time to stop worrying and start living.Or, as Berry puts it, “instead of trying to save the world, live savingly in it.”

That’s where the tricky part starts. Living well is inherently more difficult than daydreaming or even making a bit of noise through art or campaigning, as much as those activities might form part of a good life. It requires hard choices about the most basic aspects of our lives: what to eat, where to live,if and where to travel,how to make a living, whether to have children.

The only thing that seems clear to me is that leading a truly sustainable life, in the fullest sense of the word, will mean accepting that we – by which I mean those of us now in our teens, 20s and 30s – are necessarily going to have different, and by some measures less ‘luxurious’ lifestyles than many of our parents enjoy, whatever the economic injustice of the situation. Also, how can we expect governments to make the big steps we believe are necessary if we are not prepared to take similar action in our own lives? We need to walk the talk.

This may be more of a blessing than it sounds, and that’s where my ‘vision’ comes in. I instinctively feel that it is the people nature writer Lyanda Lynn Haupt calls ‘homespun naturalists’ that will take to this life most gracefully. They’re people who treasure simplicity, who take delight in small things, who notice, observe and care, who value place and have a deep sense of belonging and connectedness to wherever it is they happen to call home. Most of all they’re people who are fully alive to the present, to the extent that talk of tomorrow is irrelevant. I’m as far from the finished article as anybody I know, but the naturalist’s way is one I’m ready to start walking.

So by 2050, my vision is that we’ll have seen the end of tomorrow. Not in the blockbuster movie Doomsday sense, but as a genuine freedom from the tyranny of the future. We will inhabit a present in which nature and people both truly matter, and live together peaceably in a world that is slowly healing. And to employ a slightly cheesy double meaning, we will truly have learned to accept the present as a gift . . A gift that is not to be squandered but lived to the full, in the company of all the creatures of the wild world.

Chris Foster is a teaching assistant and PhD student in Biological Sciences at the University of Reading, with research interests in insect sampling and landscape ecology. He is also a keen natural historian and nature writer. He blogs at consideringbirds.wordpress.com and chrisfosternature.wordpress.com, and tweets @hatbirder.