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What do we want? To save the world!

When do we want it? Now!

How are we going to do it? Errr….

It was easy to be caught up by the exuberance of the Climate Strikers and Extinction Rebellion last Spring. Greta took many of us by surprise – a determined Swedish Joan of Arc campaigning solo against climate change. Who could forget her on the stage at Davos next to the venerable Sir David Attenborough, the old and the young united in purpose – calling for “a plan”? But as yet no masterplan has appeared to rescue the natural world and moderate climate change. And so, as we feared, the alarming decline continues.

For far too long an environmentally unaccountable economic juggernaut has dragged us towards a precipice of environmental collapse. But now the cohorts of climate protest have done something truly worthwhile- they have lit a beacon that will now be impossible to extinguish. However, it is vital that this beacon shines on the right place– the interface between economics and the natural world. The philosophical ground has been laid by Raworth, Klein and Occasio-Cortez and others. Their arguments are heartfelt, compassionate and elevating: the goals are admirable. Nevertheless, even the Green New Deal is as yet only a list of aspirations. We still lack the all-embracing blueprint for a practical, immediately realisable green economics revolution that doesn’t plunge the world into economic chaos. So where do we find that?

I’ve been searching for that blueprint for a long time, and I discovered it has been right under our noses all the time – in Nature itself.

It’s several decades since I first got seriously worried about what was happening to the environment and began the journey that eventually led to the publication of my book, Junglenomics, earlier this year. For years I suffered the pains of the ‘eco-anxiety’ that the American Psychological Association now recognises as a mental condition and describes as “a chronic fear of environmental doom”. Rachel Carson drove the nails in deeper. I may have been hard to live with sometimes, I admit. I found it difficult to see a future worth having children for (though I’m forever grateful to my wife for ignoring me!). Then I came across an old book, “How to Stop Worrying and Start Living”, by Dale Carnegie. Two pieces of advice stick in my mind: “compartmentalise” and “one step at a time”. The book taught me that you have to take control of your fears, not wallow in them. To do that I realised I needed to understand why we humans destroy the natural world that we depend on for our very survival. Not the superficial why- “greed” for example, but the genetic, developmental, anthropological why. “Look deep into Nature”, Einstein said, “and then you will understand everything better”. Few wiser words have been uttered. Yet I was to find that Nature not only helps you understand, it also provides solutions.

I began to see who we humans are in the big scheme of things: for example, that we are genetically driven to colonise resources, like all our ancestors before us since the beginning of life. I also came to realise that we live in an “economic ecosystem” that is an extension of natural ecosystems, with us as its “species”. But we aren’t tied to one niche like wild species: we are avatars, able to slip from one niche to another. Here, evolution is provided by ever more rapidly advancing technology and the new jobs it creates, while the out-dated go extinct.

And there lies the problem: our economic ecosystem has evolved too fast and too far to develop the fine synchrony that takes ecology millions of years to achieve; too fast in particular to build the checks and balances that in ecosystems keep species from destroying their environment. The chief reason our economic ecosystem has got so out of balance with the natural world is therefore because, unlike in ecosystems, polluters and degraders are divorced from the consequences of their destructive behaviour, so their own viability isn’t directly diminished by it. In ecosystems, “detritivores” have coevolved with potential polluters to clean up and recycle their outputs, each working for its own profit, innocently colluding to transfer nutrients back down into the soil to begin their life-giving journey once again. In contrast, markets have been free to degrade the environment yet thrive.

This is foremost an economics issue therefore. The power of markets, expressed through our ancient resource-hungry genes, now needs harnessing to work for the environment not against it, and until markets are subjected to the same economic disciplines found in ecosystems, the decline will go on.

There is of course much more to this, but the really exciting thing about this ecosystem approach is that it at last provides real beef- a manifesto covering all areas of the economics-ecology interface that any enlightened government could begin tomorrow: for example “Robin Hood” levies that take from polluters to fast-track a green tech revolution, and investment instruments that permanently protect important wilderness in return for infrastructure capital that benefits the poorest.

I believe passionately that if we can get our leaders to adopt it, such “ecosystem economics” could get us back in synch with the natural world before it’s too late.

Simon Lamb is the author of Junglenomics: Nature’s solutions the world environment crisis: a new paradigm for the twenty-first century and beyond

You can find the “12 Core Principles of Junglenomics”, and the “60-point manifesto for an environment-saving economics revolution” at https://junglenomics.com

Are you interested in nature and in writing about nature? Do you think nature writing can help us understand more about environmental threats from habitat loss to climate change—and inspire people to take action on them? And what does ‘nature writing’ have to say about sense of place, community and the good life? Are there aspects of our relationship with our environments that nature writing has neglected?

If you’re excited by the new wave of nature writing over the past two decades, CUSP hopes you will want to submit your work as a potential contribution to a forthcoming publication: Nature Writing for the Common Good.

They’re looking for unpublished authors who can offer new perspectives on our relationships with the natural world and the ways in which these can be re-imagined, changed and sustained for the common good.

This is a project led by CUSP, the Centre for Understanding Sustainable Prosperity, an international research partnership funded by the Economic and Social Research Council—engaging people, politics, business and NGOs across the UK and beyond.

This collection of short pieces will use nature writing to explore environmental and social challenges facing Britain and the world today. It hopes to harness the power of good writing about nature to help us understand our relationship with the natural world—and to motivate change.

While nature writing is hugely popular in the UK—as a visit to most bookshops would suggest—it is also open to criticism as tending to be nostalgic, concerned mainly with certain types of landscape, and dominated by a well-established set of authors and themes—with a paucity of writers who are of colour, working class or women.

Given the vast challenges posed by climate breakdown, threats to wildlife, changes in farming, pressures of many kinds on the land, nature writing is entangled with difficult and far-reaching political, economic and social issues. We hope to see entries that engage with this complexity.

We’re looking for nature writing—from anyone yet to be published—that can open up new perspectives on the state of our relations with land, wildlife and one another, and help us to see engagement with nature, often profound and individual, as part of a ‘common good.’ We want to include a wide variety of contributors, landscapes and types of writing.

Call for entries

The competition begins on 15th April 2019 and the closing date for submissions is 17th June 2019. We welcome contributions up to 2,500 words. The genre is ‘essay’—but this can include many non-fictional approaches—including a work of reportage, a memoir—and we are looking for innovative ways of reflecting on our connections with nature, place and other creatures. The winners will be published in an open-access online collection by CUSP. We are developing plans for a later print publication and further rounds of calls, including possibly taking a selected new author to publication of their first book.

Entries will be shortlisted by Kate Oakley and Ian Christie. Our final judging panel for pieces to be included in the collection comprises well-known authors and environmental writers Madeleine BuntingJessica J LeeLouisa Adjoa ParkerRichard SmythKen Worpole and CUSP Director Tim Jackson. We look forward to your submissions!

Guidelines

  • The competition is international in scope and open to all—but essays must be written in English and unpublished for the duration of the competition.
  • We are seeking to support authors who are unpublished yet in print up to and during the competition. We especially welcome submissions from writers of disadvantaged communities. Entries are invited from all age groups.
  • The length of the essay should not exceed 2.500 words.
  • For conceptual background on New Nature Writing, please see the project introduction by Ian Christie and Kate Oakley.

Get involved here: https://www.cusp.ac.uk/themes/a/naturewriting/