“A new environmental narrative that emphasises regrowth and possibility could provide the hope we need to make a change, argues Paul Jepson.
“Narratives matter. They establish the architecture for the telling of stories about the state of the world and how we should act. During the mid-20th century a powerful environmental narrative emerged that has shaped institutions and cultural understandings of our relationship with Nature, the planet and different actors in society. At its root, this narrative adopts a simple state-cause-consequence structure. Nature is in crisis due to human fecundity, greed and ignorance, and catastrophe looms. The activist generation of the 1970s populated this narrative with villainous, innocent and heroic characters and called on governments to act to regulate the perpetrators of harm and for companies to change their immoral ways.
“This narrative is powerful and has achieved much, but it mobilises action through a combination of anxiety and blame. The relentless retelling of ‘doom and gloom’ stories may have alienated many ordinary people from the environmental movement: the issues seem so big that people feel powerless to make a difference within the constraints of their everyday lives.
“I recently published an article in the journal Ambio suggesting that in rewilding we are seeing the emergence of a new environmental narrative, which I labelled “Recoverable Earth”. In structure, ethos and ambition it is quite different from the established environmental narrative.
“It is characterised by fresh and compelling stories telling of the return and recovery of European megafauna, the restoration of natural dynamics and ecological abundance: stories of reassessment and refinding the self, and working with restored forces of Nature to create novel solutions to the challenges of environmental and social change. They are stories of what can be achieved rather than what needs to be done.”
Read the full story by Paul Jepson, course director of the MSc in Biodiversity, Conservation and Management at the University of Oxford, and Senior Research Fellow with the Smith School of Enterprise and Environment….
Illustration: Geraldine Sy