Humanity’s Hope: Renaturalize Our Children

Perhaps the greatest source of hope and social progress comes from our rediscovery of the animal needs of infants and young children: the basic requirements for comfort, contact and bonding. Humanity’s hope is to recognize its animal nature.

At three weeks old, you snore softly and warmly on my shoulder as I write, and you are closer to nature than ever before. With your animal needs and sounds, moved by a slow primal spirit that will soon enter the cacophony of thought and language, I believe you belong to the biosphere rather than the human sphere. You are my second daughter and it seems like years have passed since I saw you in the scanner. Its segmented skeleton looked like an ancient animal discovered by geologists and buried in timeless rocks. I have already begun to harbor the hopes and fears to which all parents succumb; Perhaps the first hominids left traces indicating that the human spark was ignited.

Let me start at the beginning, with the organization you could belong to for your entire life. When I was born more than 50 years ago in the harsh winter of 1963, the National Health Service had only been in existence for 15 years. People found it hard to believe that, for the first time in the history of these islands, they could get sick without risking economic ruin, that no one would die because they had no money. I consider this system to be the pinnacle of civilization, one of the wonders of the world.

Well, this is such a part of our lives that it is just as hard for us to believe that we could lose it. But I fear that by the time you reach my age, free and universal healthcare will be a distant fantasy, an archaic myth, as distant from the experience of your children’s generation as the Lightning was to my generation. One of the lessons you will learn the hard way is that there is no public value that has not been fought for.

The growth of this system was one of the key features of the first half of the period I experienced. Then wealth was widely shared and the power of those who had monopolized it was reduced. Taxes were easily used as a means of redistributing humanity’s common wealth, and so hope for a more just world grew. This great social progress is declining, and while I may be being aggressive, I fear for your adult life. It seems to me that my generation is wasting your birthright.

This destruction echoes the way we interact with the natural world. When I was a child, it would never have occurred to me that such common birds as cuckoos, sparrows and starlings could decline so quickly that I would live to see them classified as endangered species in this country (1). I remember the surprising variety of moths that gathered at the windows on hot summer nights, the eels, thick as natural fiber, that descended the rivers every autumn, the mushrooms that appeared by the thousands in the grass of the meadows.

They are images you may never see. When your children are born, the tiger, the rhinoceros, the bluefin tuna and many other animals that fascinated me so much may just be a cause for regret.

We now better understand what we were doing when I was born – a year after the release of Silent Spring – in relation to the natural boundaries within which we live. The science of planetary boundaries has begun to identify the points at which the natural resources that make our lives viable are no longer sustainable (2). We may have already crossed three of the nine boundaries, this science tells us, and we are bordering on the boundaries of three more (3). You may still experience the extremes of climate change, to which I have dedicated much of my life in the hope that we can avoid it, along with new ecological disasters such as ocean acidification and the loss of most of the world’s remaining forests Wetlands and fossilized water reserves, the large predators, the fish and the coral reefs. If so, you will undoubtedly be angered by the stupidity and short-sightedness of your predecessors. No one can say we weren’t warned.

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The hope

There is another possible path to which I have dedicated the last two years and to which I have devoted a large part of my professional life. It is a form of positive environmental protection that attempts to renaturalize – i.e. ecologically restore – large areas of unproductive land and overexploited seas (4). It recognizes nature’s remarkable ability to recover and restore the complex web of ecological relationships that we have so grossly failed to achieve. Instead of fighting alone to prevent destruction, he offers us hope by proposing a better, richer world, a place where you will hopefully enjoy living.

In at least one respect, this country and many others have already become better places. I believe that, contrary to what politicians and media say, family life is better today than it has been for centuries (5), than the old, cold model of distant parents and the damage – psychological, neurological and (as some research suggests) . ) epigenetic – which has caused them to gradually disappear (6,7,8,9).

Perhaps the greatest source of hope and social progress comes from our rediscovery of the animal needs of babies and young children: the basic requirements for comfort, contact and bonding. Yes, co-parenting is a burden (now that you’re starting to stir and shake, I’m afraid your mother will have to wake up again, exhausted from a night of near-constant feeding), but I think it’s the one only burden safe source of a better world. Knowing what we know now, we have the opportunity to avoid the harm, the unmet needs that have caused so many social ills, which are the cause of war, destructive greed and the need for dominance.

So here is the hope: right at the beginning, in the recognition that you, like all of us, come from and belong to the natural world. www.

By George Monbiot. Translated by Víctor García, Globalízate


2. Johan Rockström et al., 2009. Planetary Boundaries: Exploring the Safe Operating Space for Humanity. Ecology and Society 14(2): 32.

4. My book on this topic will be published next year. The working title, which is subject to change, is Feral: Rewilding the Land, the Sea and Human Life.
5. See the fascinating book by John R Gillis, 1996. A World of Their Own Making: Myth, Ritual and the Search for Family Values. Basic Books, New York.
6. See, for example, Sue Gerhardt, 2004. Why Love Matters: How Affection Shapes a Baby’s Brain. Routledge.
7. Shir Atzil, Talma Hendler and Ruth Feldman, December 2011. Specifying the neurobiological basis of human attachment: Brain, hormones and behavior in synchronous and intrusive mothers. Neuropsychopharmacology 36, 2603-2615 () | doi:10.1038/npp.2011.172
Here are two articles on possible epigenetic outcomes of different types of parenting:
8. Ian CG Weaver et al., 2004. Epigenetic programming through maternal behavior. Nature Neuroscience Vol. 7, pp. 847 – 854. doi:10.1038/nn1276
9. PO McGowan et al., 2011. Broad epigenetic signature of maternal care in the adult rat brain. PLUS ONE 6(2): e14739. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0014739

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