by David Hamilton (March 2012)
We are not merely natural but we are natural in the sense that our lives are held together by emotional relationships rather than ideologies and the numinous things in life like art and religion and a need for countryside as well as beautiful landscapes. We are natural in the sense that we form emotional relationships, families and communities and need our countryside as solace or relief. A varied and open countryside is beneficial to the physical and mental health of the population. We have a duty to pass on the environment we have inherited to our children, as they, in turn, will have a duty to pass it on to their children.
The essence of Conservatism and Conservation is to conserve which derives from the Latin conservo, conservare, conservavi, conservatum. They are closely related and from the same root. The English Conserve derives from that and this opens up the idea that to a Conservative Conserving the environment should be part of the practice not the Liberal pursuit of continuous economic growth.
There is a growing sense of unease, a sense of dread that we have taken the wrong direction, that things are not eternally progressing but coming apart. To the popular prejudice conservatism stands for one-sided market forces, aggressive commerce and self-interested individualism. But conservatism as an outlook has a deeper more varied lineage. Conservatives like Edmund Burke and David Hume believed in a market economy but restrained by a network of civic associations and local institutions – the “little platoons” as Burke described them. The “little platoons” are voluntary groups who take the initiative and act in the interests of the community rather than let the socialist state take people's responsibilities of them. They hold society together and make it meaningful.
There are many aspects to conserving our environment and I have written in New English Review previously about the loss of our social environments by demolishing traditional buildings and ruining local ambience by new buildings that jar with their surroundings, but we are also responsible for our natural environment and the animals and flora that inhabit it.
This is not an abstract discussion in a university common room but a practical need to conserve what we have inherited. On my travels I constantly find scenes of beauty and history. This view of the pack horse bridge in Bakewell shows a beautiful bridge which has waterfowl around it. It was built in about 1300 and has five Gothic arches and triangular corner stones over the buttresses. We have responsibility to see it is passed on to our children to enjoy. Little platoons of fisherman help conserve the waterways to facilitate the practice of their sport.
The problem is human nature.
The problem is human nature; or, those aspects known as selfishness and self-interest. There is a need for politicians to be independent or not wedded to particular industries because when, as now, government and corporations become too close we have many abuses. A famous example which caused much increase in pollution was the scrapping of large parts of the British Railway network by Dr. Beeching and his associate Ernest Marples who inaugurated the motorway system. (1)
Dr. Beeching (later Lord) was appointed by the Minister of Transport, Ernest Marples, as Chairman of British Railways Board in May 1961. The Beeching report, “Re-shaping of BR,”was published in March 1963 and recommended the closure of many rail lines throughout the country.
With the idea of progress life was sped up by rapid technological expansion. Economists, technocrats and scientists put their faith in science and technology and tried to create an artificial way of life as efficacious as nature. But artificial in such as processed foods, with harmful chemicals and poisons like hydrogenated fats. There are big increases in diseases such as diabetes and heart disease caused by the unhealthy amounts of sugar and fats the food manufacturers use. The industry is bent on short-term profits, not the long-term impact on flora and fauna-the natural environment.
The hydrogenated fat or hydrogenated vegetable oil in processed foods contain trans fats which are as harmful to the heart as is saturated fat. In the manufacture liquid oils have hydrogen bubbled through them in a process called hydrogenation to improve their texture, flavour and longevity. This produces a more solid fat, hydrogenated fat or hydrogenated vegetable oil, which is used in many processed foods.
The blind faith placed in DDT illustrates why we should scrutinise the claims of companies when they advertise efficacious wonders for their products. It was yet another utopian panacea for all pesticide problems. (2) There are countless examples of tragedies caused by the wishful thinking of scientists. The fish in the seas are developing the sex organs of the opposite sex yet “the pill” was also claimed to be a triumph over an imperfect nature in the minds of utopian scientists. The great scene of realisation is Robert Oppenheimer watching in horror the detonation of the atom bomb he had had so much to do with bringing into being and exclaiming: “I am become death.” (3)
The latest in a long line of wonder drugs, “statins”, is so invested with irrational optimism that many medical practitioners have enthusiastically called for them to be prescribed to everyone regardless of health problems. They suppress the body's production of cholestrol and are expected to save us all from heart problems and strokes. In practice they are causing memory loss and forgetfulness. Statins may well help people at serious risk of heart attacks and strokes but the irrational enthusiasm with which they are prescribed is worrying – medical people will not listen to their patients who complain of severe side-effects such as muscle weakness, memory loss and bouts of confusion. They imagine that we are on the way to another little utopia – a world without heart problems!
But what is reality? Thalidomide has been forgotten but we still see the victims trying to function the best they can.
Convenience is found in the cities where we become dependant on cash points, all-night supermarkets and 24-hour pubs and bars which inculcates dependence and reduces self-discipline; while in the country people plan ahead as they need to stock up with food. Country people are comparatively more in tune with the times of day and the seasons and do not have to resort to Hesiod's Works and Days and Virgil's Georgics to return to natures' rhythms.
As I write the British Coalition Government, led by “Conservatives”, wants to “loosen” planning controls, for the Green Belt. This cancels the great idea of the 1948 Town and Planning Act of setting up Green Belt areas and is a very anti-Conservative move. It is to make it cheaper and easier for the Conservative Party's supporters like wealthy developers to build where they like. The Green Belt has restricted urban sprawl and conserved some beautiful countryside that all can visit. There are several similarly destructive schemes planned and I hope that The Countryside Alliance and The Campaign to Protect Rural England fight to conserve our environment against unnecessary destruction.(4)
There are some 600,000 empty properties and many brown field sites in urban areas that should be developed first, but the Coalition Government aims to let developers destroy our meadows, ancient woodlands and downlands, which, once concreted over, are gone forever. Green Belts are cheaper to build on than brown field sites, but what short sightedness! We have a duty to conserve the environment for future generations. This is an era in Western nations where little people have got to the top, minor figures, who put their short term interests above the long term national interest. Local planning authorities must be encouraged to, after being given the power to, require developments on already developed land before destroying Green Belt land in the communities' interests.
They need to think through the environmental, social and economic implications of each development and ensure the conservation of the environment and a better quality of life rather than constantly plumping for economic growth regardless of the practical consequences. Millions of people visit the countryside for outdoor activities – climbing, rambling canoeing. There are many activity centres which offer young people a healthy life instead of clubbing and drugs.
The development of GM foods is carried out through the parameters of the progressive mindset of unlimited progress to a utopia. The utopia is variously, a perfect food, a means of feeding the world or crops that do not need pesticides. They lack a practical grasp of reality and are too optimistic and only too late will they realise the awful consequences of their actions.
They get a glimpse of the blueprint of nature — the genetic code – but do they understand it? It is a fine and delicate part of nature scientists are attempting to manipulate but do not understand the ramifications. It has always operated within the whole and developed system of nature but tinkering with it could cause irreversible damage. We are part of nature and not standing outside looking on. (5)
There are groups voluntarily forming their own “little platoons” in the face of local bureaucrats, who do not think of themselves as Conservative or Traditionalists, but who value the environment and a more natural life. They are setting examples for others.
Ashley Vale, in St.Werburghs, Bristol, is a community of 26 eco-houses that were designed and built by local residents in reaction to a developer attempting to take over a brownfield site in the St Werburgh's district of Bristol. They are built of wood instead brick, because it is recyclable. They have timer frames and most use Fermacell boards, which are made with gypsum and cellulose from recycled paper, instead of plaster board. The cavity walls are filled with Warmcel which is made from newspaper. Many of the double-glazed windows came from Rationel, a Dutch firm that uses only sustainable timber.
The eco houses have bedrooms on the ground floor with the living rooms above to benefit from the rising warm air from the sitting and kitchen areas which also keeps the bedrooms cool. There are “Upside down houses” in Salford which have the bedrooms on the ground floor with the living rooms upstairs. This scheme was designed not to conserve heat, but to utilise the existing buildings in a contemporary way and with contemporary standards whereas most Ashley Grove houses have underfloor heating and only one does not have solar panels. They are well insulated and given enough sun – a problem in England – residents can sell solar electricity to the National Grid.
The houses are built around a community green and recycling centre. The building design was considerate and the south side of the rooves have short solar panels which do not block the neighbours' light; the north sides are long and without windows to allow privacy for the neighbour on the other side.
The project started in 2000 in reaction to a developer's plan to build a housing estate on a former scaffolding yard. A group formed the Ashley Vale Action Group and proposed a vision of their own and won a case to build a sustainable, community on the yard and bought the land. They formed a co-operative and met thrice-weekly for over a year to design the houses. Each designed their own homes and most had little or no building experience. The problem of human nature was channelled into good ends because although they wanted to live in large houses they made them recyclable and generate much of their own electricity by the solar panels.
Some of the houses are attractively coloured but others have faded timber; the houses are individually conceived and built and look a picture of chaos; but this was a step in the right direction and the idea can be developed. Future eco- houses should be built with something like traditional Tudor wood facades-in white with black beams.
Nearby, is St.Werburgs City Farm which opened in 1980 when a group of local residents got the support of Bristol City Council and established it. The community idea was to involve local people in the running of a working livestock farm and they sell the produce and offer recreational and educational activities. The Farm has constantly grown ever since with more land being leased, buildings built and new services added.
In 1987 they leased land from British Rail to use it for public use and preserve it from developers. They created an eight acre site called “Narroways” with a community garden. In 1996 they formed the Narroways Action Group to involve local people in its management and to use it as a nature reserve. British Rail had planned to sell the land but they raised funds to conserve it for the use of the community. With the backing of hundreds of local people and a grant of £30,000 to re-fence the site, Bristol City Council were convinced to buy the land.
The Action Group became a registered charity – the Narroways Millennium Green Trust – and has a 999 year lease. Their registered office is at the Farm and the Farm has a sub-lease from the NMGT for 999 years at a peppercorn rent for the Community Garden. These developments attract wildlife such as pipistrelle bats, grass snakes, badgers, buzzards, sparrow hawks, kestrels, green woodpeckers, dark bush crickets for example.
There is a city farm in Balsall Heath, Birmingham, likewise started in 1980 with a few chickens so inner city families could see animals they would otherwise not see. It encourages youngsters to value the natural environment. It has sheep, goats, rabbits, ducks, geese, turkeys and cats. (6)
In The Spectator of December 17th 2005 philosopher Roger Scruton urged rural residents to save their countryside by clubbing together and buying it. Rural communities should “take power into their own hands” as they had shown that the Hunting Act cannot be enforced we must now rescue our countryside from outsiders who are favoured by the Government. Neighbours (we) should club together to buy small parcels of land from desperate farmers then rent it back at a peppercorn rent.”
Animals – A benevolent dominion
In the prosodic English of the great King James Bible Genesis tells us: “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.”
Animals are part of our environments and our pets are part of the family. They perform valuable services: dogs warn of trespassers and cats keep rats and mice from our homes, young children love caring for and riding ponies and they in turn depend upon us for care and food. This is a reciprocal relationship and suggests that our dominion over them must be a benevolent one.
One constantly sees posters stuck on lamp posts, bus stops and placed in shop windows for pets that have gone missing and many of these are taken. Children and elderly people in particular become very attached to their pets and form emotional bonds with them. They become part of the family and need stronger protection in law; not because of some abstract rights but because of an emotional connection – an emotional bonding between animals and their owners.
There are television programmes about, say, a veterinary practice, where maltreated animals are brought in for treatment and countless photographs of mistreated animals are posted on social networking sites. People become genuinely upset but feel helpless. The law needs strengthening and much more severe sentences given for cruelty to animals to to give a more accurate reflection of our relationship with them.
This dog was tied to the back of a car and dragged along the road. I don't know its circumstances but if he belonged to someone they would have been devastated.
Plastic bags and bottles, like diamonds, are forever
The number of single-use carrier bags issued in 2010 rose by 333 million – a 5 per cent increase from the previous year. The bags which are often used for only 20 minutes on average, to carry the shopping home, take up to 1,000 years to degrade.
As well as causing serious harm to marine animals and birds, they blight the coastline, with 70 bags littering every mile. There is a similar problem with the plastic bottles drinks are sold in.
It is appalling the way irresponsible supermarkets hand these bags out. Like black bin bags they can be seen everywhere – clogging up streams and brooks, stuck in the branches of trees and in fields threatening to choke farm animals. The only answer is to ban the manufacture of these bags outright.
In the meantime we should give schoolchildren or unemployed people some purpose in life and help them value their environments by forming little platoons, to go out in supervised groups clearing the environment of these invidious items and disposing of them safely. They cause serious harm to marine animals and birds and desecrate our coastline – it is estimated that 70 plastic bags litter every mile. I refused a plastic bag and the shop assistant gave me a paper bag but warned that the bottoms are not very strong. I'm sure the manufactures could correct that minor fault.
There has been a Keep Britain Tidy campaign since 1955 but this treats the average person as responsible when those responsible are the inventors, makers and distributors of the plastic bags. With so many plastic bags being handed out even the most responsible people must lose some now and again and they go into the environment.
There are many people who do not litter, waste water, drive big cars, or shop compulsively; but some are given to being wasteful because they are self-centred, sociopathic or bitter against the world.
It is retailers who must take responsibility for their actions. There is environmental damage and expense caused by the billions of plastic bags given away by supermarkets. This is a problem they have created because before supermarkets took over shoppers used to take their own bags to the shop with them and carry their shopping home in them putting the bag away until the next shop.
There is hardly anywhere in British seas where marine wildlife is safe. There is a need to create marine protected areas where wildlife can recover and flourish. The amount of litter on beaches has doubled in a decade. Little platoons of volunteers could work to clear our seas of the strangling rubbish that is dangerous to sea life and sea birds.
The EU has exacerbated some problems and about 88% of Europe’s fish stocks are overfished or depleted. The sea’s rich wildlife can be restored, fish stocks be made more plentiful, our beaches and seawater made cleaner but it would require government action which needs prompting by protests. It is appalling that many of our beaches are hazards to peoples' health because they have human sewage floating around them. (7)
There is a difference between a Traditional way of thinking and a Progressive way of thinking. Progressivism encompasses Liberalism through to Marxism – the “isms” that grew out of the French Enlightenment. Progressives erect a set of idealisations – what we are becoming, what we should think and how we should behave, but human nature is fixed and how we act it out or think is given form by our cultures and communities. We are part of it and it is what makes us social beings.
We are not evolving to a pre-ordained end, but a wholesome culture improves people and thus the community. The decline in oil reserves or a worsening of the economic slump which Progressives view as merely a potential hiccup in ineluctable progress calls fore a serious re-think and the solution will be the Conservative approach to community and nature that I am outlining.
Progressives try to dismiss the conservative or traditionalists as relics from the past as if we have just awoken from a slumber that began in the 17th Century and are trying to change things back to what we left. The Traditional Britain Group has many well-educated young people amongst its members and they are not trying to bring the past back but conserve what is best.
The idea of Conservatism should be the conservation of what is natural in our culture, heritage, and natural environment. Conservatives must defend the environment we inherit and recognise our responsibility to our descendants. We respect the culture and our natural environment passed on to us and have a responsibility to hand what we inherit to our descendants in a decent state.
The Daily Telegraph is campaigning to save the GreenBelts
- (5) http://www.care2.com/greenliving/germany-decides-genetically-modified-foods-are-not-welcome.html
There is a European Federation of City Farms (EFCF)
Rachel Carson. 1951 The Sea Around Us.
Professor Ezra Mishan was an early proponent of a Conservative economics as opposed to constant economic growth.
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