Forty years ago, the UK summer heat-wave was glorious timing for a young man living in the Sussex countryside, sharing a cottage with friends. It was 1976, I had just graduated and plans were coming together to walk across the USA with three others to raise awareness of the threats to wildlife.
We were the generation protesting war, whaling, apartheid and nuclear proliferation. To the soundtrack of Stevie Wonder’s “Love’s in need of love today” I could face my sexuality with pride, dream of a world where we respected the planet and, as Stevie begs in his lyrics, don’t delay, right away, just give the world love.
This was the era when environmental campaigning grew its roots and three years later I was in a rubber dinghy crashing into North Atlantic waves in pursuit of Icelandic whalers with my camera, a photographer on Greenpeace’s Rainbow Warrior. In the decades to come the public supported many new brilliant organisations, the media provided coverage of the planet’s woes, and schools taught the importance of ecosystems and conservation.
So what the hell went wrong?
Since those happy, sunny days half the world’s wildlife has gone, tropical forests have been decimated, oceans are full of plastic, cities are choked with pollution, 62 billionaires own as much as half of humanity and climate change is going to wreck what we have left.
It’s no secret the developed world bears the greatest blame for all these tragedies. Despite our belief that we care for our planet, the evidence clearly shows we are deluding ourselves. Our economic systems, which most voters buy into, are based on “growth” which means we want to consume more, make more, and consequently use more resources. Not only do we want more, we expect it to be cheap.
The forests have disappeared because we want cheap wood, palm oil, paper, and until recently this destruction has been almost totally unregulated. Our oceans have been industrially raped and we’re replacing fish with plastic. Fair trade has its own little corner in some supermarkets while the rest of the shoppers don’t seem to care much about the conditions and poverty they are imposing on people far away. Even hundreds of well publicised deaths in Bangladesh can’t stop the rise of cheap clothing in stores like Primark as shoppers search for a new item for the weekend.
As our addiction to consumption has deluded us, international organised crime has moved in, paying off politicians to delay or oppose any useful regulation. Super-rich corporations and individuals have succeeded in keeping us smoking, delaying action on the climate, supporting the arms trade and reading divisive and hateful papers. Within weeks we can collectively go from caring about hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing bombs because of a photo of a small dead child to investing in razor wire.
When I look at the picture of my young optimistic self I think of my life since. I’ve known wonderful activists all over the world and been involved in huge successes for wildlife. My experience has been blessed with people who have given the world love. In my lifetime massive changes have taken place for the better and I’m not going to join the “it was so much better in my day” crowd because it wasn’t. But the planet's taken a bashing and we’ve not left very much for future generations to save.
My heart goes out to young activists as they fight for their future. Occupy, Plane Stupid, Frack Off, local FOE groups and hundreds of other grassroots organisations are still described as extremists or dismissed as hippy idealists by the private interest media. We went through that verbal abuse in 1970s and as long as the majority accept the inequality they face as normal, those opposing it will continue to be sidelined.
I would like to say to all those that dismissed us throughout the decades that history has sadly shown just how right we have been all along. Drop your prejudices, open your minds, feel the compassion, give the love and believe we can change for the better.
Hate’s goin’ round, Breaking many hearts, Stop it please, Before it’s gone too far.