George Monbiot, Feral, Ch. 1: Raucous Summer


1.      Gold miners invasion of Roraima in Amazon (20 years ago)

         a.      “Tearing out river valleys whose sediments were paved with gold” (using high pressure hoses against the banks)

                   i.       River ran orange and dead, choked by clay disturbed by mines image

                   ii.      Valley was a wasteland of pits, spoil heaps, downed trees

         b.      Many miners expelled form own lands by businessmen and corrupt officials, driven to mines by poverty/desperation

         c.      Thieves waylaying miners and getting executed

         d.      1,700 of 40,000 miners killed in 6 months

         e.      Brazilian Fed government trying to stop

         f.       Demise of native rainforest peoples

                   i.       Waging war against local Yanomami people (15% died of disease)

                   ii.      Collapse of communities that had been invaded

         g.      Luckily Brazilian government changed, miners expelled, and Yanomamis were not driven to extinction



3.      Monbiot wild experiences

         a.      Running though mountainous jungle of Amazon with a Brazilian native

         b.      Hanging out with native rainforest people

         c.      Shaman like dancing with natives over sick people to heal them

         d.      Admires Papillon, Frenchman who had “leapt over the edge and abandoned comfort and certainty for a life of violent insecurity”

         e.      Loved their rawer, wilder, more engaging life

         f.       He finds richness in lives of natives difficult to achieve by those in materially complex societies

         g.      Awakens ancient genetic memories

4.      Back in Wales he is struck by the smallness of his life

         a.      A life where loading dishwasher presented an interesting challenge

         b.      Our knowledge, certainty and safety have been paid for by a shrinkage in experience, a diminution in the necessity for physical courage, and a more regulated life with increased responsibilities

         c.      Ground down my humdrum, sanitized world

5.      We so specialized that we are in danger of losing many of our faculties

6.      We still possess and need to exercise the fear, courage, aggression capacities we evolved to have

7.      'The suburbs dream of violence. Asleep in their drowsy villas, sheltered by benevolent shopping malls, they wait patiently for the nightmares that will wake them into a, more passionate world.'

8.      We invent challenges to replace the horrors with which we are deprived

         a.      Sports? Drugs? Gambling?


9.      Our lives are too constrained

10.    We live “hedged in” living meekly for fear of provoking or damaging others

         a.      “Conscience makes cowards of us all”

11.    Constrained by growing awareness of rights of other people, by our realization of the env consequences of our acts, by amplification of our lives by technology so powerful over nature we can no longer afford to use it

         a.      We must be cautious, constrained in everything we do

12.    Movements of people reject these constraints

         a.      Anti: Taxes, health/safety laws, regulation of business, restrictions on smoking, speeding, guns, and against env regulations

         b.      “Kick against prohibitive decencies we owe others”

         c.      People want to swing their fists regardless of whose nose is in way

13.    He’s ecologically bored (and so are we)

         a.      Could not just continue sitting/writing, looking out for daughter/house, running just to say fit

         b.      Watching seasons pass w/o ever quite belonging to them

         c.      Offered to little to the life of the spirit

14.    Needs to satisfy craving for richer, rawer life

         a.      While still bringing up child, pay mortgage, respect rights/needs other people, and not damage natural world



16.    Meanings of rewilding

         a.      Release captive animals into wild

         b.      Reintroduce animals/plants to habitats from which extirpated

         c.      Rehabilitation of entire ecosystems, restoration of wilderness

         d.      Anarcho-primtivists applied word to human life, a wilding of people and their cultures


17.    Monbiot’s definition of rewilding

18.    One: Rewilding of natural systems

         a.      Not attempt to restore to prior state

         b.      But to permit ecological processes to resume

19.    Opposes well-intentioned conservation aimed at freezing living systems in time

         a.      Prevent animals/plants from either leaving or entering

         b.      Manage nature as if tending a garden

         c.      In England, aims to preserve heath, moorland, blanket bog and rough grass dominated by low, scrubby vegetation which remains after forests repeatedly cleared and burnt

                   i.       Cherished by wildlife groups, who prevent it from reverting to woodland via intensive grazing by sheep, cattle, horses

                   ii.      Looks like this and this

                   iii.     As if conservationists in Amazon decided to protect cattle ranches, rather than rainforest

20.    Keeping ecosystems in state of arrested development not nature

         a.      Like preserving a jar of pickles, protects something which bears little relationship to the natural world

21.    Rewilding realizes nature consists not of a collection of species but their ever shifting relationships with each other and the physical environment

         a.      He has no desire to re-create landscapes/ecosystems existed in past, or to reconstruct primordial wilderness

         b.      But he does argue to bring some of those animals back

22.    Rewilding about resisting urge to control nature and allow it to find its own way

         a.      Reintroducing absent plants and animals

         b.      Culling exotic species can’t be contaned by native wildlife

         c.      Pulling down fences

         d.      Blocking drainage ditches

         e.      But otherwise stepping back

         f.       At sea means

                   i.       Excluding commercial fishing an other forms of exploitation

23.    Resulting ecosystems are not wilderness, but self-willed,

         a.      Governed not by humans management but by ecological processes

24.    Rewilding has no end points, no view about right ecosystems or assemblages of species

         a.      Does not strive to produce X

         b.      Let’s nature decide

25.    Ecosystems that will emerge in our changed climate, depleted soils, not same as those in past

         a.      Can’t be predicted (and this is exciting)

26.    Rewilding land/sea produce ecosystems as captivating as those people now travel half way around the world to see

         a.      Makes magnificent wildlife accessible to everyone

27.    Rewilding already occurring in Europe

         a.      Wolves, bears, lynx and bison are increasing their numbers across the continent

         b.      Perhaps in U.S. also?

28.    Tension restoring extirpated species and letting nature decide

         a.      “By restoring species aren’t humans deciding what nature will be like? If there are no fixed goals for nature, shouldn’t one adopt a hands-off policy and let nature take off from its current (too often impoverished and degraded) state? Monbiot’s response is that ‘just because there are no end points does not mean there should not be beginnings’

         b.      Furthermore, because many of the species considered for restoration are keystone species that drive ecological processes and ‘trophic cascades’, nature without such species is broken and the ecological processes occurring are human-damaged enterprises. By restoring species, we rehabilitate and reinvigorate natural processes and free them from human control. One does not let a person go free simply by stepping back while leaving on the chains.”



30.    Importance of trophic cascades

         a.      Processes caused by animals a top of food chain, tumble all way to bottom

         b.      Predators and large herbivores can transform places they live

         c.      Sometimes not only change ecosystems but nature of soil, behavior rivers and chemistry of oceans and even composition of atmosphere

                   i.       How Wolves Change Rivers (Monbiot, 4 ½ min video)

         d.      Make a powerful case for reintroduction of large predators (and other missing species)

31.    European ecosystems elephant-adapted

         a.      Many familiar European trees/shrubs evolved to resist attacks by elephants

         b.      Straight-tusked elephant (related to Asian elephant) was in Europe until 40,000 years ago (mere tick of evolution’s clock)

                   i.       Likely hunted to extinction

         c.      It dominated temperate regions of Europe


32.    Monbiot: “we live in a shadowland, a dim, flattened relic of what there once was, of what there could be again’ (p. 89).

33.    Consider some extinct American megafauna:

         a.      Nine-foot long sabertooth salmon

         b.      Armadillos the size of small cars

         c.      Ground sloths the weight of elephants, standing twenty feet on their hind legs and pulling down trees.

34.    Should consider restoring such monsters into our lives.

35.    Some American species adapted to these extinct species

         a.      The antelope that roams the American plains evolved its speed running from cheetahs

36.    The Ghosts of Evolution: Ecological anachronisms

37.    Once we realize that today’s ecosystems bear the mark of these ancient monsters, the world becomes enchanted and the idea of restoring them becomes more plausible.



39.    Two: 2nd def of rewilding involves rewilding human life

         a.      Produce a life richer in adventure and surprise

40.    Rewilding not a human retreat from nature, but a re-involvement

         a.      Reintroduce into wild wolves, lynx, wolverines, beavers, boar, moose, bison, eventually elephants (in Europe)

         b.      Also reintroduce humans into wild

         c.      Rewilding enhance opportunity for people to engage with and delight in natural world.

41.    Many people desire a fiercer, less predictable ecosystem

         a.      Have an unmet need for a wilder life

         b.      Thinks many not content with scope of their lives and search for more colorful and surprising lives

         c.      Feeding ducks is not as close to nature as they want to come

         d.      Scratching at walls of life, hoping for wider space



43.    Not a primitivist

         a.      Not romanticize evolutionary time

         b.      W/o farming, sanitation, vaccination, antibiotics, surgery, optometry he’d be dead by now

         c.      “The outcome of mortal combat between me, myopically stumbling around with a stone-tipped spear, and an enraged giant aurochs is not hard to predict”

44.    No golden age in which people lived in harmony with nature:

         a.      Whenever people went into new lands (even with low-level tech and few people) they soon destroyed much of wildlife (especially big animals)

45.    Rewilding and civilization

         a.      Not about “shedding civilization”

         b.      No conflict civilized and wild

         c.      Can rewild and enjoy benefits of advanced technology

         d.      About enhancing, not abandoning, civilization

                   i.       “Love not man less, but Nature more”

46.    Abandoning a sophisticated economy, supported by high crop yields would be catastrophic

         a.      Return to hunter-gatherer lifestyle would require “elimination of almost all humans”

                   i.       As that lifestyle only support tiny fraction of people earth supports today due to our agriculture



48.    Environmentalists are clear about what people should not do

         a.      Given destruction/degradation of earths living systems in 20 and early 21st centuries,

         b.       Certain freedoms, to damage, pollute, waste should be limited

         c.      Consume less, travel less, live mindfully, don’t tread on the grass

         d.      Fail to offer new freedoms with which to exchange old ones

         e.      Seen as ascetics, killjoys, and prigs (=a self-righteously moralistic person who behaves as if superior to others)

         f.       Environmentalists need to explain what they are for

49.    Rewilding environmentalism expands, rather than constrains, the scope of people’s lives

         a.      W/o damaging the lives of others or fabric of biosphere

         b.      Offers new freedoms

         c.      Foresees large areas of self-willed land and sea, repopulated the missing beats, in which people may freely roam

         d.      Offers hope: Instead of just a “silent spring” offers a raucous summer

50.    Caveat: Rewilding should not become a substitute for protecting threatened places and species



52.    Does rewilding hurt people?

         a.      Does it cleanse nature of people and erase the land’s cultural history?

         b.      Historically “most of the rewilding that has taken place on earth so far has happened as a result of humanitarian disasters”

53.    People should not be pushed aside to make way for wildlife

54.    Rewilding should only come with consent and enthusiasm of those who work on land       

         a.      Should never be used as instrument of expropriation or dispossession

                   i.       Forced rewildings have taken place and caused human tragedies

55.    Should not extensively rewild on productive land

         a.      Only in places that production is so low it only exists as a result of taxpayer subsidies

56.    Rewilding should take place for benefit of people–to enhance world we live in–not for sake of an abstraction called Nature

57.    But many who reply on current uses of local nature would actually benefit economically from rewilding

         a.      If you rewild the sea by setting aside marine reserves that ban fishing imporves breeding grounds and benefits fishing oveall

Questions on Monbiot’s Ch 1 of Feral

1.      Describe why Monbiot thinks we need to rewild our lives. What is it we are lacking, in his opinion. Do you agree?

2.      In what way does Monbiot argue our lives our constrained? Constrained by what? Does he think we should “swing our fists regardless of whose nose is in the way?”

3.      What is Monbiot’s two pronged understanding of rewilding? What, exactly, are we rewilding?

4.      What does rewilding ecosystem not propose to do? Does it aim to preserve species?

5.      What does Monbiot’s think rewilding ecosystems/nature involves? Does it involve any restoration? Are the results classic wilderness ecosystems? What is the end goal of rewilding?

6.      Explain the tension between restoring extirpated species and letting nature decide. How might Monbiot get around this tension?

7.      What are “trophic cascades” and how do they help support the sort of rewilding Monbiot has in mind?

8.      Elephants in Europe went extinct (or were driven extinct) 40,000 years ago. Are today’s European ecosystems in anyway adapted to Elephants?

9.      Describe some of animals Monbiot thinks we might want to restore to North America . Are there any extant American species adapted to these ancient monsters? (Consider the antelope.)

10.    Does rewilding involve a human retreat from nature?

11.    What does Monbiot see as the relation between rewilding human life and civilization? Is Monbiot a primitivist; does rewilding involve returning to hunter-gatherer lifestyle? What does he think of advanced technology in light of his concern to rewild both nature and humans?

12.    In what way is rewilding environmentalism more positive than traditional environmentalism, according to Monbiot?

13.    Does rewilding hurt people? Should it? What does Monbiot say about this?