In the opening few chapters of British journalist George Monbiot’s Feral, a somewhat foreign, yet completely sensible view of the state of humanity is offered – we are ecologically bored. We’re disconnected from nature, he argues, and it’s hurting both us and our environment. What we need is a new, positive form of environmentalism.
Bring back the wonder of existence.
As such, Feral is a foray into, what Monbiot believes, is the best way to reconnect the populous with nature. That solution is both amazingly simple and daring – bring nature to us. Allow nature to wrench back control from humanity to progress and change on its own in a self-regulating fashion. By giving the power of decision to nature, we ensure that nature gets to choose the right balance, rather than humans artificially producing what we think is ‘right.’
Feral also acts as somewhat of a memoir for Monbiot, detailing the times at which he has felt closest to our biosphere. In his search for the exhilaration not felt since he explored rainforest when younger, Monbiot brings us on his journey to explore the British coast and the remnant Welsh forests. It’s on this journey that Monbiot details his growing realisation that modern day environments need reinvigorating, with the aim of restoring them to their former glory.
Rewilding, according to Monbiot, can have a number of definitions. First, it is the restoration of environments to their naturally occurring state. Secondly, it is returning the thrill of nature to human existence – something that is gravely missing in the technological age. Most importantly rewilding puts the natural world into focus on a number of levels.
As Monbiot stated in his recent Ted Talk, “Rewilding offers us hope. In motivating people to love and defend the natural world, an ounce of hope is worth a tonne of despair.” This point rings true on a number of levels, as a lack of knowledge or education is currently seen as the cause of human apathy towards the environment.
Furthermore, there is genuine empirical evidence that rewilding is already occurring across much of mainland Europe. Wolves are returning to places in which they’ve not been seen for decades, and it’s having amazing affects on community assemblages, both in Europe and America. It’s here that the greatest scope for ecosystem restoration lies, with the reintroduction of top predators. The wide-ranging effects of large carnivores are well documented in a number of systems. As such, the case for returning wolves and lynx to their former ranges has strong scientific backing.
While Monbiot’s idealised vision of Wales teeming with everything from wolves to lynx and bison is ambitious, there’s a part of the brain that longs for it. By flirting with the idea of having nature on your doorstep (something that Monbiot attempted in his move to Wales), the reader is already imagining exactly that. It is a testament to just how well Feral is written.
Feral is a success not just because of its combination of well-delivered facts and personal experiences, but also in the way it ignites desire in the reader to reconnect with nature and become wild. In only a few hundred pages, Monbiot gives the reader a glimmer of what the term ‘wild’ really means, both from an anthropogenic and an ecological viewpoint.
Yes, Feral does think big in terms of its message. However, the world needs thinking such as this right now. Hope for the preservation of nature needs to be instilled, and the public need to be engaged with nature on a more personal level. Importantly, Feral does both incredibly well.
This positive outlook that Monbiot has taken is perhaps best surmised with one line that offers both hope and wonder: that just maybe "our Silent Spring could be replaced by a raucous summer."