Green Thoughts

Colin Ward

  • Seasons of the Seal by Fred Bruemmer and Brian Davies
    Bloomsbury, 160 pp, £16.95, October 1988, ISBN 0 7475 0214 5
  • Whale Nation by Heathcote Williams
    Cape, 191 pp, £15.00, August 1988, ISBN 0 224 02555 4
  • Falling for a dolphin by Heathcote Williams
    Cape, 47 pp, £4.95, November 1988, ISBN 0 224 02659 3
  • Prisoners of the Seas by K.A. Gourlay
    Zed, 256 pp, £25.95, November 1988, ISBN 0 86232 686 9
  • Progress for a Small Planet by Barbara Ward
    Earthscan, 298 pp, £5.95, September 1988, ISBN 1 85383 028 3
  • Future Earth: Exploring the Frontiers of Space edited by Nigel Calder and John Newell
    Christopher Helm, 255 pp, £14.95, November 1988, ISBN 0 7470 0420 X
  • Sizewell B: An Anatomy of the Enquiry by Timothy O’Riordan, Ray Kemp and Michael Purdue
    Macmillan, 474 pp, £45.00, September 1988, ISBN 0 333 38944 1
  • Early Green Politics by Peter Gould
    Harvester, 225 pp, £29.95, June 1988, ISBN 0 7108 1192 6
  • Dreamers of the Absolute by Hans Magnus Enzensberger
    Radius, 312 pp, £7.95, October 1988, ISBN 0 09 173240 9
  • The Coming of the Greens by Jonathon Porritt and David Winner
    Fontana, 287 pp, £4.95, September 1988, ISBN 0 00 637244 9
  • Ecology and Socialism by Martin Ryle
    Radius, 122 pp, £5.95, October 1988, ISBN 0 09 182247 5

The membership of environmental organisations in Britain is double that of the political parties and three times that of Sunday worshippers in the Church of England. Each of us has some links with the green movement and each of these books reflect one or other of these concerns. Everyone outside the farming industry is outraged by its subsidised destruction of woodlands, hedges, wetlands and wildlife, as well as by the pollution of water sources by nitrogenous fertilisers. Others are worried about the seas, their mounting pollution and the fate of their creatures. Still more are troubled about the air we breathe and the skies: the ozone layer, chlorofluorocarbons, acid rain and the radioactivity released by nuclear fission.

At another level, each of these issues comes together in a criticism of the rich world’s squandering of non-renewable energy sources as well as its looting of the poor world’s resources, like tropical rain forests. Finally there are some for whom all these issues combine to form the supreme political concern of the coming century. They brush aside the political Right’s preoccupation with economic growth and the political Left’s insistence on the working-class share of this growth.

Is there a ladder of green awareness? Do we move on from supporting the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, or the Society for the Protection of Rural England, to an understanding of the broader concerns these particular enthusiasms reflect? Is saving the whales inextricably tied up with saving Wales?

Disasters, dramatic events and news stories undoubtedly increase the general level of green consciousness. Tales of dying seals, stranded whales and dolphins abandoned in the swimming-pool of a Cairo hotel will have brought adventitious purchasers for the first three of these books. Fred Bruemmer’s remarkable photographs follow the lives and the 4000-mile migrations of seals southwards from Greenland, and Brian Davies, founder twenty years ago of the International Fund for Animal Welfare, tells of his success in 1983 in persuading the EEC Governments to ban the import of baby seal products. By 1987 he had procured a similar ban in Canada. Davies ‘fanned the flames of public protest’ in trying to destroy the market for seal products and succeeded as a result of the worldwide protest that ‘was fired by Bruemmer’s images of the cute pups’.

No doubt the concept of cuteness as a criterion for recruiting people to the minority who believe that other creatures have a right to survival on this planet is nauseous to the committed, but if you are involved in green propaganda you have to be flexible and appeal at every level of sophistication. The peaceable whale is the least cute and most awesome of our fellow animals, and Heathcote Williams rises to his subject with a volume which is not only a picture-book of the whale, and an anthology of human observations of the creature and its meaning for us, but is held together by his long poem which lists, in a Whitmanesque way, the utterly trivial, yet profitable, uses to which humans put whale products. The catalogue is devastating and shameful, and has already become immensely effective green propaganda.

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