As any reader of this blog will be aware I am very interested in the human relationship with nature and so was particularly pleased to get a ticket for this event at the Edinburgh International Book Festival.
Author Melanie Challenger and environmental historian Chris Smout were in conversation with Al Senter, about human attitudes to the environment.
Challenger's book On Extinction looks at extinctions in the natural world but starts in Cornwall, where she grew up surrounded by the relics of the old tin mining industry, which left an industrial landscape that she found fascinating and poignant (and one that I remember from many childhood holidays in Cornwall - the tall chimneys of the derelict tin mines stand in such contrast to the wildness of the sea cliffs).
From there the discussion explored human attitudes to nature through history. Smout pointed out for instance that although it is very easy to point the finger at religion (specially Christianity) as having encouraged us to exploit nature, the same religions contain strong elements exhorting stewardship towards the earth.
The current fall in importance of environmental issues on the political agenda was linked directly to the economic situation, which is pushing politicians to urge growth and more growth as a way of getting us out of the downturn, while overlooking the fact that unchecked economic growth is in fact unsustainable and will only lead to increased climate change and increased pressures on already threatened species of plants and animals.
The speakers acknowledged that extinction is part of nature but pointed out that we are having a disproportionate effect on species being pushed towards extinction. Challenger admitted that there is an element of nostalgia around potential extinctions, but that we lose so much if we allow species to become extinct. In specific discussion about whether it was worth investing so much in saving the giant panda, the speakers discussed the charisma of pandas and their role in helping to engage wider audiences in conservation in general, as well as the value of the panda itself as being such an amazing creature.
There was quiet a lot of discussion about nostalgia, going back to the Roman nostalgia for the Great Forest of Caledon, which once covered Scotland. in fact the Romans are believed to have exaggerated the extent of this forest, which was already before their time reduced in extent due to climate change and the axes of the Iron Age inhabitants of Scotland.
The conclusion was that we need to instil environmental consciousness in everyone, but it was admitted that no-one knows how to do that. Some people seem to have more natural propensity towards caring for the environment and others just seem as though they will never really care.
This was another very thought provoking session at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, thanks again to Clicket for the ticket. You can read more about the various Edinburgh Festivals on the Clicket blog.
I'm appearing at the Fringe Festival myself over the next couple of days. I'll be part of Venus in Transition at 6pm, Monday 20 August at Captains Bar.
4 South College Street, Edinburgh. This is a spoken word and musical
tribute to the 70s Scottish singer songwriter Venus Carmichael,
devised by Andrew C Ferguson and featuring poet Fiona Lindsay and singer Kelly Brooks.
Also at Captain's Bar, I'll be reading short stories and poetry at 6pm
on 21st August. Also reading will be: Rosie Bell, Mark Gilfillan, James
Spence and Helen Boden.
As ever, text in red contains hyperlinks to other pages where you can find out more.