Back to the garden

Are the ecological transformations that we have examined here ultimately meaningful? Do they indicate the emergence of a new kind of human consciousness, a new kind of relationship between human and non-human nature? Can we see the making of a new cultural formation in the quest for sustainable development? Of course it is not possible to provide definitive answers to these questions, only to indicate some partial responses. There have been major barriers to institutional reform and to radical technological innovation that have slowed progress considerably. I have indicated how dissension and conflict and competition have distracted many agents for change from achieving their goals. It is clear that established power-holders, be they in the business world, local communities, or in environmental organizations have tried to limit the range and meaning of environmental politics and thus its impact and effect. But I have also shown how people have persevered with the struggle, amending it, moving it around, coming up with new ideas. For, as the old civil rights song would have it, "the movement's movin' on."

Perhaps the most important effect that environmentalism has had over the past thirty years is to help people worldwide to rediscover their relationship with the earth. Environmental movements, or the emerging ecological culture, have contributed to a project of global public cultivation, or enlightenment, by which millions of people have learned each in their own way why the survival of our natural surroundings is important for the human species. The "land ethic" was what Aldo Leopold called it back in the 1940s, and it has, of course, taken many forms in the years since, some of which are community-based (e.g. collective gardens), some of which are professional (e.g. organic agriculture), some of which are militant (e.g. occupying virgin forests) and some of which, or most of which, are personal. Perhaps it is in this personal dimension that a common denominator can be found among all the different forms of "critical" or social or cultural ecology that have been discussed in these pages, as an emerging culture struggles to stay free from the greedy commercial tentacles of global capitalism.

We might recall the Diggers, as they marched up St. George's Hill near Walton in Surrey in 1649 to share the earth, to dig together, and to practice a new creed - The Law of Freedom in a Platform - that was an early, perhaps the very first, environmentalist manifesto. "There should be no buying and selling of the Earth, nor of the fruits thereof," Gerrard Winstanley wrote (1652/1973: 127); and he continued:

The Earth is to be planted, and the fruits reaped, and carried into Barns and Store-houses by the assistance of every family: And if any man or family want Corn, or other provision, they may go to the Storehouses, and fetch without money: If they want a Horse to ride, go into the fields in Summer, or to the Common Stables in Winter, and receive one from the Keepers, and when your journey is performed, bring him where you had him, without money. If any want food or victuals, they may either go to the Butchers shops, and receive what they want without money; or else go to the flocks of sheep, or herds of cattel, and take and kill what meat is needful for their families, without buying and selling. (ibid.: 128)

Winstanley's vision was radical in the seventeenth century, and it has remained radical to this day. With its sense of solidarity and understanding of the collective nature of human sustenance it has served as a core, or underlying meaning for the varied and myriad attempts throughout subsequent centuries to develop an ecological society. But after some thirty years of an emerging environmental culture that has spread the vision far and wide the old idea might just have come a bit closer to realization.

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