What the ecotheologian Thomas Berry called ‘the great conversation’ between humanity and nature is broken and has been silenced for years, with our species now obsessed with speaking to itself. Paul Kingsnorth’s collection of essays, Confessions of a Recovering Environmentalist, attempts to develop a series of ‘useful questions’ to help us get closer to a solution to this problem.
The book is urgent from the outset, mixing Kingsnorth’s anecdotal experience of his travels with intriguing tangents to form an intimate yet international collection crossing locations as diverse as the Lake District to Jakarta, Indonesia. The issues Kingsnorth raises are as varied as Kingsnorth’s travels: climate change, communities destroyed in the name of progress and brazen ecocide. It makes for bleak reading, and Kingsnorth appears to have little hope in way of improvement.
Two particular bugbears for Kingsnorth in this collection are widespread beliefs in tech utopianism and anthropocentric manifest destiny, as he repeatedly rails against smartphones, social media, and the myth of progress. In the book’s titular essay, Kingsnorth states that the green movement has lost its way since the 1970s, allowing itself to become pinched between a neoliberal obsession with technological salvation and equally anthropocentric left-wing class analysis. Kingsnorth seems to doubt that Greens can achieve much worthwhile change at all in traditional political modes, which is difficult to refute.
Despite its pessimism, this is ultimately a book of love, shown through Kingsnorth’s reverent, awestruck relationship with nature. Illustrated through accounts of the Grotte de Niaux in the French Pyrenees and his tender descriptions of planting trees on his own land, Kingsnorth urges an eco-centric approach, appealing to a more primal understanding within us about earth and our place upon it. Through the book’s two main ideas, ‘uncivilisation’ and ‘dark ecology’, Kingsnorth calls for more local, less people-centred acts of resistance, as well as for more poetic storytellers who focus on creating more convincing plots for us to follow.
The main revelation Kingsworth has for Greens in this compelling, passionate book is that, if ever we are in doubt as to what best to do, we must step back into the garden, forest, or sea. The answers we are looking for might just be found there.