How a love of nature can bring our divided country together

Paul Powlesland

When Extinction Rebellion activists recently gripped the attention of the nation, it brought into sharp focus the scale and urgency of the task this country faces to halt the climate crisis. It sent out a call for action that continues to ripple through every community. This important political moment cannot be buried under analysis of the European elections, the Tory leadership election and the Brexit debate.

A group of us, including nature protectors and political and environmental activists, took that first step in parliament earlier this month. We were brought together by Labour Together MPs Shabana Mahmood and Jim McMahon to talk about something that unites us all – a shared love of nature.

From people living in small towns and villages, who feel a deep connection to place and the countryside that surrounds them, to the millennial city dweller, who dutifully waters a flowering window basket or houseplant, we know that a love of nature is something that can bring our divided country together.

It can help us to appreciate how much more in common we have with each other, and above all else it can help to build a shared national commitment to saving our environment. A national commitment that rests on a shared love of the natural world and equal access to it for everyone.

Waking up to birdsong is one of life’s great privileges, and we owe it to our children to preserve that experience for them, not leave them with silence. A baby born today in our capital city may hope to do and see many wonderful things, but as they grow up they will not be able to look to the night sky and see the stars. Few things in life bring as much pleasure as a walk in the British countryside, but far too many will never experience it.

The left has a strong tradition of opening up nature to everyone – the Ramblers Act, the Allotment Act and the founding of our national parks. Labour must once again discover that zeal to connect people and nature, to open up the countryside, to educate children in what can be lost if we don’t look after it and to protect nature from the destructive side of economic growth.

To tackle climate chaos and secure democratic consent for the necessary changes, we must start constructing a broader political consensus for action. This means negotiation, listening and understanding where we are all starting from.

Below are just some of the ideas our group came up with.

  • Giving a tree to every citizen for any major life event (e.g. registering a birth, a marriage or gaining UK citizenship)
  • Twinning inner-city communities with rural communities to developed a shared understanding (just as we used town twinnings to build peace in Europe after World War Two)
  • Giving local communities more control over, ownership of and access to river banks and woodlands
  • Offering a free railcard for every young person to explore the country

But we can’t do this alone as 20 people in one room at one time. We’re asking you to share your ideas for how we can build a broader politics of nature here. A child born today should live to see the next century, and we believe that every child should live with and in the appreciation of nature. That is one of the most important ways we can build solidarity to overcome the climate and ecological crisis.

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