On the day I sat down to write this piece I saw a fox, three hares, a grey heron, a pair of ducks, a pigeon, a magpie and a hooded crow on my morning run.

I would not have been surprised if I had seen red deer, delighted if I had seen a red squirrel or a pine martin, all of which are common in this part of County Fermanagh. I had the good fortune to hear a rich variety of bird song during my five-mile run. There were twitters, tweets, wheats and whistles. They were both soft and loud, short, drawn out and in rapid succession.

An exuberance of tunes and tones that coalesced into a clear fluid joyous melody that flooded field and forest. An eerie sequence of screeching sounds coming from deep among the trees whose source I could not identify aroused in me a primeval sense of curiosity and alertness. Where the sounds from a large bird or perhaps from a creature which long ago learnt to hide itself from humankind. Along the narrow road far from carbon dioxide emitting vehicles were primroses, cowslips and snowdrops galore. The soft dawn and the tingle in the breeze enhanced my sense of jubilation at being alive and in good health in such a place as this. All, however, was not well. On the short stretch of main road I saw innumerable dead frogs, their bodies leaking their moist guts onto the tarmac.

There was also litter left by people who felt no emotional attachment to or sense of their dependency on nonhuman nature. For such folk a car drive is akin to virtual reality experienced through wrap-around visors whilst sitting in a comfortable chair. The hedges and water courses are their trash cans into which they toss their unwanted plastic food wrappings and containers.

In ecology there is a term called “shifting baseline syndrome”. It describes how people accept as normal the degeneration of an ecosystem which the previous generation would respond to with horror, dismay and a sense of deprivation. In other words we don’t miss what we have never know. (The Patterning Instinct, Jeremy Lent, 2017, p. 414)

This is illustrated by the fact that no one in Ireland today feels a sense of loss for the wolves that once roamed the mountains and glades and it has been thousands of years since anyone thought fondly of the majestic Giant Irish Elk, romanced it in songs and poetry. There is, however, an oft spoken regret for the regional extinction across these islands of birds, insects and wild flowers people were familiar with in their youth. The curlew, black bird, thrush, snipe, skylark, cuckoo and house sparrow are some of the birds children today will probably never have direct experience of.

The rich bio-world our grandparents would have known has gone and because of the shifting baseline syndrome no one laments and few campaign for government policies to protect and enhance what biodiversity is left. Even when the loss is monitored and aerial images of the desecration of bog, hedgerows and rainforest appear on our digital screens we act as if the demise of nonhuman life has nothing to do with us.

The common response by governments and corporations to rigorously conducted research of environmental problems is to dampen public concern with platitudes and action that amounts to green wash.
An example out of many that could be given is the case of biomass fuels. The Channel 4 programme Dispatches, The True Cost of Green Energy, broadcast on the 16 April 2018, highlighted the ecological and financial folly of clear-felling bio-rich hardwood forests in the south east of the United States to turn into woodchips destined for UK power stations. The process of converting logs into wood chips consumes 20% of the energy embodied in the chips. The woodchips are brought to the UK by the most polluting of all forms of transport, ships, then transported by diesel lorries to power plants to generate electricity in replacement of coal. Burning woodchips emits one and a half times as much carbon dioxide as burning coal. The taxpayer subsidises this bio-carnage and significant emission of planet-warming gasses. The sum paid to DRAX, the UK’s largest power station, is £1.3 million a day with more than £2 billion paid to power stations in the last two years. In terms of an eco-audit this is a negative for nonhuman nature.

It is, however, regarded as a success by the government as it gives the public the impression that it is responding to their environmental concerns. The chipping of bio-rich forests to generate energy is common practice not only in the UK but across the European Union. (Letters: The Guardian, 14 December 2017)

The question is will this feigning of environmental concern continue to the point when genuine concern won’t matter. This will almost certainly happen if ordinary folk don’t waken to the delights and importance of the nonhuman world. The last few decades has produced research which shows we act more on the basis of our emotions than our rationality, that we use rationality after the fact.

This means, to use a term popular in the late 1960s and 70s, we need ‘to switch on’ to nonhuman nature. We need to fall in love with it, be enriched by it, feel its pulse and understand it directly as well as through the learning resources at our finger-tips. Then, almost inevitably, we will petition for change using every nonviolent protest and educational means we can. The various rights movements of the past 100 years or so show that protest, lobbying and education works. We should feel empowered by the fact that although we may be invisible and unknown we are co-authors of the world we live in and bequeath to future generations.
Imagine how impoverished the world would be without wild flora.