I went to a talk by Green MP, Steffan Browning, in Greymouth last week. A dozen or so people turned out, all good, passionate people. Seven thousand stayed away, including local councillors and council staff.

The talk was about the effect of neonicotinoids, the neuro toxin in modern insecticides which is particularly damaging to bees. Neo-nics, as they are popularly called, attack the nervous system of insects, killing them. At sub lethal levels, they impair the navigation and learning system of bees, plus reduce their immune system and their fecundity. As the poison is systemic, it travels through the plants into the soil and hangs around for a long time. Given the vital role of bees in pollination and agriculture, it seems pretty dumb to poison them, yet these insecticides are not banned, or even studied by the Environmental Protection Authority.

And then there is the weed killer, glyphosate, the active ingredient in Round Up, and used widely by Councils to control weeds in playgrounds, parks and streets. The scientific evidence is pretty conclusive that it damages genes and is therefore carcinogenic, it affects hormones and the endocrine system, can result in kidney and liver damage and reduces the effectiveness of antibiotics. It’s not good news for bees either. Banned? No such luck. Being looked at by the EPA? No. What do we do? Sign a petition, lobby the council, etc. etc. Not too hard.

The next day I was ready to forget, put it into the unconscious as it were, but as I am beginning to research a book on environmentalism and the Coast, I need to comprehend the politics, or is it, the consciousness of it all? Why aren’t we massively angry at climate change, the general poisoning of the environment, the madness of chemical companies, of multinational seed control, of species loss? Where were the other seven thousand people?

Reading so far, reveals three branches of environmentalism. There is the wilderness cult which has resulted in national parks and species protection. There is the sustainable economy and society school, which necessarily recognises that the planet has limits. Finally, there is the environmental justice movement, which focuses on the environmental oppression of indigenous people and the poor. The former tend to be led by the middle class and the comfortably off, the latter tends to be the site of anger and direct action and one could include action over oppressed animals and birds (battery hens and pigs) – although the wilderness cult has produced some tree sitting and Greenpeace direct actions.

It becomes a matter of consciousness, how to turn that dozen people into seven thousand people lobbying council, how to create a daily consciousness, so that the sight of a bee makes one think of neo-nics, to change our attitude to weeds and tidy public spaces, to be horrified at how many times the spuds we buy in the supermarket have been sprayed… then the economics of it all, and how do people, everywhere, earn a living? And it is, with globalisation, such a universal issue, so tied to global capital and investment and free trade deals and underfunded (deliberately) government agencies.

A particular area of land is the site of belonging for an indigenous people, is their identity, so they are willing to tackle the grey mob of capitalists and their political stooges. Perhaps deep ecology, that tuning into the natural world, is the closest we colonials can get to that. Certain exercises by my theatre guru, Grotowski, can put me into that space. But we still have to go to work and be compliant.

I have to acknowledge the achievements of the environmentalists over the last decades. It is a matter though of changing the world, of a revolution of consciousness and political system. And to realise that the planet doesn’t care if we totally stuff up and return it to the bacteria for some millions of years. The planet doesn’t have a consciousness. We do. The necessary revolution is for the sustaining of human society and must embody a profound empathy for the planet we have inherited.

Meanwhile, I will write a letter to the council.

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