The World Wildlife Fund’s mission is “To stop the degradation of the Earth’s natural environment and to build a future in which humans live in harmony with nature…” In their Living Planet Report published in 2020 it is reported that global mammal, fish, bird and amphibian populations have declined by 68% in less than 50 years. Genetic degradation isn’t covered in the report.
People the world over donate billions of
dollars to WWF each year. Despite which, the reality is that after 60 years at
the forefront of conservation WWF (and professional conservation in general)
have entirely failed to achieve their
stated objective. Degradation of the natural environment, together with
declines in genetic integrity across all species, resulting directly from
environmentally hostile and destructive human activities, is both ubiquitous
and of such severity as to suggest the distinct possibility that animals in
their natural habitats will be largely if not entirely wiped out within another
one or two decades.
This is not to say that the position
might not have been worse without the efforts of conservation agencies, or that
their failure to stem the tide of destruction is not to some extent understandable.
Human numbers in my lifetime have gone from 2.5 billion to a staggering 8
billion, and in 2020 alone (notwithstanding COVID-19) births exceeded deaths by
And if you don’t recognize in all of this
clear evidence of disease in the social organism, and get a glimpse of the
joyless, polluted, dangerous and unsustainable world that will be occupied by
our children, should they survive of course, then as lawyers are inclined to
say, I rest my case.
It’s insane, and the approach to the
unfolding catastrophe by conservation professionals appears to consist of what
the medical profession might describe as symptomatic diagnosis and treatment. In other words, cause unknown and
remedial treatment aimed at easing pain and symptoms – rather than eradicating underlying
Carl Jung proposed that all human
neurosis and psychosis stems from division from nature. And if Jung has it
right, then does it not follow that in-depth understanding of the human
condition that gives rise to environmental destruction, must precede and
dictate remedial action? Neurosis doesn’t mean barking mad but rather a relatively
mild altered state of reality. I’m not a psychologist but it would seem to me that
division from Nature essentially triggers a loss of synchronicity between two
distinct faculties of memory. The first of these being instinct and the second
Instinct can be defined as prenatal, genetic,
evolutionary or ancestral memory function. Reason is postnatal, experiential or
socially acquired memory function, and in Nature this dual memory function
combines seamlessly to optimize survival prospects and transfer of advantageous
genes. Division from Nature disrupts brain function synchronicity, resulting in
suppression of instinct and elevated levels of dependence or dominance of reason.
Homo sapiens sapiens or wise wise Man
is how we see ourselves. IQ is measured by reasoning ability alone. Instinct is
generally seen as primitive if not superfluous.
What it amounts to is a muting of the
guiding influence of an ancestral lineage that transcends species barriers – as
a result of which we are disoriented and essentially lost. Domination of reason
is also recognizable in the concept of dominion which in turn, is the soil in
which the roots of private property lie buried, and out of which extends a
spider’s web of dividing lines on maps that identify reason-based assumptions
of superiority, and license to exploit and abuse our animal companions.
Nelson Mandela once said, “…love comes
more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” It is so – for the simple
reason that love is innate and derives from immutable genetic hardwiring or
instinct. Dominion is the polar opposite of love. It is a socially acquired and
consequently mutable worldview that, in the absence of counterbalancing
instinct amounts to a reprehensible idea, passed on through childhood
conditioning from one generation to the next. With symptoms known variously as
a contest between good and evil; love and hate; male and female energy, or as
an imbalance between reason and instinct - what is beyond doubt and crystal
clear is the deep fracturing of the human psyche that springs directly from the
tail of division from Nature.
Exacerbating this altered state of
consciousness and loss of balance is a similarly debilitating condition that in
the natural world promotes survival – but threatens survival when natural
conditions are supplanted by artificial or virtual circumstances. What I’m
alluding to is the inherently acquisitive nature of all primates. A monkey trap
consists of a simple cage, baited with fruit and a hole in the top big enough
to allow passage of the animals hand, but too small to allow withdrawal of hand
clutching the fruit. Under such conditions greed overcomes reason and the
monkey’s fate is sealed. And if a monkey will choose life at the end of a chain or
death for the sake of a banana – then what chance do we humans have of
moderating or abandoning our desire for houses, cars and smartphones? Material
possessions we would literally die for – and almost certainly will.
Is there any hope? Probably not. But in
the wake of COVID-19 coupled to increasing awareness of environmental
destruction and climate change, is an emergent grassroots impulse to establish a
new normal and in that resides a
glimmer of hope. Some years ago CapeNature (Western Cape Government) launched a
highly successful land acquisition programme called stewardship. It offers incentives to land owners to make land
available for conservation. These Contract Nature Reserves are designed to
establish areas and inter-linked corridors of land to promote conservation –
and it works.
To be a steward means to look after
something. It also has a theological definition which means roughly the same
thing – taking care of God’s work. A slogan for stewardship is “partnerships
make it happen.” What the CapeNature model lacks is a grassroots format, a
united front whereby everyone (not just farmers) can become directly involved
with conservation through various forms of collaboration.
This might include joint ownership of
land for dual conservation and social purposes, with attendant recreational and
residential (work from home) opportunities. A new normal where people can reconnect with Nature; partner with
conservation professionals if necessary; work together to find ways of achieving
harmony rather than conflict with Nature, and in doing so aspire to their true
and full human potential. Healing the divisions of the past you might say – one
barbed wire fence at a time.
As co-founder of an independent stewardship
initiative some 20 years ago, that preceded the CapeNature model and successfully
converted a 700 hectare commercial farm in the Cederberg area of the Western
Cape to social and conservation purposes, my observations with respect to the
potential of grassroots stewardship stem from hands-on experience. It’s a
concept that has enormous potential for growth and facilitation of positive
change. Despite which, professional conservation entities, sadly, tend to also
conserve a preference for a top-down, leave-it-to-us-we-know-best approach and
are resistant to unconventional ideas from outside the ranks of their
Humans share a common ancestor with
chimpanzees. All primates are highly intelligent and, just like us, their first
response to anxiety, fear and insecurity tends to be psychological denial. Held
captive in a monkey trap a primate’s life is often forfeited through its
inability to accept the reality of its predicament. In the human domain it is
frequently suggested that our relationship with Nature is “complex,” and it’s
important to recognize that what lies behind this suggestion is denial, arising
from an unwillingness or inability to accept the inconvenient truth of
selfishness and obsessive need for materialistic gratification.
Grassroots stewardship might be
described as the antithesis of the divide and conquer approach. It’s a holistic
approach that seeks to unify the land and restore an ethical and respectful
relationship between humans and all other life forms – in the context of ever-expanding
farmlands, habitat destruction and genetic degradation that undermines the
process of evolution itself.
There is no one-size-fits-all formula
for stewardship projects and it is also not possible to touch on more than a
few salient features in this essay. The Cederberg initiative referred to above
was registered as a trust. Objective of the trust was to acquire land for
social and conservation purposes. The 700 hectare farm acquired was on two
titles which, in terms of compliance with agricultural zoning regulations, allowed
for construction of 12 dwellings.
There were accordingly 12 beneficiaries
who had access to the land as an undivided whole. Internal fencing was removed.
Beneficiaries were allocated areas for their personal use and were entitled to
build a house and establish a garden or practice micro farming if they chose to
do so. Personal use could be recreational or permanent occupation at the entire
discretion of the beneficiary.
These “plots” did not have separate
title and on resignation by a beneficiary, immovable assets could be sold on but
not the land occupied. In short, a moderation in terms of profit incentive, but
full investment security and access through the power of partnership to a
magnificent property abutting a wilderness area for a very modest and fully
Obvious benefits to the natural
environment aside, the participants in this project had few if any
disadvantages in comparison to a more conventional “development” scheme. What
they did have were several distinct and unique advantages – not least amongst
which was becoming part of an exciting pioneering project, committed to
positive social change and restoration of integrity with respect to humankind’s
generally dysfunctional relationship with Nature.
Retaining the land as one undivided
whole is perhaps the most fundamental requirement in any grassroots stewardship
project. It is also possible in the Western Cape (through CapeNature) to rezone
land as a Contract Nature Reserve. This secures the same protection status as a
national park. Such rezoning in perpetuity means that the land is permanently safeguarded
against usage for anything other than conservation purposes and, in the event
of abutment with another conservation area, it opens the door for further
unification and expansion of conservation land.
The term “economics” is defined in my dictionary as “a branch of knowledge concerned with the production, consumption, and transfer of wealth.” Arising as it does from a mind divided on itself and being also a product of socially acquired knowledge, largely devoid of counterbalancing wisdom and empathy, it is equally true to say that the business of economics is an anthropomorphic, supremacist, morally challenged branch of knowledge that views Nature as a commodity, composed of “resources” and “game” serving no purpose greater than consumerism and monetary profit.
Shaking off the spell cast by denial related to the destruction of 3.5 billion years of evolutionary progress and development (or what might equally be called God’s creation) and our collective complicity in that event, requires a long hard look in the mirror and conscious application of reason – followed by immediate and appropriate corrective action.
Prevailing economic models are neither
ethical, immutable, nor sacrosanct. Stewardship represents a viable and
immediate means of expanding conservation areas. It affords the opportunity for
people, at their own pace and discretion, to adopt simpler, less materialistic
lifestyles and to acquire more responsible attitudes and values. It represents
a starting point for progressive social restructuring and a means of healing
our broken relationship with Nature.
Grassroots stewardship is not only
viable but offers ordinary people an extraordinary opportunity to “Be the
change you want to see in the world” as Gandhi once proposed. It’s the right
thing to do. It provides sanctuary for our animal companions. It makes you feel
good about yourself; makes the ancestors happy and it’s a giant leap forward
with respect to transcending good intentions, and actually accomplishing a
world in which humans live in harmony with Nature. It can be done and if ever
there was a time to engage our allegedly superior faculties of reason and
partner for change then that time is now!
- Bruce McLeod co-founded a pioneering stewardship initiative some 20 years ago that successfully converted a 700 hectare commercial farm in the Cederberg area of the Western Cape for dual conservation and social purposes.