Sunday, 18 September 2011

Planet Dancing by Patric McCusker

Like some other fellow Greenies, I was sent a copy of Planet Dancing by Patric McCusker to review. I did this by way of three questions to Patrick, shown below. The book is in two halves, with a series of well written and poignant vignettes in the first half followed by a number of schemes to help the world connect with nature in the second. I found the first half much better than the second which seemed to focus on a combination of 'benign' capitalism as a solution and giving children nature based names to foster a sense of connection with the planet.

You can imagine my reaction to a solution based on capitalism but I like the idea of  giving children names based on nature although I know it will make no impact on their love (or not) of it as my daughter Poppy will atest.

This is the response that I had from the author to my questions:

Mr Jeffery thank you for your kind words about Planet Dancing. They are much appreciated. In relation to the book in general the ambition is to give people an easy read about things in nature that are familiar to them: things that would disturb them if they were to become extinct. I purposely stayed away from the big pictures of nature – a half million wildebeest migrating in search of water etc. The small, intimate, and indeed often common scenes in nature can capture people’s imagination in ways that more intricate patterns cannot. The dilemma the frog will face in the Big Guy in an English swamp (P 49) is an example.

Your first question: Why is the book in two halves and how does the first section inform the second?

The book, as you rightly point out, is divided into two sections. The first part has the serious intent of drawing people out of their often busy lives to look once more at the quiet beauty of the small things of nature that are to be found all about them: to see in these things a wonder and a mystery that by their presence can enrich our lives. It is purposely not stated but this first section attempts to leave the thought that if these things were to pass to extinction our lives would be poorer by their passing. This part of the book attempts to leave an impression on the reader that we must see to it that such things are protected. The question it raises is therefore – how to protect and how can we as citizens help in this protection? This opens the thinking into the second part of the work – what can be done by citizens to protect species and habitats? Too many books on conservation are written in shrill and clamorous tones and demanding that something be done – without suggesting what might be done. Planet Dancing has avoided all that. It is never raucous or strident. Nevertheless over the second section it attempts to set down a number of solutions, solutions if adopted, that could bring about enormous changes in attitude on how best to tackle our conservation problems. The involvement of the public is key. It is far too limiting to leave conservation largely in the hands of government agencies. The numerous NGO that are struggling to conserve nature, often against bitter opposition, do so against the mild indifference by the general public for what they are attempting to achieve. The ambition of Planet Dancing is to galvanize large sections of society to be motivated to become involved in conserving nature.  

Your second question: How can the idea of nature names be sold to ‘ordinary’ people?

To me this is an idea of enormous potential. It would allow a child, while a child and on growing up, to take on the protection of a single species and to join with others in the protection of this species. The ‘protection of a habitat’ or ‘save the world’ are far too big and complex questions that leave many in confusion and helplessness in what they might do on a practical level that would make a difference. When you think about it if this idea becomes widespread it would mean that right across the UK there would be thousands of Fox Children and thousands of Wren Children or Barn Owl Children that, in time, could form powerful conservation groups for the protection of their chosen animal or bird. Where a habitat containing several such species is threatened, then disparate groups can band together into a powerful lobby for its protection. This is conservation ethic manifesting itself in a real practical way. Fine, and how might we get to that position? Clearly there will be a need to seed this idea into the thinking of parents. We need large numbers of parents to embrace this idea that the next generation be motivated in a precise and focused way. Publicity is all in generating any sort of new idea. What is needed is a powerful trigger to set an example. Prince Charles over many years has spoken out on many occasions on the need to conserve the planet. His book (with others) - Harmony – a New Way of Looking at the World - is an attestation to that fact. What if someone of such high status were to lend his or her name to this idea? What if a royal couple, once they understood the concept, were to bestow nature names on their children? If this was done in a blaze of publicity that other parents would follow their example this would be extraordinary beneficial in bringing about a sea-change in our attitude to protecting species. Given the perilous state of many species in the world something as audacious as this is needed to set our thinking on a more imaginative way to get whole societies involved in conserving species. The first reaction to such a bold suggestion is that it is far too audacious. But clearly if we are not to continue sleep-walking past the problem of the steady melting away of species we need now, as never before, to attempt something as dramatic as this to galvanise a whole society into a completely different way where individuals can take ownership of the problem of conserving a single species of their own choice. If the Royal House were to agree to this or to an equally dramatic gesture it could be the start of an idea that would sweep from country to country. The Kent Green Party might wish to take this idea on board for discussion. Such a dramatic deflection away from conventional conservation thinking would be dramatic and highly newsworthy.

Your third question: that capitalism exported to impoverished countries could add to environmental damage.

The basic need of each human is food and shelter. It is not much to expect – yet millions are denied these things. Clearly we cannot stand aside and be indifferent with this a daily reality in millions of lives. The towering problem in this is population growth. Aid must be conditional on confronting this problem. But there is another problem too. Working the land in poor countries will give a living to some – but it will not support the millions that are now attempting to scrape a living out of soil that is de facto desert. Something else is needed. They need some sort of employment to give them adequate food, shelter, medicine and schooling. No one can argue against these basic needs. I don’t equate this with ‘capitalism’ in the general meaning of the term. Capitalism, in the modern sense, is the accumulation of things beyond what is needed to sustain a simple yet contented life. Where we have gone wrong, and I expect you agree given the nature of your question, is that we have gone along this insane journey of accumulating useless things and cluttering up our houses with objects that don’t, and never did, add one bit of contentment to our lives. I counted 64 ornaments in my own home that if swept aside would not be missed. There must be billions of similar useless things sitting in other homes across the planet. So it’s not just the accumulation of cars and houses and jewellery but also this detritus that drags down our lives and uses resources in the manufacture of such vacuous objects. Capitalism gone mad! We could learn great comforts and considerable contentment from many of the Buddhist teaching in this regard of not attaching ourselves to things. Indeed nothing less than a world revolution in our thinking is needed if we are to change capitalism to generate content societies that do not equate happiness with the facile accumulation of useless things. Your question on capitalism must be answered by the troubling accumulations by those who can both afford and demand an endless supply of possessions. I do not believe that that concern can be laid at the feet of millions who want no more than to escape from poverty into a simple lifestyle of some contentment. I hope that I have satisfactorily answered your questions. I thank you again for your kindness in your view of Planet Dancing. I would be most appreciative of the influence of your good office in making the contents of Planet Dancing widely known.

Sincerely yours
Patrick mcCusker

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