Not caring about the environment is no longer an option


Can we capture the good-natured passion without aggression of Harry Leslie Smith to take time to explain to those we meet that the environment IS about food, shelter and safety. 

A few days ago I heard the news that Harry Leslie Smith has had a fall and is in hospital. He describes himself as ‘the world’s oldest rebel’, with pride and delight. He uses his energy and outspokenness to the full to comment on topics like Brexit, immigration, the NHS, and war.

For most of us that kind of idealism gets modified as we age. We begin to grasp the complexity of human systems and understand that they, of themselves, are not malevolent. We see how change is a long process and that the upending of the status quo is not in and of itself a good thing. Our perception of time changes. We take the longer view. We – hopefully – become more tolerant and accepting and compassionate.

The trouble is we’re now faced with something that isn’t going to yield to long solutions. The urgency with which we should be addressing environmental degradation and climate change messes with our heads and with all we think we know about how to do things.

I’ve just watched a short video, on the Guardian website, of a confrontation in London between a climate change protestor in the Extinction Rebellion group, and a man whose car has been stopped by the protestors blocking the road. Very clearly for the film, although possibly quite unaware he was being filmed at that moment, the furious man says he doesn’t care about the environment. He’s likely to be in a place where it’s really hard to have the time to understand what’s going on because he’s hell-bent on survival, and it’s entirely natural that given the pressures of life he should feel like that.

"We need to take the time and have the patience"

But those of us who know that the environment means food and shelter and safety, the very things he’s pursuing for his family, assuming he has one, we need to take the time and have the patience to sit down endlessly with everyone and explain it, again and again; not caring about the environment is no longer an option on the human table. We need to wed our adolescent passion and drive and hopefulness to our mature patience and acceptance and harness them to an attempt to ‘change the world’; no more and certainly no less.

Who has the patience to engage like this with people on the ‘opposite side’ of whatever divide we’re contemplating, be it Brexit, climate science, immigration or anything else? Harry Leslie Smith always seems so good-natured and capable of arguing with passion but without aggression. A great role-model for all of us.


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