Livia Albeck-Ripka on George Monbiot
On BBC’s Newsnight in 2015, George Monbiot skinned, hacked up and cooked a squirrel. Earlier that day, George—a veteran environmental reporter and activist—had been attacked on social media for admitting he ate roadkill. “Meat comes from animals… which have heads, they have tails. It’s not very nice,” he said, “but meat production isn’t.” The host, biting into the tough meat, grimaced: “We tend to forget that, don’t we?” If anyone could make this gruesome reality seem wholesome, it was George. “My job is to tell people what they don’t want to hear,” George has written of himself. He has been doing it for decades, and along the way become a persona non grata in seven countries, sentenced in absentia to life in prison, shot at, shipwrecked, stung into a coma by hornets, and tortured by police in Brazil.
Once a zoology major at Oxford—where he studied under the guidance of Richard Dawkins, Bill Hamilton and John Krebs—George struggled through his undergraduate, alienated by the institutional culture and escaping during the holidays to work outdoors. After hounding the BBC for a job during his final year, 22-year-old George landed a position as a wildlife radio producer. He went on to make investigative programs for the media giant, but when—during Margaret Thatcher’s reign—the “brave, dynamic organisation became a cow’rin, tim’rous beastie almost overnight” he quit and left for Indonesia. There he covered the forced migration of thousands of people and later became lost in the West Papuan forest, eating insects and rats to stay alive.
Many years later, he would be loading the dishwasher in Wales, wondering how he had come to exist so disparately from the natural world. While George does not romanticise or advocate a return to pre-civilisation, he argues that when nature is allowed to resume its path, destruction can be reversed. In his latest book, Feral: Rewilding the Land, The Sea, and Human Life he writes of wolves who have returned balance to food chains, deciduous trees that have re-sprouted after destruction and humpback whales repopulating the seas near Britain.
His other books, Heat, Captive State, and The Age of Consent—in which he lays out his vision for a “new world order”—are among his proliferous work on the intersection of politics, society and the environment. His documentaries, radio programs, articles and columns cover everything from religion to hunting and corporate power. When George isn’t fighting environmental devastation or writing anti-neoliberal manifestos, however, he is probably kayaking among dolphins, reading Russian literature, wading in a rockpool, pruning or watching Bill Hicks. One day in June 2016—after devastating environmental policy changes in Britain and Australia—we chat over Skype. George is in the middle of drafting a new kind of constitution.