MEC students at event – How to Live for Nature: Melanie Challenger and George Monbiot

Back in November, we received an invitation from Melanie Challenger for MEC students to attend an event about organised by Blackwells’s and Orion Magazine on the relationships between humans and the rest of nature, and what we can do. Both Melanie Challenger and George Monbiot would be talking at the event, and MEC students were encouraged to send questions in advance for both of them to engage with them during their live conversation. Needless to say, we were delighted with the invite, and thus we started to prepare for it at our MEC reading group. 

In fact, in one way, we had already started preparations, as last academic year and again past October, we discussed The Guardian’s climate pledge, and what it could mean for environmental journalism (specially in terms of use of verbal and visual language). We reviewed in depth the following four pages:







Our discussion centred around two main topics. On the one hand, we acknowledge the important step that The Guardian was taking in highlighting the shortcomings of current standard framing of environmental news. We talked about how the changes in verbal and visual style allowed for a more accurate, while dramatic (because it is!) reporting of environmental issues. We hoped that this effort would go beyond The Guardian, and become standards. We wondered how this could happen, and whether any of the collective organisations for and of journalists would take notice and propel wider change. On the other, we noticed how much of the pledge objectives, and much of the 2020 update seemed to respond to corporate expectations about what can be do for nature, were a bit repetitive, and the commitment to actual goals was underwhelming (ten years to achieve zero emissions, support for offsetting schemes). We missed in there a focus on community, and on inspiring/participating in political action for change.

So, we started to consider the topic of the event per se, the relationships between humans and the rest of nature, and what we can do, by reflecting on what The Guardian has set sail to do. And from there we moved onto reading Melanie Challenger’s “On Extinction”, as well as some other bits and pieces on her work and on George Monbiot’s writing on nature. On a first approach to the book, we first talked about how learning more about animals enhances our understanding as well as empathy. Then we considered specific chapters (Wild Flowers, Tin, Whales, Savages) and started a conversation about how class and race plays a very important role in how we relate to nature. We are a diverse bunch, and we have a great interest on indigenous nations and their knowledge, so we talked about how both authors could do with incorporating indigenous voices and experiences to their work, and contextualising it more as a concrete Western experience, so one, among many many many. The conversation also led us to talk about Bolivia, the Cochabamba Water War, Evo Morales, and, the Law of Mother Earth. And, after a few weeks reading, discussing, pondering, we agreed on four questions, two for Melanie Challenger specifically, two for both authors.

  1. Your writing walks the line of several literary genres, we wonder, who do you want to reach with it? What conversation do you want to contribute to?
  2. Would you consider your work advances the understanding of humans as interconnected and interdependent with more than human nature, as in post-humanist feminist scholarship, e.g. D. Haraway and A. Tsing? Has that line of thought/approach influenced your work?
  3. A question for you and George Monbiot: in what ways do you try to incorporate non-Western experiences into your writing?
  4. A question/observation for you and George Monbiot. In our reading group, we discussed The Guardian’s Climate Pledge in early autumn, then your book “On Extiction” followed. In reflecting about both materials, we have realised they present very different ways of dealing with the same issue. The Guardian places emphasis on working systematically, precisely and with “honesty”; while your work, we think, seems to invite to creative and situated reflection. How do you reconcile these two approaches?

The event took place last week in the evening time, and we were there from beginning to end. Challenger and Monbiot started the conversation answering to one of our questions, namely number three. All other of our questions were addressed partially throughout the conversation, along with some others that came through the live Q&A. Although we were hoping for more in-depth discussion about post-humanist feminism, as well as about collective ways of action, we also thought that both authors fostered reflection on our individual actions and it was very insightful to follow their discussion.

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