Do you ever get the feeling that we’re all completely fucked — ecologically, politically, socioeconomically, existentially — and that no one’s doing anything meaningful about it? That, on the contrary, almost everybody’s carrying on doing exactly the same things that got us so fucked in the first place?
It doesn’t wake me up in a cold sweat in the middle of the night, this feeling. It’s more of a steady bassline hum — the whir of a washing machine, the low rumble of an idling 4 x 4 — that I’m rarely fully conscious of and sometimes able to forget about, but that never truly goes away.
George Monbiot is a writer and environmentalist whose head-on engagement with this feeling, and with the interaction between nature and culture more generally, has made him one of the most influential and widely read journalists in the UK. His first book, Poisoned Arrows, published when he was 24, recounted his clandestine journey through the “forbidden territories” of West Papua, detailing the human and environmental cost of their annexation by Indonesia. His most recent book, Out of the Wreckage, advocates a new political narrative that foregrounds humanity's capacity for kindness and cooperation. In between he has written extensively about climate breakdown, ecological disaster, corporate power, and mental health, often in his regular column for the Guardian, which is now into its third decade.
Last Friday, sat on camping chairs in the garden of his house in the Oxford suburbs, we spoke to him about all of these things, and particularly about the dire state of the oceans we use as our playground. Now cured of the prostate cancer with which he was diagnosed late last year, he looked healthy, if a little weary, the weariness alternately giving way to waves of amused despair, on the one hand, and genuine, beseeching hope, on the other. He wore a star-patterned short-sleeve shirt (not pictured), and, intermittently, an expression that was at once avuncular and slightly sheepish — an adjective he might not appreciate, given his vehement dislike of sheep.
You should read the whole interview, below, but if you're pressed for time, or just averse to tracts of unrelieved text, his main messages have been boiled down into more easily digestible chunks in this article here.
George W Bush famously said that the human being and the fish could co-exist peacefully. Was he right?
We could, in principle, but we’re not doing so at the moment. We have a disaster on just about every front. I think we were very badly served by the Blue Planet series in this respect, in that by far and away the biggest impact in the oceans and on their ecosystem is industrial fishing. And yet that series, which was brilliant in many other ways, completely let industrial fishing off the hook, because the only operation it really looked at was this Norwegian herring fishery, which was in the 1% of fisheries that are managed in such a way that they might be sustained. All the rest are nosediving because of mismanagement — that’s 99% of the world’s fisheries. And the thing which they didn’t hammer home, which I was very frustrated about, was that they’d shown us these magnificent creatures of the sea, and their incredibly complicated social lives, and gave us some insight into the minds of these animals, and yet we treat them as seafood. Look at this magnificent octopus — and eat it!
"By far and away the biggest impact in the oceans and on their ecosystem is industrial fishing"
Now, I’m not against all fishing, but I think if we’re going to catch any fish it has to be: 1) towards the bottom of the food chain, and so we eat the fish that can readily replenish themselves without massive knock-on effects right through the food chain, and 2) they have to be caught within very strict limits and in ways which don’t trash the rest of the ecosystem — and that simply is not the case for the great majority of the fish that we eat. And people are blind to this. I know so many environmentalists who will happily buy a tuna steak, or swordfish — these creatures at the top of the food chain which are being completely smashed by industrial fishing, and whose fishing often is destroying dolphin populations, turtle populations, albatross populations, the rest of it — and somehow they just don’t connect with this issue, and it’s because it hasn’t been emphasised nearly enough. I’ll give you an example — following Blue Planet, a quite well known environmentalist put out this tweet, saying, Success! I managed to get Tesco to put the prawns I was buying in my tupperware rather than wrapping them up in their own plastic, and therefore I am saving the marine environment. And I thought, “Hang on a minute!” Prawn fisheries have about the most destructive impact of all in the marine environment. Either the prawns are being caught with massive by-catch — a lot of them come for instance from the Gulf of Mexico, where it’s wiped out a whole series of other species, including sawfish and turtles and many others — or they are being cultivated in ponds which are created where mangrove forests are cleared, which are the critical breeding grounds for loads of different species, essential for coastal defence and the rest of it. You can’t do worse at the moment than buy prawns.
"The fact that she was so blinded by the plastics campaign to the other environmental impacts showed me the extent to which we have completely got our priorities wrong when it comes to marine conservation"
And the fact that she was so blinded by the plastics campaign to the other environmental impacts showed me the extent to which we have completely got our priorities wrong when it comes to marine conservation. You know, there’s no question that plastic is a huge issue but much less so in this country than in certain other countries, because we’ve got relatively good waste disposal by comparison with several Asian and African countries, for example, and Central American countries and indeed one or two Middle Eastern ones as well, where plastic is just pouring into the sea. Here much less so. In fact at a lot of the beaches you visit, a great deal of the marine plastic is actually from the fishing industry. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch — it now turns out that most of that is fishing-industry debris. So again, even the marine plastics issue is to a large extent a product of industrial fishing.
Where does plastic sit in your hierarchy of global disaster, next to say over-fishing and over-consumption in general?
I don’t want to say it’s unimportant — it is important, and we don’t know the full impacts of microplastics in the food chain yet, they could be pretty dire, in fact they almost certainly are. But I don’t think it is nearly as bad an issue as the ecological cleansing of the land and the sea by the food industry, which I now see as the top two environmental issues of all — even bigger than climate breakdown. That doesn’t mean that climate breakdown isn’t a massive, urgent, immediate problem, but these are even bigger problems happening even faster. Farming and fishing are the two biggest impacts on the living systems of the planet, and we don’t see this. In a way we want to see anything but that. We’ve romanticised both industries and we love to see them, in fact they’re almost a crucial part of our identity. If you ask people, “What’s a good profession? What’s an honest way to make a living?” — farming and fishing are probably right up there on most people’s lists.
"That doesn’t mean that climate breakdown isn’t a massive, urgent, immediate problem, but these are even bigger problems happening even faster"
And I’m not saying that farmers and fishermen are bad people, not by any means, that’s not the issue — it’s just that collectively these are the most destructive industries on the planet, by a long way. We’ll focus on stuff going on in the urban environment and there’s a lot of bad stuff going on, but in this country it’s 7% of the land area; the other 93% is dominated by farming and it has just laid waste to our wildlife, to our watersheds, to our soil, to our embedded carbon. It’s a multiple disaster and at sea it is even worse. You’ve probably heard about the call for Nature Needs Half, that we should be setting aside half the planet for the other several million species that share it with us. Well, at the moment in Britain we set aside 0.01% of the seas for nature, because we have 48,000 km of sea in our territorial waters, and 5 of those are no-take zones, where no fishing can take place. This is crazy stuff.
How might Britain’s leaving the EU affect the way we fish, and indeed farm?
Well the government’s new paper on fisheries is really short of the sort of detail you need if you’re going to have proper environmental protection. What seems to be standard practice now in the environment department is to say really good things about what needs to be done and then not do them — and the fisheries policy ties in with that. I mean the common fisheries policy of the EU is a disaster, it’s just catastrophic. It leads to overfishing, until recently there were massive discarding problems, the EU was subsidising European trawlers to steal the fish from West Africa, it’s just one long horror story. So Brexit in principle should give us an opportunity to break free of that and do something better, but it won’t because the government is not committed to that. In fact the government seems yet again to be almost cowed by these few big industrial fishing boats, who take nearly all the quota and employ hardly any people. The under 10m boats — the small inshore boats — scarcely get a look-in, and you get these huge boats which are registered in the UK, some of which have never docked in the UK, just hoovering up the great majority of the quota and great majority of our stocks. What we could have, coming out of the EU, is a policy which said, for instance, there’s going to be no mobile gear used anywhere within six miles of the British coast. We used to have a rule before we joined the EU that there was no mobile gear within three miles of the British coast. There’s more or less a six-mile limit in Lyme Bay, and as a result all the static fishers have moved in to catch crabs and lobsters and whelks because they’ve proliferated massively, but why can’t we have that everywhere? Why can’t we say, okay trawlers, if you’re going to operate, you operate beyond the 6-mile limit and the only people who can operate inshore are the static fishers, and what you’ll see if that happens is a huge proliferation of marine life.
"So Brexit in principle should give us an opportunity to break free of that and do something better, but it won’t because the government is not committed to that"
And ideally you don’t stop there but [say that] 30% of the sea is no fishing at all, and the interesting thing there is that, as well as allowing this massive regeneration of marine ecosystems, you increase the total catch — because you have what biologists call the “spillover effect”, where you create a big marine reserve, you allow fish to breed, you allow them to reach a large size, and then they will spill over into the surrounding waters once they reach carrying capacity within that reserve, and the total catches rise even though there’s less sea area to fish in. So it makes sense for everyone, but we’re so locked into short-termism that those one or two years during which catches fall, when you’ve designated the no-take zone but the fish stocks haven’t yet recovered, is enough to stop the whole project going ahead. So even when they tried to designate a very small [no-take zone] round Skomer in Skokholm, off Pembrokeshire, the fishing industry stopped it, because they said they didn’t want to lose out on a year or two’s fishing. Well, they would have had fantastic catches forevermore if they had allowed that to take place. In principle we have this large network of marine reserves, but they’re just paper parks, they mean nothing because there’s hardly any restriction, if at all, on what can be done within them. And the only [genuine] marine reserves we have are these three little pocket handkerchiefs of sea… I went to see the one in Flamborough Head, and it was just unbelievable. You can’t protect anything in an area that small, because of course fish move in and out all the time. Going back to the World’s Oceans congress in 2002, there’s been this commitment that we have 30% of our seas as no-take zones — even the rather fusty old Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution in 2004 made that commitment, but nothing’s happened. And the government keeps announcing, Oh we’ll have more marine reserves, and it costs them nothing to do that because all they do is draw lines on the map.
Why do you think the government is so in thrall to big fishing?
It’s a real mystery. There was an interesting argument in the Economist saying that governments can’t act against any industry that features in a children’s book — because it has this cultural power. It’s like sheep farming, it has this tremendous cultural power where we just think, oh, this is wholesome and good, and therefore any government which confronts it is fighting against wholesome and good forces and it’s probably some evil bureaucrats who have never hauled a net or handled a bale of hay in their lives. It’s this romanticisation of certain industries which allows them to get away with murder. I think that could be part of the explanation. It’s also this doctrine of extractivism — that exctractive industries are the real men’s business, and you see all these politicians, you know, they love putting on a hard hat and a high-vis jacket and going to visit some coal mine or gas plant or something, and then they’re real men and they’re there with real burly blokes, and some of that they hope rubs off on them. There is this macho attraction to extractive industries, and so even when you’ve got a choice between a dying industry like coal, for instance, and a much more promising industry, like renewables, they’ll go for the dying industry and support that, because that seems to lend them an air of authenticity. I think there is a sort of toxic masculinity around it.
And all these things feature so prominently in the language as well. You’ve spoken before about, you know, “the milk of human kindness”, for instance, and we still say things like “a hard day’s work at the coalface”, whereas we don’t have any equivalents for solar energy or renewables, not yet anyway…
Yes, that’s right, yeah! We need some new metaphors.
Am I right in thinking you’re not too impressed with Gove [as Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs]?
The interesting thing about Gove is that he really understands the issues, unlike some of his predecessors, I mean you look at the dire series of numbskulls who have occupied that position recently — Andrea Leadsom, Liz Truss, Owen Patterson, it’s like a punishment posting, it’s the government’s Craggy Island. You know, if you’ve been a really bad priest you get sent to Defra. But Gove seemed to be different, and it’s very clear from his speeches, his public statements, that he knows what the issues are, he gets it intellectually, he knows what needs to be done, and then he doesn’t do it. And I think what it is about him… it’s a couple of things. He’s an intellectual, and he’s interested in finding the intellectual centre and seeing where the intellectual arguments lie, and so he’s very keen on getting briefed and on reading up about it. But he’s also attached to this bit of elastic which is called deregulation.
"By far the biggest impact you can have is getting on a plane"
So he’ll say, Ooh, I can see what needs to be done, let’s head off in that direction, and then suddenly “ping”, he reaches the limit of the elastic and he’s straight back to where he was. Because at the centre of his political vision is deregulating everything, is cutting public protections which he calls “red tape”, and he’s been committed to that throughout his political career, and yet everything he needs to do requires stronger regulations than we have at the moment. It’s that contradiction between recognising what needs to be done, and yet being ideologically committed to ensuring that you can’t do it, that goes a long way towards explaining the mystery of Michael Gove.
To what extent can we reframe this as an issue of personal responsibility? I mean, certain things ought to happen on a political level, they’re evidently not going to happen, not at the moment anyway, both with regards to climate change and fishing and farming. How much can we do as individuals, how much should we do as individuals?
Well, it’s not either or. We need political action and need individual responsibility. That’s especially obvious when it comes to things like fish. I mean, in the absence of political action at the moment, to carry on buying sea bass, tuna, halibut, prawns, dredged scallops — the great majority of the fish that people eat — is just blatantly irresponsible. We have a moral responsibility to be aware of what we’re eating and to be aware of what the impacts are and not to buy the stuff which is causing tremendous damage. Now this is complicated by the failures of the Marine Stewardship Council, which has been certifying fisheries which should never have been certified, so its logo can no longer be trusted — which makes it more difficult for people to make reasoned decisions, and in the absence of those reasoned decisions what I say to people is either eat no fish at all or catch your own.
If you can’t trust the certification and you can’t trust the fishing industry, you don’t want to be involved in that industry, otherwise you get morally contaminated by it.
"What I say to people is either eat no fish at all or catch your own"
But, there is a limit to what consumer action can do. Most people are very poorly informed, they’re too frazzled when they go shopping, they make decisions on the basis of price rather than on the basis of ethics, and so there’s not all that much that you can do. I mean that’s not to say that we don’t use our ethical sense to the best of our ability, but we need government action at the same time. And the story of our times, the whole neoliberal story is to say that government action is illegitimate and unnecessary, it should all be done through the market, consumers should decide, and so they make us individually responsible for structural problems — and we can’t, as individuals, discharge a responsibility for structural problems, we don’t have the power to do that. Any good decision that you or I might make is undermined by free-riders — people who say, “well I want a tuna steak, so sod that, I’m gonna have one”. And all we do by not eating a tuna steak is to make it cheaper for them to eat one.
But is it not unrealistic to expect anything to happen at a governmental level if the electorate can’t modify its own behaviour? Where’s the political will going to come from?
Well you look at what happened with plastic. As a result of Blue Planet, which focussed on the plastics issue, things happened very quickly indeed, and that political will was mobilised. I believe that it focussed on the wrong issue, and that had it focussed on industrial fishing the impact would have been much bigger in terms of environmental protection, and we desperately need something like that to focus on industrial fishing. I’ve got a real problem with Attenborough’s environmentalism in that he always avoids conflict, and yet the most important environmental issues necessarily involve conflict.
"Homing in on the small stuff can persuade you that you’ve gone green, so then you can carry on without qualms doing the really harmful stuff"
But you don’t become a national treasure by taking on vested interests, and it was very easy to take on plastic because actually the problem is in other countries — here it’s not nearly as big a problem as other environmental issues. It’s a huge problem in other countries but that’s not his audience and that’s not the people who see him as a national treasure. Time and again, when he’s had the choice of taking on the really difficult stuff he takes on the easy stuff instead, and I think while he’s done fantastic work he’s also let us down in that respect.
What’s your view on the “war on plastic” more generally, and the virtue-signalling, for want of a better term, that’s proliferating across social media. It’s such an easy thing to jump on board with, and yet almost everywhere you see it you see some sort of contradiction from the same person — of them doing something that either involves plastic or that has an even more damaging effect on the environment through some other means.
Sure. What I don’t want to say is that the plastic campaign is worthless. It’s not — it’s definitely worth cutting down on our use of plastics and ensuring that we’re not pouring a stream of microplastics into the rivers and seas. That’s important. But there is often a lot of tokenism involved in it, as you suggest, and I know people who recycle diligently, who are very determined never to buy a plastic bag in a shop and carry around their shopping bags — sometimes these shopping bags which look very much like virtue-signalling to me, that Anya Hindmarch one that says “I’m not not a plastic bag” — and then they fly to Thailand for their holidays, or drive a bloody great gas guzzler with twin exhausts. It’s very often the little things we do that blind us to the big things, and we’re all very good at self-deception, at seeing our virtues and ignoring our vices. And by homing in on the small stuff — some people say it becomes a gateway to doing stuff on the bigger things, but I’m not convinced. I think it can have exactly the opposite effect — that it can persuade you that you’ve gone green, so then you can carry on without qualms doing the really harmful stuff.
“We got sold on this whole throwaway society, this whole throwaway idea that the more civilized you are, the more convenient everything should be. You shouldn’t have to do dishes if you can throw them away, ya know? You shouldn’t have to take care of something if you can throw it away. And we’ll make it cheap enough where you can buy another but there is no ‘away’. THERE’S NO SUCH PLACE AS AWAY.” -Kimi Werner (@kimi_swimmy c/o @sustainablecoastlineshawaii) Thank you to @parley.tv, @corona, @sustainablecoastlineshawaii, and the military and public workers for this massive cleanup effort in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic where after 3 days of work, 30 tons of plastic were removed from the ocean and landfills. #ThereIsNoAway #100islandsprotected
Travel’s obviously a big thing for surfers, wherever they live but especially somewhere like Britain where the waves aren’t great and it’s cold and there are all sorts of other wonderful places you can go surfing, most of which involve getting on a plane. Is it morally defensible to fly to Indonesia just to indulge what is essentially a hobby?
I think we have to fly as little as possible. I think along these lines when it comes to sea kayaking, because there’s all sorts of parts of the world where I would love to go sea kayaking. But my feeling is you’ve just gotta find the best that is on your own doorstep and find ways of really appreciating it — and seeing it as a challenge, often. You know, surfing might be more difficult here, but that’s a challenge to be engaged with rather than fled from. Now with sea kayaking, there’s so many places I would love to go. The coral atolls I would love to kayak around. But actually by not doing that I’ve been able to discover that possibly the best coastline in the world for sea kayaking is the northwest coast of Lewis, in the Western Isles, which is just amazing. You could spend a lifetime exploring it, it’s just beautiful. Would I have found that if I was flying around the world to where everybody says you ought to go sea kayaking? No, because I was forced to look at the UK and go, “where are the best places to go sea kayaking here?” And that has, in a way, opened the world out to me even though I’m not travelling around the world to do it.
How much damage does a single long-haul flight do, relative to, say, the average meat consumption of a meat eater? Because again, there’s a lot of people who broadcast the fact that they’re entirely meat- and dairy-free on Instagram, and they do so from Bali, where they’ve just flown to — which has probably resulted in more carbon dioxide emissions than all the meat they’d have eaten not just during that holiday but that whole year?
Your return flight to Indonesia is going to be not far off the average greenhouse-gas emissions per person in the UK for the whole year. So by far the biggest impact you can have is getting on a plane. And that’s per seat, I’m not talking about the whole plane: per passenger. It’s going to be slightly short of your average greenhouse gas emissions, were you not to fly, across the whole year. And then there’s all the other issues surrounding local pollution, noise pollution, airport development, all the rest of it. It’s almost like we are just extracting the last dregs of the wine glass, knowing that it’s poison but the wine still tastes good and so we’re going to finish that wine even though we know it’s gonna kill us. Things are happening so fast, ecological collapse is happening so fast, that these are among the last generations that are going to see this wonderful world, and yet we say, oh well, let’s go out and see it then — by getting on a plane!
And of course surfers are going to be directly affected in ways that people who are travelling for, I don’t know, some other sort of leisure activity that isn’t nature-based, aren’t — because with rising sea levels surf spots all over the world are going to be altered.
That’s right, you’re losing beaches, you’re looking also at some pretty filthy water to be surfing in — and, you know, who wants to be surfing in a dead environment? Who wants to know that the sea you’re in has basically been cleansed of its life, that you’re in a dead zone? Deoxygenation, caused by climate breakdown, creates that effect — alongside industrial fishing and all the rest. I mean the combination of these effects is lethal
"I think the argument for a boycott [of Indonesia] is a very strong one"
I know a lot of surfers and a lot of them have a very strong environmental sense, and are in touch with the natural world, I would say on average to a greater extent than most of the people I meet. But again it’s: does this bleed into our behaviour? Does this actually change the way we engage with the world? Well it should do, but it doesn’t always.
Do you still follow Indonesian politics closely?
I do a bit, yeah. There’s a very prominent West Papuan exile here in Oxford and so I keep in touch a bit there. I should do more — partly, to be honest with you, it’s so depressing I can hardly face it most of the time. I know I should engage with the issues more, but knowing what it was, when all those decades ago I was there, and knowing what it is today, hearing the reports, seeing the footage of what’s going on there, I can hardly look. I have a good capacity for engaging with uncomfortable realities but even for me it has its limits.
Which particular aspects…?
When you look at West Papua, you see the elimination of forests, of the reefs, of these unbelievably beautiful places, and of a huge part of the indigenous population there who have just been wiped out by Indonesian aggression. It’s almost unbearable.
There is a small movement that advocates not going to Indonesia at all precisely on those grounds. What do you think about a boycott?
You’re looking at a state which is still occupying — illegally — the territory of West Papua, very much in the same way as other occupying powers, whether it’s China in Tibet, for example… they’ve captured territory and suppressed the people there, the morality’s exactly the same, and I don’t think that that state should be supported. So I think the argument for a boycott is a very strong one.
How about consumerism where it’s not related to food? So for instance the buying of surf products: how much of an environmental impact — and it’s a stupidly broad question — might that have compared to farming and fishing?
Look, the problem across the board is rising consumption. And with farming and fishing it is the rising consumption of meat and the rising consumption of fish, which are wiping everything out. If we switch to a plant-based diet — as I’ve done, as I strongly advocate other people do — apart from the fish I catch myself — then our impacts are massively reduced. Similarly, of course, everything else we buy has an impact — the more we buy the greater that impact will be. Consumption is rising much faster than population, so while unquestionably population growth has an impact, the impact of rising consumption, because it’s that much faster and shows no sign of peaking, is that much greater. You know, we’re talking about the consumption of natural resources rising threefold in forty years. This is catastrophic. And so in every region of the world you see these vast mines being opened up to provide the minerals, you see deforestation proceeding at horrendous rates, you see precious resources just being stripped from the earth, in order to provide stuff that we don’t regard as precious at all because we use it for a few days and then we junk it. We’ve just gotta be far more conscious about the stuff we buy, and buy much less.
In your most recent book you talk about homo economicus [the conception of man, prevalent among many economists, as typically selfish and self-maximising — a conception with which Monbiot disagrees]. There’s no latin term so far as I’m aware for surfers, but they do resemble homo economicus in a lot of ways once they’re placed in that environment of the line-up, where there’s a battle over scarce resources. People tend to turn into bastards…
So you get a lot of conflict within the waves…?
Yeah. I mean it’s a commons, really, because it belongs to everyone…
Well, that’s not a commons, that’s an open-access regime, they’re very different.
Right, okay, so an open-access regime is where anyone can join…
That’s right, and a commons is a resource controlled by a particular community, for the benefit of that particular community.
Right, so what I was going to say, but I’ll have to change my terminology, is that I suppose you get some commons, in that you have very localised surfing communities where only people from that particular area will be allowed to surf there. Or it will be some sort of borderline area in between the two, where you can paddle out but they’ll do everything they can to stop you getting any waves. And all of that’s taking place in a context that’s divorced from the economic sphere. How do you square the selfishness of people in such situations with a belief in the fundamental goodness of man- and womankind?
Well, we’ve all got it in us to be selfish and greedy. It would be foolish to deny that — everyone has got some selfishness and greed in them which are triggered by particular circumstances, especially when we feel under pressure, and we’re put in a competitive situation for scarce resources. But right across psychology, neuroscience, anthropology, evolutionary biology, we see the same results being produced — that while those are human characteristics they’re not our dominant characteristics, that our dominant characteristics are altruism, empathy, benevolence, community feeling, concern for our friends and family. Experimentally it’s been shown again and again that these are stronger forces than greed, but in certain circumstances selfishness and greed triumph.
"There’s nothing that commerce can’t co-opt, is there?"
Now what we have to do to create a better world is ensure that those circumstances are reduced, and the circumstances in which altruism and empathy triumph are enhanced. Now, I’m not in a good position to comment on the politics of catching a wave, and obviously if there’s more people than the waves can reasonably accommodate then you’re going to get conflict, it’s bound to happen. So what I would strongly recommend is that people take up sea kayaking [laughs].
Presumably you don’t have sea kayakers bashing each other with their paddles, or drilling holes in each other’s kayaks…?
No, it’s a very friendly environment actually. The great thing there is that you can roam wherever you want to go, you’re not confined to the one place where the good sets are.
You’re not too keen on the idea of economic growth. The surf industry is this sort of bizarre concept which started as a means of enabling surfers to carry on going surfing without getting a real job. And every surfer is by definition hostile to other surfers, or at least to the idea of there being more surfers, and yet obviously the surf industry is still an industry and so its raison d’être has become to grow and grow and grow. By what possible process could something like that, something that has developed into a monster, be killed off, or at least domesticated?
There’s nothing that commerce can’t co-opt, is there? From what I understand of it, the ethos of surfing was always: We’re turning our back on the accumulation economy, we’re turning our back on the race to dominate others and we’re going off to do what we love doing and find ourselves by those means — and that’s a pretty good ethos, it’s a nice idea. But it sounds from what you’re telling me that it’s been completely co-opted by a completely different ethos, which is growth and accumulation and making as much money as possible and wringing that money out of people’s enthusiasm. So it sounds to me as if there’s an urgent need to reclaim the initial ethos of surfing, which is to escape from all that rubbish. It’s a really difficult one because picking out just one aspect of commerce and trying to detach it from all others only gets you so far. I mean what we need is really a transformation of the whole economy towards… I think the framework that best describes where we need to go is Kate Raworth’s Doughnut Economics — so that we have sufficiency, without bursting through planetary limits, and we can relax into just accepting what we have without constantly wanting more — not giving into greed, not giving in to consumerism, not turning everything we do, every hobby we have, into a race, because that just ruins the whole ethos of the hobby.