We asked Jonathan Watts to comment on his current work and ideas that have influenced him…
Which of your own ideas have you been thinking about most recently?
How faith, education and philosophy must play a part in pulling us back from the environmental brink. Like many people, I have been complacent in thinking that future technological advances will provide a supply side offset to the world’s ecological problems. My views have changed. We should certainly pursue scientific solutions, but they are far from guaranteed of success. In the meantime, how can we curtail consumer demand? New values will be important, but I also want to (re) learn from established religions and beliefs. After all, what could be more environmentally friendly than a weekly day of rest?
What idea of someone else has made most impact on you recently?
The concept of “shifting baselines”, which I first read about in Samuel Turvey’s study of Yangtze fishing communities, but have subsequently heard in numerous other contexts. This concept explains how quickly mankind collectively forgets the past and reconfigures our definition of “normal” to fit with the present. With regard to the environment, the effect is a deceptively comforting amnesia that allows us to accept the “ordinariness” of a world with fewer species, more concrete and a dangerous imbalance between man and nature.
What is the most important book/article of ideas that everyone should read and why?
I cannot single out a book. At the risk of sounding like Chauncey Gardiner, bibliodiversity is as healthy for the mind as biodiversity is for the environment.
And finally, each year we ask everyone involved – audiences as well as speakers – one question. Charles Masterman, Liberal Party politician and journalist, asked in his book The Condition of England 100 Years Ago: “What will the future make of the present?” What is your answer to this?
I believe the future will look at the present and say this was the high point of human hubris. There are far more of us than ever before. We consume more than ever before. We realise this is unsustainable, yet we are reluctant to make sacrifices. This cannot last.
Jonathan Watts is the Guardian‘s Asia environment correspondent and
recently covered the Copenhagen Climate Conference. He was short-listed for Foreign Correspondent of the Year at the 2006 British Press Awards, and he and his research assistant were awarded the One World Media Award for best press story in 2007. In 2009, he was a co-winner of the environment prize at the One World Media Awards for a series on the global food crisis. His latest book is When a Billion Chinese Jump: How China Will Save Mankind – Or Destroy It?