Rewilding: Thomas Malthus, Aurochs and green fascism, the dark side of misanthropic environmentalism

Tony Gosling tony at
Thu Apr 18 10:27:40 BST 2019

Rewilding: Thomas Malthus, Aurochs and ‘Green 
Fascism’, the Dark Side of Misanthropic Environmentalism

Danish billionaires plan to rewild large swath of Scottish Highlands

Scotland’s largest private [Viking] landowners 
want to reverse years of land 'mismanagement', 
says adviser

Rewilding and Malthus

27, 2016 BY 
In September I was fortunate to attend the 
<>Future of 
Wild Europeconference at Leeds University. Over 
three days, keynote speakers and early-career 
researchers in the environmental humanities gave 
presentations on rewilding, ethnography and many 
other fascinating topics related to political 

When the Nazis Tried to Bring Animals Back From Extinction

Boissoneault - March 31, 2017 
Their ideology of genetic purity extended to 
aspirations about reviving a pristine landscape 
with ancient animals and forests

Brown bears and wolves to be reintroduced to 
woods near Bristol after council gives permission

Wood 4 JUL 2018 Bear Wood could reopen in time 
for next summer, and will house brown bears as 
well as lynx, wolves and wolverine in woodlands

The trouble with rewilding

Posted on 
December 2016 by 
By Irma Allen*  A rewilding movement that bases 
itself on arguments around overpopulation, 
without interrogating the power structures that 
are enabling it, is in danger of failing to 
generate the kinds of solidarities, social 
justice outcomes and progressive visions of 
wildness that we so desperately need.

In September I was fortunate to attend the 
<>Future of 
Wild Europeconference at Leeds University. Over 
three days, keynote speakers and early-career 
researchers in the environmental humanities gave 
presentations on rewilding, ethnography and many 
other fascinating topics related to political ecology.

Pretty much my first academic conference, I found 
it hugely stimulating, and a great opportunity to 
accost authors of papers I was citing in my 
dissertation at coffee break. It was also not 
without a share of controversy and a range of 
different and at times conflicting visions were 
presented as to what a “wild Europe” might mean and how to get there.

Irma Allen of the KTH Royal Institute of 
Technology in Stockholm also attended the 
conference and has written about her impressions 
in a thought-provoking blog, 
Trouble with Rewilding. Here, she poses some 
challenging questions about what she felt was 
revealed concerning  the ideological 
underpinnings of the rewilding movement. Three 
main issues  concern her: the racialized 
Malthussian origins of rewilding; concerns about 
land abandonment and passive rewilding in Europe 
being facilitated by importing “virtual” 
agricultural land; and rewilding initiatives 
being concentrated in the historically 
marginalized regions of Central and Eastern Europe.


    Malthus and the discourse of over-population

Environmentalism has a dark history of 
Malthussian “Limits to Growth” thinking and 
misanthropy. A focus on and at times 
pre-occupation with over-population as the 
primary driver of environmental destruction, 
frequently accompanied by the reification of a 
sublime Nature above human well-being, has lead 
to an assumption that the only truly healthy Nature is one devoid of humans.

As Allen says, this issue was most famously 
addressed by William Cronon in his 1996 essay 
Trouble with Wilderness (pdf)(Cronon 1996):

Perhaps partly because our own conflicts over 
such places and organisms have become so messy, 
the convergence of wilderness values with 
concerns about biological diversity and 
endangered species has helped produce a deep 
fascination for remote ecosystems, where it is 
easier to imagine that nature might somehow be 
“left alone” to flourish by its own pristine 
devices. The classic example is the tropical rain 
forest, which since the 1970s has become the most 
powerful modern icon of unfallen, sacred land­a 
veritable Garden of Eden­for many Americans and 
Europeans. And yet protecting the rain forest in 
the eyes of First World environmnetalists all too 
often means protecting it from people who live there.

Those who seek to preserve such “wilderness” from 
the activities of native peoples run the risk of 
reproducing the same tragedy­being forceably 
removed from an ancient home­that befell American 
Indians. Third World countries face massive 
environmental problems and deep social conflicts, 
but these are not likely to be solved by a 
cultural myth that encourages us to “preserve” 
peopleless landscapes that have not existed in such places for millennia

exporting American notions of wilderness in this 
way can become an unthinking and self-defeating form of cultural imperialism

Cronon goes onto argue that the dichotomy that 
the concept of wilderness creates- that of a 
separation of anything touched by humans from 
pristine Nature- leads us to de-value the more 
prosaic world that we inhabit, and thus disregard 
the nature and the natural that is all around us, 
in our backyards, or even in the heart of the 
city. If we hold an essentially illusory image of 
“the wilderness”- since nature untouched by 
humans hardly exists anymore, and arguably has 
not for a long time- as the only true nature 
worth preserving or paying attention to, we will 
neglect to look after the less exciting but 
equally important diversity than can often be found all around us.

In her post, Allen goes onto trace these 
Malthussian strains from one of the originators 
of rewilding, deep ecologist Dave Foreman, to the 
founder of 
Europe, Toby Aykroyd, who also gave a 
presentation at the Leeds conference. Allen found 
that Aykroyd is also the founder of the 
and Sustainability Network, which focusses on the 
links between reproductive health, population and 
the environment, and provides free family 
planning services in developing countries- all 
well and good she says, but “when motivated by 
concern over natural resources and carrying 
capacities, and linked to power-laden development 
agendas, this shades into murkier territories and 
rationales that I find deeply uncomfortable.”

In my dissertation on rewilding 
here) I also referenced some of these associations:

The darker side of misanthropic environmentalism 
still pervades more extreme rewilding discourses 
and can readily be found on online forums and 
blogs (see for example 
Happy Anachronism blog, 2012; 
Rewild West n.d.). Drastic reductions in human 
population, either forced or through some kind of 
ecological collapse, are seen by these writers as 
a necessary and even desirable pre-requisite to 
any genuine rewilding (Foreman 2015). At times, 
these views can seem uncomfortably close to 
certain strands of Nazi ideology, which was 
itself strongly informed by belief in the purity 
of pristine Nature, underpinned by their 
mythology of the urwald (primeval forest) which 
they associated with the Fatherland and Aryan 
supremacy (Biehl and Staudenmaier 1995; Schama 1996).

While some find thinking about this uncomfortable 
and would rather not have it discussed, or claim 
that it is no longer relevant, the conservation 
movement needs to own openly to its origins in a 
history of forced evictions of native peoples in 
order to create protected wilderness areas (Dowie 
2011), a practice 
is still going on today.

In this way, “wilderness” can be seen a cultural 
artifact, literally created by the forced removal 
of people (Ginn and Demeritt 2008). This is what 
Monbiot (1994) calls forced rewilding  (it is a 
curious aspect of his work that he gives scant 
mention of these issues in his more recent 
influential rewilding book Feral [2013]).

Perhaps oddly, neither Allen in her post, nor as 
far as I could see from a quick search on the PSN 
website, make any mention of the demographic 
transition-the well researched process of 
development, by which birth rates decline, 
sometimes dramatically, with economic 
development, as infant mortality declines and 
people move away from subsistence farming, and no 
longer require large numbers of children to 
ensure enough survived to work the land (Galor and Weil 2000).

Given that the data has been in on this process 
for decades and just keeps getting stronger, 
explanations are being employed, as referenced by 
Allen,  to explain why overpopulation is still 
routinely referred to as “the elephant on the 
room”, a kind of “public secret” when in fact it 
has always been a core underpinning of the 
environmental movement, championed most 
prominently by Stanford professor Paul Ehrlich 
(1968). A challenge for rewilding then will be to 
make a clean break with such Malthussian ideology.

Dolly Jørgensen, who also spoke at the 
conference, comes to the same conclusion in her review of rewilding:

Taken as a whole, rewilding discourse seeks to 
erase human history and involvement with the land and flora and fauna

(Jørgensen, D. 2014)

In response, Prior and Ward (2016) make the case 
that many rewilding “experiments” are indeed well 
integrated with human activity and presence, 
citing two examples of beaver re-introductions in 
Scotland, and the Oostvaardersplassen reserve in 
the Netherlands. However, my own research last 
summer suggests that people are likely to 
continue to use “rewilding” in many different 
ways, and even if efforts are made to shake off 
the idea of rewilding being about the 
reconstruction of an imagined “pristine” nature, 
there is bound to be some considerable slippage 
in public discourse. Rewilding will remain 
strongly associated with wilderness discourse and 
continue to draw from a broad church, including Malthussian deep-ecology.

Rather than focus on over-population, Allen sees 
over-consumption as being a more significant 
issue, bringing her to her second issue: 
exporting productive land overseas to allow increased conservation at home.

2. Virtual land trade in Europe

Citing the 2010 OPERA report (von Witzke and 
Noleppa 2010) on land-sparing, Allen points to 
data suggesting that Europe’s dramatic increase 
in productive land abandonment- hailed by some as 
an opportunity for passive rewilding ( Navarro 
and Pereira 2012) and 
(the topic of my last post)   has come only at 
the expense of a “virtual land grab” outside the 
EU, mainly in developing countries, who have seen 
a consummate loss of forest cover. If so, this 
would provide a challenge to those, like myself, 
who have argued for intensification of 
agriculture as a way of freeing up farmland for nature.

However more recent data show that post-2008, the 
trend within the EU of increasing its virtual 
land imports has reversed, declining more than a third from the peak of 2007/8:

Source: Noleppa, S., & Cartsburg, M. (2014). 
Another look at agricultural trade of the 
European Union: Virtual land trade and self-sufficiency. Hffa Research.

While Europe still imports a large amount of 
“virtual farmlandland”, mainly in the form of 
oilseed crops, primarily soya from South America, 
the trend for other crops is in the other 
direction as Europe increases efficiency and 
raises yields. Moreover, a proportion of this 
virtual acreage is for the production of crops to 
meet the EU biofuel mandates. Under scenarios 
explored in the earlier study, this could already 
account for some 3-4m ha, rising by another 10% 
if biofuel mandates are increased.

Allen also points to the issue of land-grabbing 
in Europe, fingering EU-backed neo-liberal 
policies. While this may be a serious problem, 
dislocating traditional farming communities, this 
cannot be the same land that is being abandoned, 
but is rather for intensive production- which 
itself could lead to more abandonment of marginal 
land and subsequent re-greening. Implicit in her 
post is also a degree of “anti-capitalist” 
rhetoric, which ignores the 
data for overall long-term improvement of living conditions under capitalism.

Allen argues that rather than welcoming the 
process of depopulating rural areas and land 
abandonment, rewilding should align itself with 
High Nature Value farming (HNV) and the benefits 
known to be provided to wildlife by by small 
farms- in other words, a land-sharing approach:

The key point here is that there is nothing 
neutral about processes of rural depopulation. 
Rather than passively celebrate their demise, 
should rewilding advocates not align themselves 
with small-scale farmers, 
practices, at least in Europe, can often 
encourage far greater biodiversity, and are 
themselves perhaps part of the very notion of 
‘wild’ we might want to cultivate – 
non-homogenous, diverse, non-standardised, and self-willed?

This does seem to obviate the whole point of what 
rewilding seeks to achieve: If rewilding means 
anything at all distinctive, it is as a challenge 
to conventional conservation policies, which are 
deeply meshed within agri-environment schemes 
coming out of Europe the past 40 years. In 
contrast to rewilding, whereby natural processes 
are given priority to lead where they may (not 
unproblematic in itself), HNV farming has more in 
common with what we already have, which seeks to 
maintain specific habitats, generally those found 
in pre-WW2 pre-industrially farmed landscapes.

Agri-environment policies are already geared to 
promote land-sharing. But with world food demand 
set to rise dramatically over the coming decades, 
we will also need land-sparing, including new 
technologies to increase yields. A stalling 
in  innovation is cited as one of the major 
reasons for the slow-down in agricultural yield 
increases globally, and in Europe especially, 
where GMOs for example are strongly opposed and 
largely restricted. The OPERA report concludes 
that excessive regulations and bureaucracy have 
stifled agricultural innovation in the EU, while 
an increase in lower-yielding Organic agriculture 
across the EU would only lead to in an increase in virtual land imports.

3. Bio-capitalism in Eastern Europe

Allen’s final point is to question how, although 
rewilding generally has been focussed on the 
developed world, yet within Europe, most 
initiatives seem to be in the poorer eastern 
countries. This is true at least for one of the 
more prominent rewilding organisations, 
Europe, which has most of its projects located in 
the poorer European countries of eastern Europe.

I think this is another valid point which is 
worthy of further discussion and research. This 
could be focussed for example on how eastern 
Europe may be at an earlier stage of the 
demographic transition through which more 
devloped countries have already passed, and how 
this relates to forest transitions. From informal 
discussions and other presentations at the Leeds 
conference, there were suggestions that RW 
Europe, and perhaps other organisations, see the 
depopulation of rural areas much to their 
advantage, and their assumption that alternative 
livelihoods in eco- and wildlife tourism can 
seemlessly make up for the decline in farming in 
these areas needs to be demonstrated rather than assumed.


Irma Allen has raised some perhaps uncomfortable 
questions for the rewilding movement. Its 
Malthussian origins should not be ignored and 
vigilance is needed to ensure it just does not 
become just the latest vehicle for misanthropic 
green fascism. Nevertheless, there are some 
contradictions in her arguments, and a danger of 
replicating these very same issues in her own 
apparent preference for small farms and extensive 
agriculture, while opposing agricultural 
technology that is badly needed to feed a still 
growing world population aswell as freeing up 
more land for nature. This is not to undersate 
the social disruptions which are likely to 
accompany such transitions, and further study 
should be undertaken to assess the social impacts 
of both agricultural intensification and any 
possible “green-grabbing” being carried out in the name of rewilding.


Biehl, J. and Staudenmaier, P. 1995 Ecofascism: 
Lessons from the German Experience AK

Cronon, W. (ed) 1996 Uncommon Ground- Rethinking the Human Place in Nature
W.W.Norton & Co. New York/London

Ehrlich, P. 1968 The Population Bomb MacMillan

FAO. 2016. State of the World’s Forests 2016.
Forests and agriculture: land-use challenges and opportunities. Rome.

Foreman, D. 2015 [online] An Interview with Dave Foreman
[last accessed 12-07-2016]

Galor, O. and Weil, D.N. 2000 Population, 
Technology and Growth: From Malthusian Stagnation 
to the Demographic Transition and Beyond American 
Economic Review Vol. 90, No. 4 (Sept 2000), pp 806-828

Ginn, F. and Demeritt, D. 2008 Nature: A 
Contested Concept Ch.17 in Clifford, N.J. et al 
2008 Key Concepts in Geography, Sage Publications Ltd.

Jørgensen, D. 2014 Rethinking Rewilding Geoforum 65 (2015) 482–488

Monbiot 1994 No Man’s Land: an investigative journey Through Kenya and Tanzania
MacMillan, London

Monbiot, G. 2013 Feral: Rewilding the Land, Sea and Human Life Allen Lane

Navarro, L.M. and Pereira, H. M.2012 Rewilding 
Abandoned landscapes in Europe  Ecosystems (2012) 15: 900–912

Noleppa, S., & Cartsburg, M. (2014). Another look 
at agricultural trade of the European Union: 
Virtual land trade and self-sufficiency. Hffa Research.

Prior, J. and Ward, K. 2016 Rethinking rewilding: 
A response to JørgensenGeoforum 69
(2016) 132–135

Schama, S. (1996), S. 1996 Landscape and Memory Vintage

Von Witzke, H., & Noleppa, S. (2010). EU 
agricultural production and trade: Can more 
efficiency prevent increasing 
“land-grabbing”outside of Europe? Study Commissioned by OPERA.

NB please do reply with remove as the subject or 
first line if you do not wish to recieve further emails - thanks

'From South America, where payment must be made 
with subtlety, the Bormann organization has made 
a substantial contribution. It has drawn many of 
the brightest Jewish businessmen into a 
participatory role in the development of many of 
its corporations, and many of these Jews share 
their prosperity most generously with Israel. If 
their proposals are sound, they are even provided 
with a specially dispensed venture capital fund. 
I spoke with one Jewish businessmen in Hartford, 
Connecticut. He had arrived there quite unknown 
several years before our conversation, but with 
Bormann money as his leverage. Today he is more 
than a millionaire, a quiet leader in the 
community with a certain share of his profits 
earmarked as always for his venture capital 
benefactors. This has taken place in many other 
instances across America and demonstrates how 
Bormann’s people operate in the contemporary 
commercial world, in contrast to the fanciful 
nonsense with which Nazis are described in so much “literature.”

So much emphasis is placed on select Jewish 
participation in Bormann companies that when 
Adolf Eichmann was seized and taken to Tel Aviv 
to stand trial, it produced a shock wave in the 
Jewish and German communities of Buenos Aires. 
Jewish leaders informed the Israeli authorities 
in no uncertain terms that this must never happen 
again because a repetition would permanently 
rupture relations with the Germans of Latin 
America, as well as with the Bormann 
organization, and cut off the flow of Jewish 
money to Israel. It never happened again, and the 
pursuit of Bormann quieted down at the request of 
these Jewish leaders. He is residing in an 
Argentinian safe haven, protected by the most 
efficient German infrastructure in history as 
well as by all those whose prosperity depends on his well-being.'

You can donate to support Tony's work here

TG mobile +44 7786 952037  
-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <>

More information about the Diggers350 mailing list