I've written recently about global warming and climate change. Other environmental concerns which are never far from my mind are the gradual disappearance of our small-scale retailers (and the corresponding rise of out-of-town shopping malls and retail parks), and the shrinking of natural habitats and the homogenisation of the countryside. Earlier this year The Guardian's Nicholas Lezard highlighted a newly published book on the changing face of England, Paul Kingsnorth's The Battle Against The Bland. Here are some disturbing statistics from this book:
The UK has lost nearly 30,000 independent food, beverage and tobacco retailers over the past decade ... 13,000 independent newsagents closed ... between 1995 and 2004. Fifty specialist shops closed every week between 1997 and 2002 ... The number of second-hand bookshops halved from 1,200 to 600 in the three years between 2002 and 2005. Meanwhile, the number of out-of-town shopping areas increased four-fold between 1986 and 1997 ... Since the end of the second world war we have lost - no, not lost, destroyed - 95 per cent of our wildflower meadows, 50 per cent of our chalk grasslands, half of our ancient lowland woodlands, half of our wetlands, 94 per cent of our lowland raised bog and 186,000 miles of ancient hedgerow.
Apparently the French term for the corporate takeover of city high streets is 'La Londonisation'.
Two of my radical socio-political literary heroes, William Cobbett and George Orwell, are probably turning in their graves at what's happening in England right now - though, on reflection, they're probably not too surprised that so many things they feared and predicted are coming to pass. Lezard states that Kingsnorth is following in the tradition of Cobbett (who first identified the crushing of the spirit of place by the impersonal and often corrupt rapaciousness of the profit motive as 'the Thing') and Orwell, united by a love of ordinary humanity.