Confronting the Grandest Challenge of All

An Evening with George Monbiot by Ella Tennant, Liberal Arts‌

It was a sultry Friday evening at the start of a long bank holiday weekend but the Westminster theatre was packed. As I made my way in, I bumped straight into George Monbiot, coming through the same door. A very familiar face – it was like seeing an old friend. “You look exactly the same as your photograph” I said. “You should see the one in the attic!” he replied, smiling, before being ushered away to the front of the lecture theatre.

Audience

For me, this appeared to set the tone of the evening, during which the opening remarks and a joke from Professor Jonathan Wastling, Director of the Institute of Liberal Arts and Sciences (ILAS), raised a laugh from the audience.

JW Introduction

The lecture began, and for well over an hour everyone in the packed theatre listened attentively to Mr Monbiot’s engaging and well-informed talk. He appeared indefatigable – talking to the audience with no notes, no slides, gesticulating and emphasising points to dramatic effect. There were even references to Taoism and John Clare’s poetry. It was hard to believe that the man on stage had recently undergone major surgery.

On Stage 1

On Stage 5

Some of the numerous noteworthy points, each one able to stimulate meaningful, further discussion are simplified here:

  • we should be talking about ‘climate breakdown’ rather than ‘climate change’
  • we are in an ideological crisis as there is no meaningful political narrative to replace neo-liberalism
  • we are in the midst of an ecological crisis
  • we need a politics of belonging
  • there is a need for a regime change and the creation of a new restoration story

On Stage 4

If you missed the lecture, I would recommend watching the video, in order to fully appreciate and follow the development of the talk.

The half hour question and answer session that followed led to a discussion of issues such as ‘radical municipalism’, the generation of a sense of belonging in communities, technology as a tool for both mobilisation and manipulation and the need to resist the threat of resurgent fascism and the atomisation of society.

Post-lecture 2

Everyone assumed that, after a round of enthusiastic applause, the evening had come to an end. However, Professor Wastling announced that the speaker would be available for an informal discussion session in the Art Gallery, an open space outside the lecture theatre. This was too good an opportunity to miss – a glass of wine in hand, sitting in a circle in discussion with Mr Monbiot, ‘instead of book-signings’ he said. The group was composed of people from Keele, including both staff and students; ex-alumni and visitors who came to campus specifically for the talk. The unanimous opinion was that this was by far the most interesting and engaging of all the lectures in the Grand Challenges series so far, and the opportunity for informal discussion in this way really did make the event memorable.

The event finally drew to a close and a very happy and talkative group lingered for a while. As Mr Monbiot was making his way to the adjacent restaurant, I asked him if he would sign the copy of his book ‘Feral’ I had bought from the display stand. ‘Of course’ he said, as I offered him my pen. ‘To Ella, Go wild!’ he wrote.

Ella book signing