The history of rabbits

The history of rabbits provided a useful point of reference for Martin Empson to discuss the question of how humans relate to the natural environment. Rabbits were introduced to Britain by the Normans in 1066 as a luxury food and clothing, however they soon escaped from their aristocratic confines and began to multiply, and today play an important role in British ecology; they are an example of how human being have changed nature. This is not simply a one way relationship; we’ve ended up changing, to some degree, the way we live our lives due to rabbits –we build fences and artificial warrens to stop them eating crops. The relationship between human beings and nature is one which is constantly changing; though labour we change the world around us in our own interests.

Under capitalism we see the relationship between humans and nature experiencing a rift. At the time of Marx and Engles one of the key concerns was a decrease in soil fertility. Where capitalism was most developed the soil was depleted in nutrients and no longer yielded what it should. Capitalism was robbing both the worker and the soil, alienating people from the natural world and their labour. Today we are facing the spectre of abrupt changes to our climate. Capitalism, a system based on both the destruction of nature and interaction with it, is now destroying our ability to live.

The discussion in the meeting focused on the problems we are facing with the climate, and how we might go about solving them. Several speakers emphasised that questions of climate were not something separate from other struggles that we are engaged in, and for the need to integrate questions of the environment and climate into them. Martin concluded his talk by putting it bluntly; we face a stark choice: break system or face continued economic and environmental crisis.