Kate Parminter: Why does no one want to save the Earth any more?

From a speech by the chief executive of the Campaign to Protect Rural England, given at Oxford University
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How do we reconnect people with the countryside and make enough care about the countryside and convert that concern into support? While there is counter evidence that people care enough about some things - with big rallies for field sports and bigger rallies against the Iraq war - the nature of the support is one-off: one weekend in a year. In Western countries, the number of hours people are volunteering is declining.

Green groups need to worry. While membership of some groups goes up - the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and the National Trust to name two - it's the organisations where members get substantial benefits (free entry to properties for example) which are reaping the rewards. It's not those like Friends of the Earth or the Campaign to Protect Rural England who want to encourage active participation in civil society.

Maybe our salvation lies in the increasing number of still young but retired people who are looking for challenging ways to use their time. But as decisions that affect people's lives and environments move to undemocratic regional institutions and Parliament is seen to have less real power, how do we persuade people that they really can make a difference?

There are no easy "off-the-shelf" solutions. I would contend that green, non-governmental organisations must balance the role of irritant to the body politic with being part of the process of finding solutions. Through focused campaigning and innovative communication, we must influence public policy and energise new supporters.

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