Monbiot having a pop at The Land Magazine
Posted by Ian M on August 19, 2023, 8:40 pm
The usual smears and guilt-by-association disguised by smooth, superficially persuasive public school rhetoric. I was going to call them lazy smears, but he has too great a capacity for research for that so I have to say they're calculated, as we've seen with so many other figures he's gone after. It's the role he plays and why he's allowed his spot in the corporate press after all... |
To the Land responses I would add that Monbiot's request for 'numbers' in discussing proposals for how to feed the current human population, while useful in revealing as lacking many wonder claims of productivity, is ultimately a trap forcing people into 'solving the wrong variable' of keeping industrial civilisation alive at the expense of the living planet. If the 'studge' of factory-produced fermented foods is successful in producing the amount of bulk proteins, fats and starches (I refuse to call it food) currently produced in large part, but by no means entirely, by industrial agriculture, then that will become another green revolution and set the stage for a further expansion of the human population, compounding all the problems currently being caused by that population. Monbiot is wrong to think that an expansionist capitalist system will permit any rewilded spaces to last for long before being put to some kind of new form of strip mining. Of course he's fully aware of this, if only in some other compartment of his brain, and the Land writers provide several satisfying examples of Past Monbiot taking down Present Monbiot's arguments.
I still can't get over the nerve and hubris of presenting himself as the Serious Adult wishing to take on the problem in a way nobody else has his unique courage to do, where his proposed solution is something completely new and untested with huge potential for unintended consequences for human, social and planetary health. There is an undeniable power in arming yourself with all the latest scientific research and using data to knock down opposing arguments and make people look foolish, as Monbiot has done, for example, in debates with Allan Savory and arguably Simon Fairlie too. Yet without some grounding in actual engagement with the land, backed up by traditional practices and the humility of learning through experience what works and what doesn't, often for completely unforeseen reasons, basing proposals on alienated research & reasoning of this kind is a recipe for disaster.
Anyway, I've obviously been triggered again and spent too much effort responding to his bad faith arguments, so I'll stop there. Here's the article:
Precision and Prohibition
download as pdf [link: https://www.thelandmagazine.org.uk/sites/default/files/Precision%20and%20Prohibition%20-%20web.pdf ]
George Monbiot accuses The Land of bucolic romanticism. Mike Hannis and Simon Fairlie respond.
Following publication of issue 32 we received a letter from George Monbiot, which you can read below along with responses from two of the magazine's editors.
The pdf also includes a longer response by Chris Smaje to recent writings of Monbiot's calling for 'the end of most agriculture'.
Before my book Regenesis was published, I gave some thought to where the main opposition was likely to come from. I guessed it would take the form of an unintentional alliance between bucolic romantics and Big Meat. Just as the Southern Baptists in the United States, by pushing for Prohibition, opened the door to Al Capone and his chums, so the romantics would play John the Southern Baptist to the meat industry. It has played out just as I feared, especially in the pages of The Land.
The Southern Baptists had no solution to the demand for alcohol except temperance, eventually enforced by law. The romantics in these pages have no solution except temperance to a drive that’s just as strong: the rising demand, as wealth increases, for energy-dense (especially protein-rich and fat-rich) foods. There’s a term for this trend: Bennett’s Law.
While I think we can all agree that a high-yield agroecology is the best means by which our grain, fruit and vegetables should be produced, there is no way it can meet the spiralling global demand for protein and fat. Nor should it try.
New sources, especially unicellular organisms, can meet the growing demand for fat and protein while using a fraction of the land, water and fertiliser required for meat production. I understand why you might instinctively reject this approach. But the question none of you will answer is what you propose instead. Your writers seek to rip down the only viable alternative I can see to an exponential rise in livestock production to meet the rising demand for energy-dense foods, without suggesting a replacement.
Rather than attempt an answer to the existential crises caused by the escalating demand for animal products, The Land retreats into fantasy. It proposes, in effect, a Neolithic production system to feed a 21st-century population with 21st-century appetites. You don’t have to be John the Baptist to see how that will go. As so often in matters of food and farming, it’s all about the pictures, while the numbers are either ignored or denied.
Far worse, just as David Bellamy and his ilk denied the radiative forcing impact of carbon dioxide because they didn’t like the sight of wind turbines, some writers in your pages deny the radiative forcing impact of methane because they don’t like the sound of alternative proteins. There are two ways of describing this tendency. One is motivated reasoning. The other is climate denial. You should be ashamed to entertain such claims in your magazine.
I now begin to wonder whether The Land is taking an even grimmer turn. The latest edition’s lead editorial peddles two staples of the current wave of conspiracism. The first is its conflation of proposition with imposition. Some of us have proposed new means of producing protein. Somehow The Land translates this into subsistence pastoralists being “told ... to give up their livestock”. This is a classic example of the conspiracy ideation now deployed against almost all proposed environmental measures. Induction hobs are greener? They’re coming for your gas cooker! A 15-minute city? You’ll be forced to stay in your home!
The second is the “dark forces” theme. Reboot Food is transparent about who funds it, what it is and what it wants. But, without advancing a shred of evidence, you accuse it of being “a sophisticated astroturf organisation, whose real job is to advance industry interests”. The only parts you missed are the Great Reset and the Illuminati.
If you have a viable and realistic means of addressing the greatest of our environmental dilemmas – the vast and rising impact of livestock on all Earth systems – I would love to hear it. If it is better than the approach I’ve supported, I would be delighted to adopt it. But I go back to The Land again and again, and find nothing.
By attacking the only genuine threat to its hegemony, you are rolling out the blood-red carpet for Big Meat. It is time you asked yourselves some tough questions.
Thank you very much for your letter. Sorry that our publication schedule has left you waiting several months for a reply.
If there is an analogy here with Prohibition, the Southern Baptist role is played by those whose rigid ethical convictions blinker them into thinking they can impose a massive cultural shift in consumption patterns on everyone else. If they succeed, the part of Al Capone may be played by black market meat dealers, with supply chains even murkier than today’s.
Demand for meat is demand for meat, not ‘demand for energy-dense foods’. Few would deny that this demand has become unsustainable and urgently needs to be reduced. But few would agree that it can or should be eliminated entirely. The two claims are distinct, and their conflation makes sense only from a perspective distorted by dogmatic veganism.
Your proposed global transition away from agriculture is at least as utopian as the agroecological visions which you mock as ‘romantic’. I respect and share your desire to free food chains from the poison of corporate manipulation. But the technologies you endorse, if implemented at the scale you suggest, are likely to further intensify the industrialisation and centralisation of food production, and thereby have the opposite effect.
These themes will be addressed by others on the following pages, but first I would like to respond briefly to your comments on my editorial in isssue 32. The implications of your proposals for subsistence pastoralists in the Global South are very real – there’s no ‘conspiracy ideation’ involved. (We have published many articles criticising such thinking, including my own editorial in this issue on 15-minute cities, which I hope you’ll agree with.)
Those rich in land and capital might well, as you recommend, adopt some combination of horticulture, rewilding, and growing feedstock for the hungry bioreactors. Big Food would simply shift resources from Big Meat to Big Fermentation. But pastoralists don’t have these options. It is disingenuous to suggest they would not be impacted.
Should governments and publics in richer countries further embrace the vilification of livestock keeping, the priorities of aid agencies, NGOs, and their donors, would shift accordingly. This would significantly increase existing pressures on the livelihoods of pastoralists, who as you know tend to depend on grazing marginal land they don’t own, in countries where government policy is subject to the whims of such agencies. These pressures frequently result in people having to give up their livestock, with all the cultural devastation that involves. Often the land is then dishonestly reframed as ‘pristine wilderness’, to be profitably monetised by unsustainable and extractive tourism enterprises – including the archaic trophy hunting industry you inexplicably defend.
RePlanet are indeed transparent about the fact that they are funded from the very deep pockets of hedge fund Quadrature Capital, via its Quadrature Climate Foundation. QCF also fund ‘Greens for Nuclear’ (see page 27), and no doubt other groups engaged in the persuasion they describe as key to their ‘mission’:
‘Our mission is to urgently shift the current global climate trajectory towards a better future through philanthropic giving and the persuasion of others to join in the effort.’
Curiously this mission does not extend to Quadrature’s own business. Their website explains that, like a medieval indulgence, transferring funds into QCF magically resolves any conflict between their purported values and the fact that they make their billions by investing in literally anything, including oil and arms companies.1 This epic greenwash bears quoting in full:
‘In line with our desire to positively contribute to society, and with QCF’s work focused on fighting the climate crisis, we evaluated the pros and cons of removing all stocks that are inconsistent with the Paris Agreement of limiting the global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees from our investable universe. We do not hold stocks for long periods of time, instead we trade in and out and are as likely to be short as long. The only impact we have is to make them more efficient by adding liquidity, and the value of this additional liquidity is negligible compared to the donations made to the foundation. We therefore look to trade all stocks irrespective of their underlying business model and so our regulatory reports may show long positions that don’t align with our values.’
Such people will clearly never fund any version of environmentalism that involves challenging economic growth or capitalist ‘business as usual’. But their logic aligns perfectly with the ecomodernist project of ‘persuading’ governments to smooth the way for techno-fixes which promise to resolve inconvenient issues like climate change while opening vast new frontiers of profit for Big Tech and its investors. They therefore fund organisations like RePlanet, who promote such ‘solutions’.
In this context ‘trust the science’ tends to become ‘trust the market’, which as you have done more than most to show, is a short cut to perdition. I look forward to reading your updated analysis of the agendas pushed by your new friends – not to mention some of your old ones.
Thanks for your letter which gives us an opportunity to explore the rifts that exist within the green movement on these issues. But first, some of the allegations you make about the stance taken in The Land are wrong. Take for example this statement:
Your writers seek to rip down the only viable alternative I can see to an exponential rise in livestock production, ie unicellular organisms, to meet the rising demand for energy-dense foods.
I don’t know who you are referring to. In my review of your book Regenesis (see The Land issue 31, page 48) I stated that the strongest argument for studge, as some of us call it, is an environmental justice one, to meet the rising demand for high protein in poor countries; and that, provided there is sufficient available renewable energy, then ‘it is not hard to imagine the new diet being accepted by inhabitants of the vertical metropolitan sprawl that already exists in countries such as China and South Korea.’2
I suggested that peasant farmers ‘might choose to eat it if times were hard; but otherwise they would probably find it more advantageous to feed it to their livestock and sell the resulting milk and meat to town dwellers’. This is a reasonable suggestion. Studge is a potentially welcome replacement for soya protein from South America. Currently the bulk of soya protein is fed to animals, and I see no reason why that might not also be the case for studge. This could provide a better way of injecting fertility into peasant soils, via animal manure, than through the acquisition of artificial nitrogen. This would help to keep two billion peasant households living and working on their land, whereas using studge to replace farmed food, as you suggest, would force them off it.
A second accusation you make is that
‘some writers in your pages deny the radiative forcing impact of methane because they don’t like the sound of alternative proteins. There are two ways of describing this tendency. One is motivated reasoning. The other is climate denial.’
As far as I know nobody has written anything denying the radiative forcing of methane in the nearly 2,000 pages so far published by The Land. Most of the material we have published about methane has been written or edited by me, and I have never denied its global warming impact. In my main article on the subject (The Land 24, p24) I wrote: ‘it is vital that livestock numbers do not increase around the world because that would generate more methane in the atmosphere and cause global warming’. Is it possible to be much clearer than that?
I come now to the remarks that begin and end your letter: that The Land has entered into ‘an unintentional alliance between bucolic romantics and Big Meat’ and that we ‘are rolling out the blood-red carpet for Big Meat’.
This is a bizarre allegation, given that we have written and published countless articles decrying industrial pig and chicken farms, opposing the import of soya protein, in favour of taxing meat, and advocating a decline in the consumption of both grazed and factory fed animals.
The charge that we are in cahoots with ‘Big Meat’ only makes sense when seen through the lens of vegan fundamentalism which chooses to view all forms of livestock rearing as equally reprehensible despite the widely acknowledged fact that the environmental impacts of different kinds of animal husbandry vary wildly. Regenesis makes no mention of default livestock.
As for comparing The Land with Southern Baptists, that really takes the biscuit. It is not we who are advocating prohibition, but proselytising vegans such as yourself. To pursue the analogy through the cartoon below [see pdf], The Land is a voice of temperance, speaking out against intemperate meat consumption on the one hand and intemperate condemnation of animal husbandry on the other.
As you point out prohibitionists are in unconscious league with bootleggers, and the same is arguably the case for vegans and Big Meat. If all the six million or so vegans and vegetarians in Britain had instead demanded modest quantities of meat from animals that were humanely reared and fed from sustainable sources, and been prepared to pay for it, then the livestock industry would probably have shifted further in a benign direction than it has in response to mass abstention.
If you have a viable and realistic means of addressing the greatest of our environmental dilemmas – the vast and rising impact of livestock on all Earth systems – I would love to hear it. But I go back to The Land again and again, and find nothing.
Demand for meat is increasing at an unsustainable level; but so too are air flights taken by a global elite, concrete skyscrapers, container loads of plastic crap imported from China, obsolescing computers, and all the other elements of the capitalist lifestyle, each of which will have its own ‘Bennet’s Law’. We consider global warming to be a more pressing threat to human civilisation and to existing biodiversity, and that, in your own words, ‘curtailing climate change must become the project we put before all others’.3
The Land does not, as you do, have a magic potion that will solve the world’s environmental dilemmas. Life on Earth is too complex for that. At best we have a bundle of proposals and ideas that we think point a way forward, and which, among other things, would reduce the impact of livestock. A list of some of these is provided below.
In any case, it is not the mission of The Land to promote a single solution to the world’s problems. We are a magazine committed to the land rights movement that you fired up in the 1990s, and as such we have a responsibility to scrutinise, in respect of environmental justice and access to land, the projects of those who put forward or try to impose solutions.
So, for example, we are by no means opposed to rewilding in principle, but we agree with you that ‘like all visions, rewilding must be constantly questioned and challenged’. We fully support your view that ‘it should happen only with the consent and enthusiasm of those who work on the land. It must never be used as an instrument of expropriation or dispossession’. And, like you, we ‘do not think that extensive rewilding should take place on productive land’.4
It now seems that you have abandoned these principles. By calling for ‘the end of most agriculture’ and advocating a vegan diet as ‘the best way to save the planet’ you are threatening the livelihoods of some 600 million farming households, more than two billion people.5
You seem to be in a state of denial about this, but it is hard to see how the end of farming and animal husbandry could mean anything else. Your brand of agribashing veganism is driving a wedge between the majority of progressive rural landworkers and a large cohort of progressive urban consumers, and threatens to split the green and environmental justice movement in two.
Recently two reports were published proposing a shift in the UK towards agroecological methods broadly similar to changes that The Land has been advocating.6 Given that they foresee a reduction in livestock numbers, lower methane and carbon emissions, and an increase in the land area devoted to nature, one would have thought that you would be supportive. Animal husbandry, however much you might wish it, is not going to disappear overnight and this a step in that direction. But instead of welcoming these reports, you publish agribashing and vegan propaganda, prompting a group of prominent agroecologists, who ought to be your allies in the fight against Big Meat, to write a letter of protest.7
As for studge, we have no problem in principle with what might prove to be a useful alternative to soya protein, especially in the tropics, where solar energy is more available. The thing we object to is the way you have weaponised it in your campaign against farmers. Please desist. And if you want people to stop calling it studge, then think of a better name.
George, we have huge respect for much of what you write, and for all you have done for the green movement, but in this case we think you are making a tactical blunder. You are letting your idea of perfection stand in the way of a commonly agreed good. We call upon you to join The Land, the Landworkers Alliance, the growing agroecology movement and green consumers everywhere in a united campaign against Big Meat.
The Land’s Proposals for Livestock Farming
• Level down meat consumption (and indeed all luxury consumption) in industrial nations, so as to level up living standards for the bulk of humanity.
• Stop feeding animals inefficiently on grain that could be fed to humans. This will very likely happen if energy becomes scarce in the absence of fossil fuels.
• Grow nitrogen-fixing pulses such as beans and peas, and clover leys instead.
• Focus on default livestock, ie ‘animal products and services which arise as the integral co-product of a wider agro-ecological system’ – eg by consuming waste and surpluses, recycling fertility, wildfire prevention, conservation grazing, providing traction etc.
• Reduce the beef herd but maintain dairy production since it is far more efficient than beef in terms of yield per hectare.
• Impose a VAT tax on meat, penalising large scale producers, and hence benefiting small-scale producers. Proceed to meat rationing if necessary.
• Keep food waste, processing waste, crop residues, meat and bone meal, etc in the food chain, rather than burning or composting it.
• Revert to a mixed farming system, where nitrogen fertility is derived from leguminous leys grazed by mostly dairy ruminants.
• Shift away from chemical fertilisers and pesticides and towards organic agriculture, based on obtaining nitrogen through legumes, and recycling other nutrients.
• Structure labelling, certification and licencing regulations to benefit organic producers and penalise chemical use.
• Focus plant breeding research on improving organic yields
• Investigate sustainable alternatives to artificial fertilisers; studge fed to livestock to produce more manure is one possibility.
• Stop the mass transfer of high quality nutrients, notably soya and palm oil from poor countries to rich countries
• In regions of high natural biodiversity, help pastoralists, forest dwellers, and other indigenous peoples protect their culture and environment from incursions by mining companies, loggers, agribusiness, fraudulent offsetting schemes, mass tourism and other threats.
• More human muscle power and brain power applied to the land, less monster machinery and data farming.
1. Details of Quadrature’s holdings in companies including Chevron and Northrop Grumman are listed in monthly regulatory filings. See https://uk.investing.com/pro/ideas/quadrature-capital-ltd
2. Since no one has proposed a convenient generic name for it, some of us at The Land have taken to using the term 'studge”' after the breakfast cereal Filboid Studge, that readers of Saki may remember was marketed on the basis that 'people will do things from a sense of duty that they never attempt as a pleasure'. The laboratory that George Monbiot visits calls its product 'solein', a portmanteau word combining 'solar' and 'protein' but, ominously, this is a registered trade mark.
3. G Monbiot, Heat, Allen Lane, 2006, p15
4. All three quotes from G Monbiot, Feral, Penguin, 2014, pp11-12
5. G Monbiot, Regenesis, p 187. and ‘The Best Way to Save the Planet? Drop Meat and Dairy’, The Guardian
6. Feeding Britain, by the Sustainable Farming Trust, and Modelling an Agroecological UK in 2050, by the French think tank IDDRI
7. ‘Demonising Organic Beef and Lamb Won’t Help Save the Earth’, The Guardian, letters, 25 Aug 2022
Precision and Prohibition
This article originally appeared as 'Precision and Prohibition' in The Land Issue 33
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