In 2010, having advocated for veganism in 2002, George Monbiot wrote: ‘I was wrong about veganism. Let them eat meat – but farm it properly.’
Having just read Simon Faerlie’s book Meat: A Benign Extravagance, Monbiot acknowledged serious environmental problems with the prevailing model of cattle production, but complained that pigs ‘have been forbidden in many parts of the rich world from doing what they do best: converting waste into meat.’
Surprisingly perhaps, while rhapsodising on the efficiency of giving ‘sterilised scraps to pigs,’ he expressed no concern for animal welfare in feedlot production.
‘It’s time we got stuck in,’ he concluded, no doubt to the anger of genuine vegans who refrain from consuming animal products for ethical reasons, not simply because laboratory grown meat is more efficient to produce.
‘There are plenty to choose from,’ he opined, but one he believed ‘will be the mass incarceration of animals, to enable us to eat their flesh or eggs or drink their milk.’
Whatever one’s views – vegan or meat-enthusiast – on this issue, it is fair to say that Monbiot has been ethically vacant and that his knowledge of “the science” isn’t always up to speed, even by his own admission.
Monbiot displayed a similar inconsistency and lack of staying power in his attitude to Jeremy Corbyn. In 2015 he hailed the Islington MP Labour leadership candidate as ‘the curator of the future. His rivals are chasing an impossible dream.’
By the beginning of 2017, however, he was tweeting: ‘I was thrilled when Jeremy Corbyn became leader of the Labour Party, but it has been one fiasco after another. I have now lost all faith.’
That was just months before Corbyn’s high water mark: the 2017 General Election when the Conservatives under Theresa May were reduced to a minority administration reliant on the support of the DUP.
At least the surprising result gave Monbiot pause for reflection. He mused later that year on a crushing defeat for the liberal media which had ‘created a hall of mirrors, in which like-minded people reflect and reproduce each other’s opinions.’
He noted that ‘broadcasters echo what the papers say, the papers pick up what the broadcasters say.’ and how a ‘narrow group of favoured pundits appear on the news programmes again and again.’
Having acknowledged “a hall of mirrors” in the media’s treatment of Jeremy Corbyn it seems surprising he wouldn’t consider that this phenomenon may have operated during the pandemic. Instead, we found full-blooded commitment to lockdowns and all that followed. The nadir arrived with an argument for what amounts to scientific censorship.
On first glance, his proposal for a time delimited ‘outright ban on lies that endanger people’s lives’ might seem proportionate in an emergency period, but this proceeds a passage in which he refers to ‘people such as Allison Pearson, Peter Hitchens and Sunetra Gupta, who have made such public headway with their misleading claims about the pandemic.’
“and Sunetra Gupta”!!!
For anyone who has not heard of her, apart from being a published novelist, Sunetra Gupta is an infectious disease epidemiologist and a professor of theoretical epidemiology at the Department of Zoology, University of Oxford.
In March 2020, Gupta and her colleagues posted a paper challenging the modelling of Imperial College’s Neil Ferguson which persuaded many Western governments to adopt lockdowns. Gupta’s paper argued that prior coronavirus infections would diminish the spread and posited a far lower infection fatality rate. Its predictions proved optimistic, but Ferguson projected a minimum U.S. death toll of a ‘best case scenario’ of 1.1 million, rising to 2.2 million in a worst case scenario that also proved inaccurate. It is fair to say that epidemiology is not an exact science.
Monbiot’s disturbing article conflated Gupta’s more optimistic assessment – which brought vilification – with denial of human responsibility for climate change and the role of smoking in lung cancer.
He also slipped in an attack on the Great Barrington Declaration that Gupta co-authored, misrepresenting proposals for targeted protection as championing ‘herd immunity through mass infection with the help of discredited claims.’ Presumably Monbiot would have consigned that document to the bonfire too.
A new paper in the British Medical Journal by John Ionnidas reflects on the echo chamber – generated by social media in particular – in which Monbiot operates. Ionnidas compared the social media following of the signatories of the Great Barrington Declaration to its rival John Snow Memorandum that advocated for the opposing view of continuing with lockdowns.
He concluded that both included ‘many stellar scientists’, but that ‘JSM has far more powerful social media presence and this may have shaped the impression that it is the dominant narrative.’
This paper is unlikely to inform Monbiot’s understanding of “the science” of COVID-19, which has been reduced to a political ideology. Thus, anyone questioning the wisdom of lockdowns and universal vaccination – with recourse to draconian laws if necessary – is essentially adopting “conspiratorial” “right-wing” ideas.
Rather than dispassionately assess the merits of lockdowns or medications via cost benefit analyses – as a critical journalist or scientist ought to – Monbiot blithely argues that the ‘anti-vaccine movement is a highly effective channel for the penetration of far-right ideas into leftwing countercultures.’
Notably absent is an acknowledgement that he, George Monbiot, could possibly err in his evaluation of scientific or political questions.
Monbiot’s views on COVID-19 are consistent with opinions expressed across most of a liberal media (including the Guardian) which has received hundreds of millions of dollars in financial support from the Gates Foundation, arguably manufacturing consent for the status quo.
Monbiot is hardly a gun for hire, but operating within the hall of mirrors he previously acknowledged has brought an intellectual meltdown.
His diminished credibility as a commentator, and tendency towards divisive political tribalism, should be of concern to environmentalists; who also ought to be wary of the steady encroachment of philanthrocapitalism.
Feature Image: Hall of Mirrors, Palace of Versailles