From his lockdown home office, Tony Wardle reckons that science has become like a magician’s trick – subject to a sleight of hand designed to deceive.
Covid-19, or one of its mates, wasn’t only inevitable it was predictable. It hovered on the horizon like a huge black cloud, so obvious that even Mystic Meg could have foreseen what was to come. In the event, it was nowhere near as lethal as it might have been, but that was pure luck. Make no mistake, there are other viruses queueing up to make our lives hell.
Did you ever get a warning from Government that something like this was brewing? Did you get any advice about how you could avoid it – like when they told us to shelter beneath our dining tables with sandwiches and a flask of tea in the event of a nuclear holocaust? If they did, I must have missed it.
We’re talking science here not clairvoyance because the evidence has for years been waving red flags at us, sticking its tongue out and jumping up and down like a four-year-old at the swimming pool shouting, ‘look at me, look at me’. Forget about scientists supposedly cooking up a noxious brew in a Chinese laboratory - that’s just a diversion, it’s facts I’m after.
Boris et al stand and clap for NHS and front line workers, call them heroes and tell us to be ‘vigilant’. What they don’t tell us is how this and other viruses have come about, what part our lifestyle has played and what we need to do to reduce the chances of another unwelcome visitor. This and so much more is in the science and has been for decades but our ‘leaders’ have been ignoring it because it wasn’t convenient.
What this boils down to is a simple question - why do they ignore science when it suits them? The answer is surprisingly simple – to protect their votes, vested interests and the ‘economy’ - your life, your health have in the past mostly come way down the list. The joke is that on this occasion, their refusal to acknowledge science in order to protect the economy has now crashed it. The Holy Grail is looking a bit peeky.
Science has told us so many things: that song bird numbers have dramatically collapsed because of farming practices; that insect numbers are in free fall because of pesticide use; soil fertility is rapidly declining because of unsustainable farming methods; erosion on our uplands is at crisis point from overgrazing; and British rivers are being constantly poisoned by manure run-offs from animal farming. And that’s just a little hors d’oeuvre, an amuse bouche of the unsustainable madness that afflicts our countryside – our planet. And what do our leaders think about it? “Our farmers are guardians of the British countryside”. The reality is that our life-support mechanisms are dying.
You may have noticed that on TV, farming is a rather lovely occupation. Countryfile, and titles like The Farmer Wants a Wife, Love in the Countryside and Country Life all have a common backdrop of rolling pastures and animals freely ranging. Lovely dovely minority stuff that represents the few per cent. My programme proposals look at the reality of animal farming, the big majority – titles like I Shovel Shit All Day, How to Kill Pigs With a Hammer and The Filth Behind Closed Doors. Sadly, they’ve failed so far but I’m ever hopeful.
Of course, it’s not the first time science has been put on the back burner with disastrous results – in fact the hob is covered with simmering, festering inconvenient pans. I could go back decades but let’s start with the science around global warming, particularly the contribution made by livestock to greenhouse gases (GHG). I’m going with the UN Food & Agriculture Organisation’s original research figure of 18 per cent - before the meat industry’s lobbyists got to work and argued it down to 15 per cent.
Clearly, the UK is doing better than the rest of the world because our livestock produce only 3.5 per cent of GHG according to the government. Wow – didn’t we do well? No, we didn’t actually, we cooked the science!
By leaving out all the fodder grown for animals, the fertilisers and tractors and other farm diesel and electricity, transport, anything that happens in the slaughterhouse, chilling, packing and transport to the shops, imported high protein supplements and meat brought in from environmentally dodgy countries, you may be able to get to 3.5 per cent (although I even doubt that). The real figure is 17 per cent, according to Cranfield University and near enough to the FAO’s.
Diminishing the problem enables them to say that no action is necessary. They (and Labour before them) have ignored the science because they’re terrified that telling people to avoid meat and dairy will cost them votes. For the Tories, it’s even more unthinkable as most of their votes come from rural communities so to hell with fulfilling their promise of zero carbon by 2050. On current trends, it ain’t gonna happen.
But suddenly, our health is important to them (unless you reside in a nursing home, in which case it’s a bit more of a lottery). Why now when it’s been ignored for years? Because covid-19 is so in your face that to ignore it would bring the Government down.
The science has long been telling us that the big killers of heart disease, cancer obesity, diabetes (and increasingly Alzheimers disease) and others, all have their roots in animal products. Did anyone in Government tell you that? No they didn’t but they did tell you that “meat is essential to good health.” They can blag that one because degenerative diseases have developed insidiously over decades but constitute a pandemic nevertheless.
Viva! regularly goes into factory farms, clattering over discarded antibiotic bottles, stepping around dead bodies, trying not to gag on the foetid air, closing our ears to the cacophony of distressed voices and trying to contain our anger at the scale of this authorised, institutionalised animal abuse. Again, the science supports our protestations but not the
Government. “We have the best animal welfare in the world,” - over and over and over like a parrot on steroids.
Factory-farmed animals suffer from a whole battery of diseases including little corkers such as TB, meningitis and pneumonia and a bonus pack of other bacteria and viruses that already sicken millions of humans and kill thousands. Again, the science is clear and global bodies keep repeating it - industrial farming poses a major threat to human health – and they’re ignored.
In an often futile attempt to keep these animal diseases at bay, a battery of antibiotics is thrown at them – and has been since the 1940s. The first warning that bacteria were developing antibiotic resistance came in 1969. “You have been warned”, said Professor Swann. The Government largely ignored him, too. And now, 50 years later, Dame Sally Davis, Chief Medical Officer of Health for England (not a member of the Government) says: “We are facing an antibiotic apocalypse on a par with global warming”.
By 2050, she says, more people in Britain will die from antibiotic resistance than from cancer – and that annual total currently sits at 165,000. And what does the Government say? “Sales of veterinary antibiotics are at their lowest level in 25 years”. Whooppie doodie – 50 years after first being warned, they have managed to slash farm antibiotics to just 35 per cent of the total used (human and animal use combined). That’ll do the trick then!
It isn’t just heart disease and cancer and antibiotic resistance that threaten us, there is something potentially far more deadly brewing. The stinking reservoirs of filth and disease in factory farms are mutation heaven for viruses and bacteria. Funnily enough, a coronavirus wasn’t what the Government was expecting – it was a flu virus, the kind that wiped out possibly 50 million people in 1918/19.
Our factory farms are the equivalent of Asia’s wet markets and all flu viruses stem from aquatic birds which, via chickens and pigs, have mutated to infect and kill humans. And the Government’s position: “Wash your hands!”
What on earth has happened to our society, where spivs and wide boys can sit in the City flogging dodgy global ‘investments’ to one another but which enrich us not one jot. They often count their bonuses in millions while care workers, on the other hand, who look after the most vulnerable in society, are lucky to earn the minimum wage – not even a living wage. This just about sums it up for me. Is this how we want society to be?
We boast of our parliamentary democracy but it has failed us dramatically by ignoring science. And into that vacuum of truth has crawled the flat earthists, 5G doom mongers, chem trail fantasists, global warming deniers while chronic creationism is becoming as contagious as covid-19. They have been covertly encouraged by a large section of the press to whom destabilisation, ignorance, the undermining of democratic structures and the destruction of trade unionism is part of their mission statement.
Freedom of the press for most titles is freedom to advance the political interests of their billionaire owners. Do you really think that your essential interests are the same as Rupert Murdoch’s, owner of the Sun and Times and worth £7.1 billion (he also owns Fox News, which tells you everything). The Daily Telegraph is owned by the knighted Barclay brothers (worth £3 billion), the Daily Mail by Jonathan Harmsworth, the Viscount Rothermere (worth £1.3 billion) while the Daily Express and the Star were, until recently, owned by former pornographer Richard Desmond (worth £2.6 billion).
It is no surprise that the majority of these papers overwhelmingly backed Brexit. They want a low-wage, low-expectation, poorly-organised society where environmental, animal and employment protections are shredded so that industrialist’s profits can be maximised. And make no mistake, that is what Brexit was all about – divide and rule.
These obscenely rich people and their political champions have dragged us to the brink of survival by numbing our senses, dulling our critical faculties. We have entered the sixth mass extinction without them so much as blinking, because they don’t care. Our oceans are collapsing from a cocktail of causes and they don’t care. Every life support system of the global environment is failing and they don’t care. Planet Earth is heating up and catastrophe lies less than 20 years away but they don’t care. We continue to slaughter and abuse animals without hindrance and they don’t care. The only thing – the only thing - that will make them care is if they can turn these disasters into money-making enterprises. We are heading towards a Trumpian dystopia although Trump himself is not the cause, merely a symptom of what happens when we trash science in favour of ‘gut instinct’.
Our stewardship of this planet has been disastrous because petty self-interest has triumphed over science and knowledge. We know it cannot continue like this so the big question is – what kind of society do we want when this is all over? If science is not to be our lodestone, then what is? The alternatives – cynicism, money fetishism, propaganda, vested interests, consumerism - have failed spectacularly, to the point where our planet is imperilled.
I don’t say this lightly – small as we are, Viva! is in the forefront of creating the kind of change that is essential for our survival. Mainstream environmental organisations have purposely failed to make the connection between our abuse of animals and our abuse of the planet and its people. Some animal welfare organisation tip toe cravenly around the issue, pleading with us to be a bit kinder to animals before we cut their throats. The biggest of them all, set up to protect animals from cruelty, actively encourages us to eat their brand of factory-farmed animals as opposed to other people’s.
How the hell did we get here? Those who we should be able to trust are dancing to the consumerist tune with all the abandon of a Saturday night at the Hacienda. There must be no going back - but that will entail a battle of epic proportions because those who hold power never surrender it willingly. Are you up for the fight?