Regenesis

BY JAMES BEMBRIDGE

Those familiar with George Monbiot’s journalism – to use the word in its loosest and most absurd sense – will know of his strange, almost pathological obsession with farmers. He writes endlessly about abolishing livestock farming and rewilding agricultural land, but shows little care or consideration as to what should happen to the families and communities for whom farming is not just a livelihood but a way of life. His new book Regenesis continues in this misanthropic vein. 

One must admire the clever way in which Monbiot has critic-proofed this book: the first chapter is so piercingly dull that no one other than manic greenies will bother reading it. A whole 26 pages are dedicated to a lump of soil that Monbiot unearthed from his allotment. This soil is discussed at torturous length and, disturbingly, in sometimes carnal detail:

I feel huge and violent and slow as I break into the soil’s hidden chambers’  

Though Monbiot’s talk of soil is seemingly benign, his anti-farming bigotries are never far below the surface. Farming is, he writes:

the most destructive activity ever to have blighted the earth

Really?

More so than war, terrorism or genocide?

That statement alone should discredit anything else penned by Monbiot’s mirthless hand. But in recent years, this crank has somehow been allowed to cultivate an image as a ‘man of science’. All his anti-farming bigotries now come veneered with scientific sophistry; facts, figures and statistics, most of which are lifted from advocacy-driven research – that is to say, activists masquerading as scientists.

Central to Monbiot’s anti-farming rhetoric is the impression that methane from cattle – more specifically, the carbon it converts to – has a comparable warming effect to fossil fuel. But he either doesn’t know, or doesn’t care to mention, the research from the University of California which shows that carbon converted from biological methane is ‘the same carbon that was in the air prior to being consumed by an animal. It is recycled carbon.’

At one point Monbiot grudgingly accepts that methane is now proven to be a short-lived greenhouse gas only to then conclude this makes cutting it ‘not less important, but more important’. As with all conspiratorial cranks, Monbiot sees facts and logic as further proof of the conspiracy.

If his dangerously fringe imaginings were ever to become reality, Monbiot would have us living in a farm-free world, slurping on a concoction of lab-grown bacteria – or, as he temptingly describes it, ‘thin yellow sludge’. Has he considered that human bodies might not have the capacity to metabolize this grim Huxleyesque gruel?

How many trees were felled, I wonder, to print this manifesto on rewilding, and what polluting effect does Monbiot’s verbal flatulence have on the political landscape? Vegan sausage breath on speed. It’s easy for the privileged to say farmers should be deprived of their livelihoods when they are so far removed from the realities of their existence. Forty-four UK farmers committed suicide in 2020, and yet Monbiot sees it fit to menace them with pseudo-solemn statements such as ‘the countryside is neither innocent nor pure’, and ‘we grant farming an uncontested political space offered to no other profession.’

It remains a mystery as to what fuels Monbiot’s obsession with farmers. Whatever it is, this book makes clear that it isn’t climate change. If it were, then it would be focused on fossil fuels rather than the carbon neutral effect of cattle, and it would acknowledge that rice paddies (the kind of wetlands that Monbiot wants to convert agricultural land into) are huge emitters of methane.

But one shouldn’t spend too much time trying to understand the inner workings of Monbiot’s mind. When reading his articles, one can’t help but notice the uncanny similarities between him and the Renfield character from Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Both feed on insects, spout apocalyptic warnings and are thought to be suffering from a kind of religious mania. But as Renfield’s doctor wisely observes of him:

‘How well the man reasoned; lunatics always do within their own scope.’

James Bembridge is Deputy Editor of Country Squire Magazine.