fFor a committed vegan, George Monbiot displays a remarkable disdain for many animals. He blames chickens, especially their dung, for turning entire ecosystems into disgusting cesspools. He thinks cows are “huge machines that release carbon and take up lots of land.” For him, even honey bees are farm animals that cause great environmental damage by displacing wild insect species. For his documentary “Apocalypse Cow” he even shot a deer and ate its meat. Although he hated every moment, he wrote in the “Guardian”, he would have preferred it if a wolf had done his job. But “it felt right to eat that animal. Killing it caused no ecological damage, on the contrary.” Where it lived, in the Scottish Highlands, the number of deer has exploded, but the number of trees whose offspring they eat has plummeted as a result. Thanks to the hunt for game, the trees are now reclaiming the land “with remarkable speed”.
But Monbiot’s biggest enemies are sheep. This is mainly due to their enormous space requirement. In Britain, four million hectares of hill country would be used for sheep grazing, twice the area of all cities, factories, warehouses, gardens, parks, roads and airports combined. Sheep have been effective ecological niche destroyers since they were unleashed on the British Highlands in the 20th century, in part thanks to generous farm subsidies. Because the animals prefer to feed on tree seedlings, over time they have turned the area into a “dead zone” in which hardly anything grows apart from a single type of grass.
The most serious problem of this form of agriculture, however, is the meager yield. It takes 185 square meters of land to produce 100 grams of protein from lamb, about 26 times more than chicken or 84 times more than soy. Converted into calories, this means: 22 percent of the entire British agricultural area provides the citizens with one percent of their protein requirements.
George Monbiot is a real nerd when it comes to numbers like this. He has long been a household name in Great Britain as a journalist and environmental activist; his columns have been part of the Guardian’s inventory since 1996. The stylistic sharpness that characterizes him is also often directed at those who are supposedly like-minded. In his book “Neuland” he takes on all those organic farmers who still believe in the project of sustainable agriculture. For Monbiot, agriculture as such is “the most destructive human activity that has ever walked the earth”. He considers the ravages it causes to be “the most important of all environmental issues”.
Organic is not a solution either
The fact that it has so far been largely neglected in the climate debate compared to the energy transition is also due to the fact that the devastation of the soil, in contrast to the mining of fossil raw materials, has been romanticized for thousands of years. Even if it has long since reached industrial proportions, agriculture still conveys the image of a rural idyll, almost as if the exploitation of nature itself were something completely natural. In this respect, organic farming is more of a part of the problem: as beneficial as it may be for animals and soil quality, it actually exacerbates the consumption of land. As a means of turning grass into protein, sheep or cattle are woefully inefficient; in grazing, the animals grow even more slowly and take up much more space. “Few agricultural products are more polluting than grass-fed organic beef,” writes Monbiot.