Big Brother really is watching you


Up to now the most sinister thing that has happened to me on social media – apart from the small matter of being hounded out of my day job with death threats for making a few weakish jokes – has been the uncanny way that the most casual mention of any prospective purchase immediately leads to one’s feeds being filled with adverts for the self-same thing.

I must put this to the ultimate test by suggesting to Mrs H, on her return from work this evening, that we might consider buying something wildly improbable like an elephant foot’s umbrella stand or a foreign holiday.

But that was all in the innocent world before yesterday, when I discovered that Facebook is in the habit of trawling through my posts, designed for the edification of only a small circle of friends, and ‘fact checking’ them.

I had committed the heinous offence of sharing a post from a local livestock farm at Cartington in Northumberland, from which we regularly buy excellent boxes of grass-fed beef and lamb. This queried whether cattle really were the arch-criminals behind global warming, given that their number in the UK has been stable for decades, while the numbers of people, vehicles and flights have all increased, in some cases massively.

This apparently counts as heresy in 2021.

According to the experts it’s cows, not vehicles or people, that are the real villains as the planet hurtles towards its climatic doom.

Subsequent posts from Cartington – which don’t seem to have attracted the opprobrium of Facebook thus far – put this in context (viz, referring only to the UK), and also provided their own balance sheet, which shows that the carbon their grassland and woods sequester pretty much offsets that generated by their farming operations. (Yes, I sense someone about to ask, but what about methane? And the answer is that I don’t know.)

I’ve worked for food companies, including those in the meat trade, and unlike most people I have visited abattoirs. And I’m very willing to accept the vegan theory that in a century’s time (in the increasingly unlikely event of there being any humans around to reflect on such things) killing animals for food will most likely be viewed with the sort of abhorrence that most of us feel about hanging, drawing and quartering traitors. (I did say ‘most of us’.)

However, I am also conscious that we evolved to be omnivores and that some animals are absolutely delicious. There is also the fact that the British uplands are never going to have an agricultural value for anything other than grazing. So unless they are to be turned over to woodland and scrub, which is certainly an option, they might as well be raising top quality meat

Yes, it is criminal that the Amazon rainforest is being bulldozed and burned to permit the growing of more and more soya to feed cattle and chickens. Yes, we should all be reviewing our diets and cutting out industrially produced protein, particularly cheap imported beef and battery (or its current equivalent) chicken, wherever it comes from. We should be eating less meat, but better and more local. Easy for me to say, as a relatively prosperous oldster; a lot harder for anyone struggling to bring up their kids on Universal Credit. Still, those who can, should.

Ironically, I warm to the climate catastrophists because they are essentially reactionaries. Anyone who studies the evidence dispassionately can see that the fundamental problem we face on Earth is having far too many human consumers aspiring to a luxury lifestyle. And that it all went wrong in the 1960s, with the invention of sex, pop music, hire purchase, and the throwaway society.

Last month marked the 55th anniversary of the closure of the Newcastle trolleybus system, a wonderful network using clean electric vehicles, replaced by polluting diesel buses.

The next year British Rail scrapped the electric trains that ran between Newcastle and the coast, and replaced them with slower and less frequent diesel multiple units. The crazed Dr Beeching had already left the population of great swathes of the country with no choice but to travel by car, if they wanted to travel at all.

Around the same time our local council in Longbenton did away with the ‘salvage trailer’ that had bounced along behind the dustcart since the war, collecting paper and cardboard for recycling; it had become the fashion to send everything straight to landfill.

In those days of my youth plastic was a rarity: we bought fruit and vegetables loose from someone called a ‘greengrocer’, and soft drinks, milk and beer in returnable glass bottles. The milk was even delivered to our doorstep on an eco-friendly electric float. Not only were foreign holidays a rare luxury: so was central heating.

Putting the clock back on all these things – and some of it is already happening – would be great for the planet and do no great harm to us, but sadly I don’t think it’s going to prove compatible with democracy. The bold leader who tells us we need to wrap up in woollens, heat only one room in the house, take our holidays near home, and tuck into a nice plate of crickets instead of a juicy steak, is also the leader with zero chance of re-election.

But maybe Big Brother is already working on an answer to this challenge, too.

Before that menacing notice appeared on my Facebook account I’d been planning to share the glad tidings from the Chillingham Wild Cattle Association that the carbon sequestered by their grassland and forestry substantially more than offsets the carbon emitted by their cattle and the cars of their visitors. (Yes, but what about methane? See above.)

Now I do not dare.

It’s strange, but in all the nightmares I had about Big Brother after reading 1984 half a century ago, I never pictured him having the blandly amiable if politically inept face of Nick Clegg.

Of course, in the final analysis, there can only be one correct response to this sort of interference by the social media thought police; and it is a robust one comprising two words, one of which is ‘off’.

But if this sort of thing is going on, just think of the trouble many of us are going to be in when the fact-checkers start investigating and posting warning notices every time we type ‘I love …’


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