No Shades of Grey in the Hunting Argument

About a month ago I wrote an article, in which I lightly prodded the League Against Cruel Sports about their current stance over Trail Hunting. I thought I’d give it a few weeks to lend a little distance and give me time to mull over the various replies I received in relation to it, but this has only reinforced something I already suspected: You can’t wade into the hunting debate without being on a particular side. It’s just not allowed.fox2

My first port of call was an article on the 10-year anniversary of the ban in the Guardian (I know, I know, I’m a mung-bean eating, sandle-wearing Pinko). I dropped in to say hi, do a light bit of shameless self-promotion of Adventures in Conservation and popped in a small query relating to my article but also to something else I was trying to write at the time:

‘I’m genuinely interested what role hunting for subsistence and people’s preconceptions about those that take part in fox hunting has to play in people’s views of it. There’s a wider psychological point here about generations of hardwiring to gain satisfaction in a hunt successfully completed – how well are we able to incorporate that atavistic, analogue hardwiring into our digital, hyper-civilised modern brains? Can we, should we, attempt to completely deny this part of ourselves?’

(And OK, reading that back it does sound rather po-faced. Atavistic? Hyper-Civilised?)

This gathered a predictable melange of unrelated posts and it soon degenerated into the usual tit-for-tat. No one bothered to actually answer the questions I posed, but it didn’t take long for me to be labelled as ‘pro-hunt’ because of my desire to probe the human side of the issues rather than the canine, to couch my questions in terms of psychology rather than animal cruelty – an issue that I am not, as some have suggested, looking to ignore, it’s just not what I currently happened to be talking about:


As a short aside here, this is a constant theme, and one that particularly irritates me – the sheer whatabouttery of that 80% stat thrown in there and also the charges of ignoring animal cruelty. This is not what I was talking about and yet there is the sense that by not talking on their terms, I am somehow being neglectful, sly even. One of my least favourite phrases in the world is ‘there’s people starving in the world and you’re talking about this?’

I responded:

‘That’s my point well emphasized right there – it’s such an entrenched and opinionated topic that to some, you can’t be neutral, in the middle, or have the capacity to argue, understand and have sympathy with both sides. As soon as you’re in the debate, you’re immediately seen as falling in one camp or the other – and as long as that kind of viewpoint prevails, you’re all doomed to just keep banging your heads against each other for the foreseeable.’

There were no further responses, either because of the astounding insight I’d just delivered or because the comments section had closed. You decide.

And so I ventured on to twitter with my article and held my breath…nothing. Where were all these virulent anti-hunt Sabs that the pro-hunt movement had led me to believe were ready to pounce (and visa-versa)? Maybe I’d done them a disservice in my piece; maybe I’d misrepresented them. And so I left it. For a while at least. But I can’t help prodding things; maybe I’m just a bit of a git.

So to the image that dragged me back in, just when I thought I was out…(Warning – has naughty words)

If you’ve read my previous article, you’ll know the point I have been trying to make is about the aggressiveness demonstrated (by both sides) and that I think there’s a real need to deescalate before there is a fatality. Images like this, images and phrases that promote the dehumanisation of a section of society…well, viewing a certain class of person as ‘less than human’ has always worked out so well in the past, hasn’t it? I couldn’t really let it pass and so I engaged the tweeter. Tweetee?

Later in the conversation, with absolutely no sense of hypocrisy, I was tweeted the below image, demonstrating just how mean pro-hunt types are (and yes, it isn’t very nice). I retweeted the original image that kicked the whole thing off, just as a reminder…I’ve yet to receive a response.

hunt abuse1

More than anything, I think what has stoked my ire is the willingness to throw out utterly sweeping statements and generalisations, the inability to see things in anything less than black and white – Sabs are non-violent angels and the hunt are all thugs, Sabs wear masks and intimidate the hunt who are just defending themselves. I was startled by the unwillingness to believe that it is entirely possible to have a foot in both camps, which led to (quite tame) abuse and blocking (I’m still not entirely sure what I did to deserve that).

I may have charged in on Social Media and Below the Line comments knowing what I was potentially letting myself in for, but what surprised me was that the thing that most riled, most irked people was my neutrality.

I’ll leave you with this final, charming tweet I received and the thought: What do we normally call people who wish a violent death on those who do not subscribe to the same ideology as us?

(I was then mocked for my use of the word ‘jeez’. Fair enough)


For Duck’s Sake, Save Your Dough*

Today, ahead of the official start of spring and duckling hatching season, the Canal & River Trust is calling on the public to feed ducks and geese responsibly.

This is an issue that certainly makes it onto my (admittedly rather long) list of pet peeves. If you work in the arena of urban green space, chances are it’s one of yours too, and there’s quite a large reason for that – The Canal & River Trust estimate that every year 6 million loaves of bread are being thrown into waterways in England and Wales, that’s 20 Double Decker Buses full of bread thrown into canals every month. Last year more than 15 million people fed the ducks with their family or friends.

The Canal & River Trust are asking the public to exercise a crouton of common sense and consider the ramifications of their actions – ducks, of course, do not naturally eat bread. Just as too much bread is bad for humans, it’s also, obviously, bad for ducks.

I mean, personally I’d be all for banning people feeding ducks and geese altogether – well, maybe just in municipal parks – but the Canal and River Trust are nicer than I am and so they’ve suggested some alternatives for those who are hell-bent on cobbing their unwanted groceries at our waterfowl:

  • Wheat, barley or similar grains
  • Oats
  • Rice, cooked or uncooked (doesn’t make them explode)
  • Milo (I don’t even know who or what that is)
  • Birdseed
  • Frozen peas or corn
  • Chopped lettuce or other greens or salad mixes
  • Vegetable trimmings or peels

I don’t want to get into the psychology of all those duck-feeders out there too much; Maybe I’m a miserabilist, but I’ve always been a little confused by the notion of gaining enjoyment from feeding the birds. What’s the great appeal of being surrounded by ducks? Is it the honking? The quacking? The waddling? (It’s the waddling, isn’t it?). Or are they just profligate in the bakery department?

There are many reasons why loafing around like a loon, chucking bread at ducks is bad news for nature:

canada goose

Canada Geese – after your buns

Pollution: Canada Geese when well fed are capable of defecating every 6 minutes. Imagine that. This, coupled with rotting bread, can cause a build up of nutrients in the water. Eutrophication is probably the major type of pollution in our lakes and ponds; it leads to monoculture water vegetation, impacting on invertebrate populations, which in turn reverberates up the food chain. By feeding rich bread to them, and at common points, we exacerbate the problem.

Pest attraction: All that bread will attract other unwelcome pests such as rats. These pests can also harbour additional diseases that can be dangerous to humans.

Loss of natural behaviour: See Canada Geese (again), which now over-winter in the UK in large numbers, in no small part thanks to our crusty handouts. Accustomed to these handouts, they lose their natural fear of humans and may become aggressive in order to get more food.

Overcrowding: With their populations artificially propped up, waterfowl raise larger broods leading to overcrowding. This increases the incidence of avian aggression and leads to controversial conversations for conservationists (try saying that quickly 10 times) when they’re asked questions like ‘why are you rubbing that goose egg in paraffin?’

To many of you all this wont be news, but I for one toast the Canal and River Trust for once again highlighting this most nefarious of past times. I blame Mary Poppins.

*I’m sorry, for a moment there I thought I was writing for The Sun

Whittling Project #23


People sometimes ask me, ‘Spike, you seem like you’re quite angry and annoyed a lot of the time. Tell me, what do you do to relax?’ (Ok, no one has ever asked me that. Seriously, why have none of you ever asked me that?) You may have guessed by my opening tone that after all those heavy pieces on hunting, climate change and climate change again, the seriousness and po-faced-ness of it all finally got a little too much for me and it’s time for one of my periodic drifts into levity.

So what do I do to relax I hear you all completely refusing to ask (it’s almost as if you have no interest in my mental well-being whatsoever). Well, obviously, I whittle miniature Star Wars figures, what else does a right thinking 30-something environmental nerd do with his spare time? And today I’m particularly pleased with myself, as I’ve just completed my tiny R2D2*. I even managed to bleed in the right place (the ‘eye’ bit) when I inevitably cut myself. Which made me very happy. But then made me whimper a bit and rummage through the draws for a plaster. And then when I couldn’t find a plaster, reduced me to wrapping toilet role around my thumb and selotaping it in place (it’s not very easy to type like this).


Harlequin Ladybirds fear nothing – not even the half-finished, poorly executed whittled head of a Sith Lord

But where’s the Adventures in Conservation in all this, I once again don’t hear you ask (just what is your problem?). Well, where along time ago (in a galaxy far, far away…OK, actually Walthamstow) I used to whittle in a spacious garden, surrounded by wildflowers and birds and insects and all that kind of mentally relaxing stuff, I now whittle on a tiny balcony in a tower block over-looking the giant hanger of Stockwell Bus Station. ‘Not very picturesque, not very ‘naturey’, is it Spike?’ you might say, if you ever actually got around to asking me a question, you self-involved so and so. And no, it isn’t, but…but my whittling has had the rather wonderful side effect of creating a small pile of wood shavings in the corner of what was previously a desolate and tiny landscape. Today, while finishing off my micro-droid I noticed ladybirds crawling out of the debris. A quick count revealed 10 (though they were all Harlequins) – but still, nature where there was none before, and all thanks to George Lucas. Sort of.


Progression of the whittle


The whole family including lop-sided Ewok and half-finished Vader-head

As I type, I’ve just noticed some of this wonderful nature has followed me indoors. I suspect someone (my wife) will finally be asking me some questions about my hobbies.

*I’ve not had much opportunity to do any chainsawing recently, but one day in the near future I plan to create a R2D2 tree stump. I’m sure that would go down well with the Reserve Manager.

Climate change – Is the Cause Even Relevant?

I may have mentioned before that I love a good conspiracy theory. Chemtrails, JFK, the Illuminati, I love all that stuff. It’s not that I believe any of these theories. I think perhaps I’m attracted by the utter conviction these people display in their fringe beliefs despite the overwhelming evidence and logic to the contrary. I also suspect there’s a part of me that really would feel much more secure if we were all subject to the whims of some grand, overarching, malevolent scheme. In some ways it’s so much more reassuring to think that a plan, albeit a sinister one, actually exists, isn’t it? Better that than have to live with the knowledge that they’re all probably just making this stuff up as they go along.

Oops, and you’ll notice, if you were paying attention there, that I slipped into a classic conspiracy theory mindset – referring to ‘them’. And one of my favourite theories I’ve seen recently is the notion that ‘they’ are making up climate change. I know I’ve already claimed we should be starving such nonsense of the oxygen of publicity, but I can’t help prodding at a good conspiracy theory, and this one really is a beauty.


Illuminati – Promoting Climate Change lies to…do something nefarious, I’m sure.

From what I can surmise, the world’s climate scientists are all on the make, promoting dodgy evidence supporting climate change and suppressing a huge wealth of data that discounts it. Why? For the money, of course. The glamour of being a climate scientist is apparently not enough and thousands and thousands of scientists in this and other fields are perpetuating the lie, funded by….ok, this is where the conspiracy runs out of steam. Are they all on the dirty IPCC pay-wagon? Not exactly, all scientists who participate in the IPCC assessment process do so without any compensation other than the normal salaries they receive from their home institutions. So it must be some kind of pan-university conspiracy then? They are all out to make money in the notoriously well-rewarded field of academia!

Now apparently I’m supposed to apply some kind of razor to this sort of theory (which, if I were funnier, would allow me to make some kind of joke about bearded nutters living off-grid), so here goes: Who would benefit from a climate change ‘lie’?

If we take a look at any ‘Top 10 industries worldwide’, what will we find? Oil and Gas, certainly. Farming, fishing and food production? Yes. Also mining, mineral and other extractive practises. Conspicuous by their absence are wind, nuclear and solar, perhaps the industries that might benefit most from the pushing of a climate change agenda (feel free to suggest if you can think of any more). Scratch the surface of any climate change-denying scientist, and you will more often than not find links to one of these industries. This is where the real conspiracy lies.

2 Earth problem

In reality, for climate change deniers, proof remains a 2-earth problem. The burden of proof will never be overwhelming enough until absolutely every factor, variation, shift and change can be taken into consideration. Without a second earth to conduct experiments on, this just is not possible and so climate change deniers will always have an ‘out’ a metaphorical comfort blanket to cling to and claim ‘ah, but what about….’.

But in essence, the anthropogenic origin of climate change, undeniable though it may seem, can largely be dismissed as an irrelevance if two facts are accepted:

  • 1) Climate change, generally speaking, would be bad for mankind
  • 2) Release of carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases has the potential to exacerbate climate change

You will see I use potential there, even though this is irrefutable. This is because when we are thinking about the long-term (and I am talking centuries, millennia) survival of the human race, even this irrefutability is irrelevant. History, hockey sticks, ‘yes, but the climate has always changed’, mini-ice-ages, it all looks rather beside the point. The best comparison I have been able to come up with is of a smoker who has just discovered they have lung cancer. The Doctor advises giving up smoking as it is probably the cause. ‘Ah, but’ the patient says, ‘my family has a history of lung cancer, I would have got it whether I had smoked or not’. ‘It’s possible,’ says the Doctor, ‘but if you carry on smoking it will certainly make it worse and reduce your chances’. Some real life patients may take a fatalist attitude and make no effort to shake their addiction until the end. Unfortunately we do not have that luxury.

(I’ve just noticed this piece in the Guardian from yesterday. There’s a chance I subconsciously read it before writing this.)

Denying the Deniers a ‘Debate’ on Climate Change

It’s not news if I tell you that the 3% of scientists who deny Anthropogenic Climate Change are over-represented in the media. I try not to get involved in climate change, it’s not really my area, but over the last few weeks I have had the definite sense that deniers are growing in their blinkered rabidity. This might in part be down to recent frequenting of social media and Below The Line comments sections (not generally the place for sensible debate, I know), but the agenda does appear as though it is being pushed in a more virulent fashion.

And this is why I think it’s time we started to ‘empty-chair’ these fools (yes, I am also unsure about the use of ‘empty-chair’ as a verb). By engaging them in debate we only lend credence to their nonsense views. Previously I’d have argued this would give them free reign to spout their ridiculous views unchallenged and that the best antidote to their claptrap is to expose it to the cold light of day. But we keep shooting it down on every conceivable media platform and they keep being invited back. Is this because of a desire to provide ‘balance’? (I’m sure someone, somewhere has done the maths on denier/real scientist representation in the media and I’ll make a leap that it is not in a 97:3 ratio). More likely it’s because it makes for good entertainment. Nothing reassures us more than watching someone we suspect is a great deal cleverer than we are become flustered and angry on national television because they’ve been confronted by someone who is quite happy to argue that up is down.

In the same way that we don’t engage in debates about the health benefits of smoking, heliocentrism or holocaust denial in the national media, it’s time we stopped debating climate change. By debating it, we only convince the public that a debate exists.