The hypocrisy of the self-appointed (celebrity) eco-warriors

Worldwide
Published:  27 January, 2020
Picture credit: Toimetaja Tolkeburoo

In the same week that Autocar published an article propagating the rise of vegan leathers in the car industry, attentions turned to the sporting world, too, with fellow British newspaper The Telegraph publishing a piece titled “If sport is really going vegan, is it time to get rid of leather cricket balls?”

Now, I’m certainly no cricket expert, but I know enough to recognise the absurdity of this suggestion, as in cricket the behaviour of the ball is an integral part of the game, which only using leather can provide. The vegan lobby is evidently now infiltrating the sporting world, too, led by self-appointed vegan poster boy Lewis Hamilton, who is reported to have recently asked his employer Mercedes to phase out leather and to just use vegan interiors in the company’s models instead. He was quoted as saying: "I want to be part of a system that is going to help heal the world and do something positive for the future."

I cannot be the only one who is riled by the hypocrisy of this statement. Aside from the well-known and much discussed fact that the ‘vegan’ alternatives to leather are most often little more than fossil-fuel derived plastics - and Hamilton would be well advised to do his research before throwing his weight behind a clearly flawed argument - I am appalled at his hypocrisy in light of the sport genre he represents: Formula 1 must be the most polluting sporting discipline there is when you consider the overall fuel consumption, the emissions, the cars being flown and transported across continents for up to nine months per annual season, not to mention the private jets Hamilton himself no doubt takes to be flown from Monaco to Melbourne to attend his races and generally conduct his celebrity lifestyle. Perhaps he would be more credible in his message if he took a good look at the Formula 1 world and his own environmental footprint before worrying about leather seats in cars.

Anti-farming agenda is hotting up
However, the above is a sign of the times. With January being the month of Veganuary, the campaign to encourage consumers to switch to a plant-based diet, I have noticed an increased influx of anti-meat and anti-farming - and by default anti-leather - propaganda across UK media (as I am based in the UK, I can only go by the domestic media landscape, but I would be interested to hear whether such intense media onslaught is also the case in other countries worldwide, so do email me with your feedback).

The Guardian, for instance, published an article earlier in the month with the sensationalist headline “Lab-grown food will soon destroy farming – and save the planet”, in which well-known journalist and environmental activist George Monbiot waxes lyrical about scientists in Helsinki who are working on creating food from microbes and water, which are turned into a form of yellow flour, and which is set to replace crops and livestock altogether and become the basis for lab-grown meat, milk, eggs etc. Personally, to me, such idea sounds unnatural and seriously horrifying, but the article will have no doubt generated a lot of clicks and attention.

And then there was the – frankly disturbing – documentary on Channel 4, “How to steal pigs and influence people”. The programme followed wannabe ‘vegan influencer’ and ‘pignapper’ Wes Omar as he and a bunch of fellow animal rights activists raided farms to ‘liberate’ piglets in clandestine SAS-style night-time missions which were live-streamed on Instagram and YouTube. The programme - which also juxtaposed Wes’ position with that of ex-vegan-turned-militant-raw-meat-eater Prem and his even more bizarre beliefs – failed to provide a nuanced perspective, and instead borderline glamorised the illegal behaviour of Wes’ group, who were not only breaking into farms, but also intimidating the farmer, risking the biosecurity of the animals and stealing them, while being clearly oblivious to the fact that they are causing the animals more harm than good (some of the piglets consequently died after being ‘rescued’) – all in the name of activism and attention-seeking by self-appointed eco-warriors. I can only imagine the outcry if it was the other way around and farmers started to sabotage the livelihoods of these campaigners and their daily lives.

The need for balance, not extremes
It seems that the more extreme someone’s position, the more media attention it generates, and there is a distinct lack of balance in the narrative. It is of course entirely legitimate to call out bad practices and poor animal welfare standards, vegans or not, and as an industry which is linked to the meat-sector and farming we have a duty to lead the way in demanding and enforcing best practice along the complete leather supply chain, down to the farms. But relentlessly attacking an entire industry or individual livelihoods based purely on ideology - or, as seems to be the case within some of British media, a sponsored anti-farming agenda - dilutes the issue at hand. And by giving these so-called influencers and celebrity advocates increased and unvetted platforms across media, I fear that we are moving more and more away from a constructive, level-headed debate. Now more than ever, we need to challenge the prevailing hypocrisy.

Isabella Griffiths

Isabella Griffiths, Editor

isabella@edifydigitalmedia.com