Sketch – Savory/Monbiot: Both talked, neither listened

Reflections on Allan Savory and George Monbiot’s debate at the Leverhulme Centre for Nature Recovery, Is livestock grazing essential to mitigating climate change?, by ffinlo Costain, Chief Editor, 8.9ha.

WHEN Allan Savory and George Monbiot met to debate livestock and climate change at the Leverhulme Centre for Nature Recovery last week, I never had any great expectations that hearts and minds would be changed on either side.

As it was the audience was provided the spectacle of two men wrapped in their own certainties, both struggling to find traction against the other’s arguments. Nothing changed – no-one won – both talked – neither listened.

Monbiot was stuck in his usual reductionist space, while Savory offered us his Pound Shop Yoda turn, which failed address the headline topic or the underlying issues.

Savory refused to talk about the climate, carbon or methane, which many found obfuscatory and frustrating. Monbiot, not unreasonably, got annoyed as he tried to debate the ephemeral ghost of an argument that kept wisping out of view.

It was always going to be deeply unedifying. Savory, much as he has been hugely influential and can wonderfully encapsulate ecological change when he’s on form, tends to dismiss anything that isn’t his own branded version of holistic grazing.

On the other hand, Monbiot cherry-picks scientific papers that support his point of view, while failing to acknowledge any real world economic or social context – choosing instead to major on the quasi-colonialist, developed world paradigm of peer-reviewed science, rather than on the wealth of experience-led knowledge from farmers on-the-ground or indigenous communities. He attacks commercial or capitalised processes linked to nature restoration or carbon trading, while at the same time promoting lab-produced meat and fermented proteins, which also load more power into corporate hands.

In the event it was a drab way to spend an hour and a half, with little humour, no self-awareness and even less humility. Both men spoke at each other even as their words slid by without effect. I had the sense of heavy vehicles colliding, but without any actual crash. Both drivers leaving the scene stunned and confused, while onlookers wondered what exactly had just taken place.

Others will take a different view – and here are links to other articles that I think are useful reads in terms of making sense of what happened:

Two arrogant men, by Gunnar Rundgren, originally published by Garden Earth

At last, a collision of world views, by Sheila Cooke on Monbiot’s 3LM website

Why I didn’t watch the George Monbiot-Allan Savory debate, by Nina Pullman on Wickedleeks

Watch the debate

Support a practical, investable and inclusive narrative for land use.

Sign-up to receive our newsletter

Newsletter Signup
Contribute for just £2.50 per week
Skip to content