Why oh why oh why

“Because Y is a crooked letter and you can’t make it straight” was one of the most infuriating phrases of my childhood. My grandmother lived with us and she was a very old, venerable lady, brought up in the time when children were to be seen occasionally but definitely not heard. So my annoying propensity to question everything no doubt particularly irked her and every time I asked “Why?”, she’d answer with those 12 words; knowing full well that it made me want to explode.
But if she thought that it would stop me always asking why, she was very much mistaken.
I remember being in the first year of grammar school and being told that as things got colder they contracted. The teacher didn’t like it when I asked him why water, when frozen to make ice cubes, overflowed their trays. I don’t think he knew. But someone with greater knowledge soon told me because I asked them why. And so I learnt why pipes burst.
I remember being made to feel like a racist when we were encouraged to embrace, without any questions at all, multiculturalism. When it first started, the few times I suggested it was ill-thought out I was treated with suspicion. So I kept my views quiet; guiltily nurturing my feelings that a lack of integration went against everything I’d been brought up to believe (when in Rome, etc, etc) and harbouring a fervent but secret support for multi-racism. I should have questioned it more openly and watched as the rest of the country caught up with me!
I question whether climate change is man-made and whether we really have the powers to prevent it happening or slow it down. I don’t necessarily disagree with it; just question it.
And the same questioning extends to more recent arguments about meat-eating causing global warming and being bad for the environment. Is that really the case? Are eons of development about to be swept under the carpet because we now realise that all of this time we’ve been feeding ourselves the wrong way?
Last year, Lord Stern, who was the government’s advisor on climate change, told us that “meat is a wasteful use of water and creates a lot of greenhouse gases” and “a vegetarian diet is better”.
Ok, I think to myself, that’s an interesting stance. I could, like many others, embrace it wholeheartedly, cut out the meat and feel worthy as I contribute towards the saving of the planet. But my first reaction was to question it. Too many new ideas that seem conveniently to fit some modern morality are adopted like new-season’s clothes. Ankle warmers were never a good idea but denim jeans were not just a fashion; they were here to stay.
So I wanted to mull this meat-raising issue over a little more – say over the next few years – and listen to the arguments. And now a new book has been written by an eco-warrior called Simon Fairlie who, while wanting to save the world, suggests we drill down a little more into the debate. Space restricts much exploration here today but one point alone addresses one particular thing about which I was uncomfortable: how on Earth could rearing animals use all the water Lord Stern, and other greens suggest? The statistic of the moment is that to produce a kilogram of beef requires 100,000 litres of water. That implies a daily intake of water of about 25,000 litres per cow! If that doesn’t make you step outside the current movement and question the facts, I don’t know what will.

However, there’s no doubt that questioning makes life more interesting. We need people to question perceived wisdom otherwise, for instance, with most people believing the world to be flat, we’d never have discovered America. But, as they’re the biggest eaters of beef, perhaps that wouldn’t have been such a bad thing.

October 2010

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