Dr Brian May (CBE, Hon Dsc 2007)
One Vision - Queen's guitarist on his life's passions
Honorary graduate Brian May recently gave an interview to The Witness, The Exeter University Politics Journal. In this interview he explains why animals are just as important to him as music.
How did you come to be involved in animal rights?
Animal rights is a phrase which has been sullied, and I think deliberately so by certain elements of society. Animal rights ought to be a very positive thing but we’re made out to be a bunch of extremists. So the phrase that people tend to use is animal welfare which is how we generally describe ourselves. I always had a feeling that people didn’t quite understand what was going on with animals in relation to humans. I’ve always felt that there is actually very little difference between the rest of the mammal kingdom and human beings, so why would we have this humanocentric view that the only creatures that matter on this planet are human beings? It’s been a lifelong thing.
How likely do you think it is that the Conservatives will eventually overturn the fox-hunting ban?
I think it’s fairly likely they will try but of course we don’t have a Conservative government, we have Lib-Dems in government too, I should call it the Con-Dem government. Although they say they’re green it’s a very bad time for animals, it’s a time when animals are condemned—unfortunately a whole population of badgers is now condemned by this government.
Do you think the government would have public support in overturning the ban?
There’s a lot of public support against it but they’ve ignored it all. I mean they went through this whole business of a public consultation on the badger cull and overwhelmingly people were against it but they ignored it. It’s plain they’ve been absolutely set on killing the badgers since way before they were in power, in fact all the quotes are there. It’s a mistake and it’s not going to work and farmers are going to be very disappointed. The rest of the country, who actually do care about animals, are going to be more and more in-censed. I think we’re going to see an awful lot of unrest because of the way the government is treating wild animals and trying to call themselves ‘green’ at the same time.
In your experience from all your years of campaigning what would you say is the most successful way of attracting people’s attention and promoting change?
Well we try to work on various levels. Obviously we try to lobby within Parliament; we have lots of people who are very concerned and they’re across all parties, which is great because it frees me from this feeling that I might be a party political animal, which I’m not in any sense whatsoever. We at ‘Save Me’ (the campaign Brian set up to sup-port animal welfare) will support any-body who is working for the welfare of animals, so for instance I work with Conservatives Against Fox Hunting, I work with various elements of the Labour party and recently I’ve been talking to the Bow Group which is also in the Conservative Party. I have a very good relationship with the Green Party because really they’re the only party who have a thought-out agenda with regards to improving things in animal welfare.
Moving onto wider environmental concerns, what would you say are the biggest environmental problems facing the UK and the world?
It’s a thorny area isn’t it? Among the scientific community that I am in touch with there is still a split of opinion as to whether we are responsible for global warming. I know recently there has been a change in the data that I’ve seen, so we don’t seem to be looking at warming anymore but at a slight cooling effect. I find it very difficult and I don’t think anybody can lay down the law definitively as to what’s going on. To me the important issues are the welfare of humanity and of animals, and those issues are directly affected by the health of the planet in general. I think the global warming issue, although it’s been a nice thing for people to jump on to, has in a sense obscured the waters because people think if they get the CO2 levels right everything’s going to be fine but unfortunately it’s not. There are so many issues but I suppose the primary cause that I feel is responsible for these problems is overpopulation of humans. And actually there are all sorts of things we could get away with as a race if there weren’t so bloody many of us. Nobody’s advocating getting rid of human beings but it’s a major, major problem for this planet that there are too many people on it. We’re becoming a plague.
You’ve alluded to anthro-centrism in the past. Where do you think our human-centric attitude originates?
Well, being an astronomer it’s very plain to see. If you go back to Ptolemy’s universe we were at the centre of it! The earth was at the centre and the sun went round us, the planets went round us, the whole universe went round us. Gradually we were able to discover through Copernicus, Galileo, etc. that
“It’s a major problem for this planet that there are too many people on it" we’re actually not at the centre of the universe and even our sun isn’t at the centre of the universe. In fact the sun’s not even at the centre of the local Milky Way galaxy which in turn is not the centre of the greater universe.
So it’s a familiar concept to me this kind of strange arrogance that we have, that makes us assume we are the most important thing. Maybe it’s a sort of deep-seated need in human beings, but to me it’s based on absolutely nothing. There are many creatures, many wonderful creatures on this planet, who think in a rather different way to us but to say we have the right to cover the world in concrete and get rid of any-thing that gets in our way is the root of much of the evil in our society.
Four years ago you were appointed Chancellor of Liverpool John Moores University. What are your thoughts on the difficulties universities face at the moment and their relationship with the current government?
Where do I start? To be honest I think whichever government we had at this moment there would still be difficulties but I do think that many of the problems are being attacked at the wrong end. If you attack the basis of education in this country eventually you are weakening the whole country. To me education should be more of a priority on the government’s agenda than it is. And they can get away with it for a short time but in the long term the cracks will really start to show as education starts to fall to pieces. I would advocate not making many of the cuts that are being made in the academic sector.
You previously told the BBC you would rather be remembered for your animal welfare campaigning than for your music. Do you stand by that statement? What makes you consider animal rights campaigning more important?
It’s hard to compare passions, but this is where my heart is now. I love to make music and really I think music is what keeps me going - it still gives me great joy. I’m working with a lady called Kerry Ellis at the moment on a new album and we will be doing a bit of Queen stuff later, in fact we’ve just announced a concert in Knebworth. This is what keeps me going, but the whole business of how we treat creatures on this planet disturbs me so deeply and it’s become more and more a central part of my life. I would like to go to my grave thinking that I’ve made even a small difference in the way we treat the rest of the creatures with which we share this planet.
I believe you’ve had an asteroid named after you?
Yes it was Sir Patrick Moore who made that happen and it’s a very nice compliment. It’s not something that I get up and think about every day but it is out there somewhere and I have a friend who’s trying to photograph it at the moment. It’s pretty small and far away, I think it's 13th magnitude which is going some!
Date: 4 May 2012