George Monbiot: Heat

George Monbiot is a writer I’ve sadly only discovered recently; but that’s fantastic as it means I’ve got an extensive back catalogue of excellent writing to work through. I liken it to my belated discovery of Game of Thrones and the Sopranos this past year.

I’ve chosen Monbiot’s Heat (2006) as a starting point for this site as climate change seems timely given that my own province is in the thrust of skyrocketing electricity costs related to renewable energy and as President Trump has just withdrawn from the Paris Accord, proclaiming climate change a GIANT BIG FAT HOAX.

Monbiot’s Heat takes for granted that climate change is real and tries to figure out how we can go about fixing the problem, using the UK alone as his petri dish. It’s an interesting and near impossible exercise, but Monbiot deserves credit for taking a crack and coming up with, theoretically, a workable solution.

I won’t go into the fixes he suggests as I’m no expert on these subjects and as a lot has probably changed since 2006, but he finds the required reduction of emissions through a mixture of energy efficient homes, better public transit, renewable energy and buried carbon dioxide.

All of this is wonderful, but it doesn’t get to the Faustian pact that Monbiot uses as a theme throughout the book. If Faust could agree to damn himself in exchange for temporary worldly delights, what chance is there that humans wouldn’t choose these same delights in exchange for damning someone else? The damned aren’t “us” they are our grandchildren, people in very hot or low lying places, and of course, the poor.

I see no chance of this, not because Monbiot’s proposals would take us back to the stone age, but because the level of privation proscribed would still be deemed unacceptable to those who won’t personally feel the impact of climate change.

To get a glimpse at human nature, look no further than the world’s most powerful man. He’s an unmitigated narcissist, unable to even momentarily consider someone other than himself. A powerful nation, with more information available to it than at any other time in history, freely chose him as their representative.

Monbiot’s riddle is theoretically solvable, but I’m afraid humanity’s is not.

As an aside I thank Monbiot for identifying other environmentalists as part of the problem. Many do wish to see a return to the stone age, which I consider inadvisable – others are hypocrites who enjoy luxuries they wish to deny others. Some, like Paul Ehrlich, ply fictions as fact in exchange for prestige and notoriety. In my own province the Government has transferred billions in exorbitant contracts to specific companies building windmills as, for all intents and purposes, these politicians and companies are one and the same.  Meanwhile the elderly go without heat and people lose their homes as their money is transferred to the wealthy.

Human nature will damn us all to hell it seems and this is a far more intractable riddle than the one Monbiot solves in this book.

As with all of Monbiot’s work this book is extraordinarily well written and researched. He does an impressive job of taking a massive complicated mess of a problem and breaking it down into manageable parts. Most of all I appreciate that he comes off as sincere and well meaning.