Monday, April 30, 2007

Book Review: Heat by George Monbiot

I like George Monbiot*, even though I don't always agree with him. He's one of life's essential awkward squad, constantly challenging the status quo, vested interests and what I like to call 'institutional inertia' - the tendency for large organisations to keep doing the same thing because changing would be too difficult.

In his latest book, Heat, tackles climate change and what could be done about it. He likens society's relationship with fossil fuels as a Faustian Pact and manages to extract an appropriate quote from Marlowe's version of the Faust tale to start each paragraph**.

Much of the book will be familiar to readers of his Guardian column: the exposure of the professional climate change deniers, the trashing of the offsetting industry and the criticism of biofuels and their impact on Indonesian rainforest. But there's plenty more in here. He starts by setting a tough challenge - a 90% reduction of carbon emissions by 2030 and then sets about how to achieve that. One of his early conclusions is one which I think will be the main stumbling block: to stop the rebound effect, some form of carbon rationing is needed. He admits at the end that he hasn't been able to take political feasibility of his solutions into account because "it is up to you".

Heat is a joy to read with Monbiot's pithy way with words - "the British government wants to see a massive number of new homes built... to accommodate the people desperate to escape from their families." - and his nagging worry that he will suffer "the dreadful fate of all disillusioned activists" and "become an aromatherapist".

There were one or two places that I wasn't sure if Monbiot was double counting - for example, he comments on the electricity used by supermarkets and how it might be reduced, but he had already identified a way of decarbonising the whole electricity supply for the country. I might e-mail him to challenge him on this, but he can be a bit withering towards correspondents - many are hung out to dry in the book, so on the other hand I might not.

OK, so Heat is not really about eco-living per se, but if you are interested in the bigger picture and the challenges ahead, this is a good place to start.

* I didn't use to like him - in fact I found one of his early books, "Amazon Watershed" so sanctimonious that it nearly turned me into a Daily Mail reader.

** For those more musical than literary (like me), Faust was a bit like an early Robert Johnson, selling his soul to the devil for fame and fortune, then panicking when old nick came to get his part of the bargain.



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