“We are the most fortunate generation that has ever lived. And we are the most fortunate generation that ever will.”
What George Monbiot means by this is that our civilization has leveraged the awesome power of fossil energy to create a world that only a short time ago would have been nearly unimaginable. Our health, our wealth, our leisure, our freedom from tyranny and struggle, are all benefits bestowed upon us by harnessed energy of oil and coal.
But the price of these gifts has been a growing environmental crisis. Our atmosphere is filling up with carbon dioxide, which is released by the burning of fossil fuels. Carbon dioxide traps the sun’s heat, causing the temperature of our planet to rise. The reason why future generations are unlikely to be as fortunate as us is that fossil energy is just too good to be true. We cannot go on enjoying the benefits of this dirty energy. We must either address the problem, which will be a tough challenge involving many sacrifices, or ignore it, with unthinkable consequences.
George Monbiot’s Heat: How to Stop the Planet from Burning marks an important moment in our civilization’s thinking about global warming. The question is no longer whether climate change is actually happening. The question is what to do about it. Monbiot offers an ambitious and far-reaching program to cut our carbon dioxide emissions to the point where the environmental scales start tipping away from catastrophe. (But not before he devotes a chapter to unmasking the vested interests that have spent fortunes funding the specious science of the climate change deniers.)
He does not pretend it will be easy. The threshold for disaster, he argues, is a rise of two degrees centigrade above pre-industrial levels. Past two degrees, science tells us, the ability to control climate change passes out of our hands. At that point, the world’s forests will fall into decline, changing cloud formation patterns and releasing the billions of tons of carbon the trees store. Past two degrees, the permafrost begins to thaw, releasing billions of tons of methane, a greenhouse gas far more destructive than CO2. At the same point, the polar ice begins to melt, affecting ocean currents and water levels. This is called a “positive feedback loop,” and it means that once we’ve passed two degrees, nothing can be done to stop it rising to three. And once we hit three, four will follow.
Two degrees is also the point at which the globe slides towards increasing water scarcity and, eventually, food deficit.
And the fact is, we’re already seeing the consequences of climate change around the globe: collapsing ice shelves, the failure of the cyclical rains in Eastern Africa, drought in Australia, the spread of tropical diseases into new territory as temperatures rise, pollution of aquifers with salt water in Bangladesh. Global temperatures have already risen 0.6 of a degree, causing huge damage to the natural environment and inflicting suffering on vast numbers of people.
The only way to avoid further devastation, and forestall the catastrophe of positive feedback, Monbiot argues, is a 90% cut in CO2 emissions in the rich nations of the world by 2030. In other words, our response will have to be immediate, and it will have to be decisive.
But where to start?
Monbiot starts at home, where we have most control. Though he draws his examples from the UK, and commends Canadians for our superior building standards, he makes a damning case that the buildings we live and work in squander energy. Since our heat and electricity produce CO2, nearly every bit of heat and power we waste (like nearly every bit of heat and power we use) commits us to greenhouse gas emissions. Monbiot finds ways for us to build, and live, so much better that we can cut emissions at home by the required 90%.
He then looks at the source of our electricity, and evaluates the arguments for both local micro-generation (for example, solar photovoltaic panels and small wind turbines), and renewable energy for the grid. His research leads him to some unexpected discoveries, but he finds a way to trim our emissions by the necessary margin.
Another obvious source of CO2 emissions is our transportation – the cars we drive and the flights we take. A little ingenuity, he argues, will allow us to deal with the former. But the latter, he acknowledges, is shaping up to be the Achilles heel of all efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions.
A couple of less obvious major sources of CO2 are the retail and construction industries. Big box stores, with their inefficient designs, their racks of heaters, air conditioners, and blazing lights (to say nothing of the sprawling parking lots full of cars that drive back and forth on shopping trips), are simply inconsistent with a low-carbon future. But Monbiot has a thoughtful and surprisingly simple solution. Similarly, the concrete industry, that backbone of all new construction, emits millions of tons each year as a consequence of the immense heat and chemical processes involved in the manufacturing process. Though the solution here is not as ready to hand, it is still possible.
In short, the scale of the changes before us is staggering, as is the size of the problem. But Monbiot ends on a note of hope. We have shown ourselves to be capable of enormous ingenuity and great feats of cooperation and sacrifice when confronted with a serious threat. The Second World War provides countless examples of citizens and engineers doing the supposedly impossible in order to get the job done. Fighting climate change will not require young men to die in battle, but a failure to tackle the problem urgently and with all the determination we can muster will cost uncountable lives. There is no reason to think we will do less when faced with a threat to the sustainability of all life on the planet than we did when faced with a threat to our political and ethical values.
Monbiot argues there is no time to waste. As he has said himself, “we are the last generation that can make this happen, and this is the last possible moment at which we can make it happen.”
|Product dimensions:||5.52(w) x 8.24(h) x 0.84(d)|
About the Author
George Monbiot is one of Britain’s foremost thinkers and activists. He has been named by the Evening Standard as one of the twenty-five most influential people in Britain, and by the Independent on Sunday as one of the forty international prophets of the twenty-first century. He writes a weekly column for the Guardian, and his website, currently receives some 40,000 hits a month. In 1995 Nelson Mandela presented him with a United Nations Global 500 Award for outstanding environmental achievement.
Read an Excerpt
Two things prompted me to write this book. The first was something that happened in May 2005, in a lecture hall in London. I had given a talk about climate change, during which I had argued that there was little chance of preventing runaway warming unless greenhouse gases were cut by 80%[ref]. One of the questions stumped me.
“When you get your 80% cut, what will this country look like?”.
I hadn’t thought about it. Nor could I think of a good reason why I hadn’t thought about it. But a few rows from the front sat one of the environmentalists I admire and fear most, a man called Mayer Hillman. I admire him because he says what he believes to be true and doesn’t care about the consequences. I fear him because his life is a mirror in which the rest of us see our hypocrisy.
“That’s such an easy question I’ll ask Mayer to answer it.”
He stood up. He is 75, but looks about 50, perhaps because he goes everywhere by bicycle. He is small and thin and fit-looking, and he throws his chest out and holds his arms back when he speaks, as if standing to attention. He was smiling. I could see he was going to say something outrageous.
“A very poor third-world country.”
At about the same time I was reading Ian McEwan’s latest novel, Saturday. The hero, Henry Perowne, comes home from a game of squash and steps into the shower.
“When this civilisation falls, when the Romans, whoever they are this time round, have finally left and the new dark ages begin, this will be one of the first luxuries to go. The old folk crouching by their peat fires will tell their disbelieving grandchildren of standing naked mid-winter under jet streams of hot clean water, of lozenges of scented soaps and of viscous amber and vermilion liquids they rubbed into their hair to make it glossy and more voluminous than it really was, and of thick white towels as big as togas, waiting on warming racks.”
Was it my responsibility to campaign for an end to all this? To truncate the luxuries Perowne celebrates and which I - like all middle-class people in the rich world – now take for granted?
There are aspects of this civilisation I regret. I hate the lies and the political corruption, the inequality, the export of injustice, the military adventures, the roads, the noise, the waste. But in the rich nations most people, most of the time, live as all prior generations have dreamt of living. Most of us have a choice of work. We have time for leisure, and endless diversions with which to fill it. We may vote for any number of indistinguishable men in suits. We may think and say what we want, and though we might not be heeded, nor are we jailed for it. We may travel where we will. We may indulge ourselves “up to the very limits imposed by hygiene and economics.” We are, if we choose to be, well-nourished. Women – some women at any rate – have been released from domestic servitude. We expect effective healthcare. Our children are educated. We are warm, secure, replete, at peace.
For the first three million years of the history of the genus Homo, we lived according to circumstance. Our lives were ruled by the vicissitudes of ecology. We existed, as all animals do, in fear of hunger, predation, weather and disease.
For the following few thousand years, after we had grasped the rudiments of agriculture and crop storage, we enjoyed greater food security, and soon destroyed most of our non-human predators. But our lives were ruled by the sword and the spear. The primary struggle was for land. We needed it not just to grow our crops but also to provide power – grazing for our horses and bullocks, wood for our fires.
Then we discovered the potential of fossil fuels, and everything changed. No longer were we constrained by the need to live on ambient energy; we could support ourselves by means of the sunlight stored over the preceding 350 million years. The new sources of power permitted the economy to grow – to grow sufficiently to absorb some of the people expelled by the previous era’s land disputes. Fossil fuels helped both industry and cities to expand, which in turn helped the workers to organise and to force the despots to loosen their grip.
Fossil fuels helped us fight wars of a horror never contemplated before, but they also reduced the need for war. For the first time in human history, indeed for the first time in biological history, there was a surplus of available energy. We could survive without having to fight someone for the energy we needed. Our freedoms, our comforts, our prosperity are all the products of fossil fuel, whose combustion is also responsible for climate change. Ours are the most fortunate generations that have ever lived. Ours might also be the most fortunate generations that ever will. We inhabit the brief historical interlude between ecological constraint and ecological catastrophe.
Oh, those distant, sunny days of May 2005, when we believed we could solve this problem with a mere 80% cut! After my talk a man called Colin Forrest wrote to me. I had failed, he explained, to take account of the latest science. He sent me a paper he had written whose argument (which I will explain at greater length in the next chapter) I could not fault.
If carbon dioxide released from the burning of fossil fuels reaches a certain concentration in the atmosphere – 430 parts per million parts of air – the likely result is two degrees of warming. Two degrees centigrade is the point beyond which certain major ecosystems begin collapsing. Having, until then, absorbed carbon dioxide, they begin to release it. This means that 2° inevitably leads to 3°. This in turn triggers further collapses, releasing more carbon and pushing the temperature 4-5° above pre-industrial levels: a point at which the survival of certain human populations is called into question. Beyond 2° of warming, in other words, climate change is out of our hands: there is nothing we can do to prevent it from accelarating. The only means, Forrest argues, by which we can be fairly certain that the temperature does not rise to this point is for the rich nations to cut their greenhouse gas emissions by 90% by 2030. This is the task whose feasibility Heat attempts to demonstrate.
So is this a manifesto for the destruction of civilisation? Am I attempting to reduce our lives to those of “a very poor third world country”? No. This book seeks to devise the least painful means possible of achieving this preposterous cut. It attempts to reconcile our demand for comfort, prosperity and peace with the restraint required to prevent us from destroying the comfort, prosperity and peace of other people. And though I began the search for these solutions in the spirit of profound pessimism, I now believe it can be done.
Heat is both a manifesto for action and a thought experiment. Its experimental subject is a medium-sized industrial nation: the United Kingdom. It seeks to show how a modern economy can be de-carbonised while remaining a modern economy. Though the proposals in this book will need to be adjusted in countries with different climates and of greater size, I believe the model is generally applicable: if the necessary cut can be made here, it can be made by similar means almost anywhere.I concentrate on the rich nations for this reason: until we have demonstrated that we are serious about cutting our own emissions, we are in no position to preach restraint to the poorer countries. The rich world’s most common excuse for inaction can be expressed in one word: China. It is true that China’s emissions per person have been rising by around 2% a year. But they are still small by comparison to our own. A citizen of China produces, on average, 2.7 tonnes of carbon dioxide a year. A citizen of the United Kingdom emits 9.5, and of the United States, 20.0. To blame the Chinese for the problem, and to claim that their rapacious appetites render our efforts futile is not just hypocritical. It is, I believe, another manifestation of our ancient hysteria about the Yellow Peril. After looking at what the impacts of unrestrained climate change might be, and at why we have been so slow to respond to the threat, I begin my search for solutions within my own home. I show how years of terrible building, feeble regulations and political cowardice have left us with houses scarcely able to perform their principle function, which is keeping the weather out. I look at the means by which our existing homes could be redeemed and better ones could be built, and discover what the physical and economic limits of energy efficiency might be.
I would like to believe that the changes I suggest could be achieved by appealing to people to restrain themselves. But though some environmentalists, undismayed by the failure of the past 40 years of campaigning, refuse to see it, self-enforced abstinence alone is a waste of time.
What is the point of cycling into town when the rest of the world is thundering past in monster trucks? By refusing to own a car, I have simply given up my road space to someone who drives a hungrier model than I would have bought. Why pay for double-glazing when the supermarkets are heating the pavement with the hot air blowers above their doors? Why bother installing an energy-efficient lightbulb when a man in Lanarkshire boasts of attaching 1.2 million Christmas lights to his house? (Mr Danny Meikle told journalists that he needs two industrial meters to measure the electricity he uses. One year his display melted the power cable supplying his village. The name of the village - which proves, I think, that there is a God - is Coalburn.) ….
Table of Contents
Foreword to the US Edition iv
Introduction: The Failure of Good Intentions ix
1 A Faustian Pact 1
2 The Denial Industry 20
3 A Ration of Freedom 43
4 Our Leaky Homes 59
5 Keeping the Lights On 79
6 How Much Energy Can Renewables Supply? 100
7 The Energy Internet 124
8 A New Transport System 142
9 Love Miles 170
10 Virtual Shopping 189
11 Apocalypse Postponed 204
Organizational Resources Addressing the Impact of Climate Change 217
Reading Group Guide
1. Monbiot makes a powerful argument, but it is impossible to ignore the fact that there are still people who don’t believe in global warming, or don’t believe that our carbon dioxide emissions are to blame. How convinced are you that Monbiot is right?
2. Monbiot quotes George Orwell: “The lady in the Rolls-Royce car is more damaging to morale than a fleet of Goering’s bombing planes.” His point is that sacrifices are easier to bear when they are shared by all. How willing would you be to do what you think is right to fight climate change, even if your friends or neighbours did not? For example, would you consider not flying?
3. What do you think the world will look like in 2030?
4. Doing something about climate change is clearly going to cost money, but a massive shift in technology and lifestyle will also mean that a lot of people are going to make money. What looks like a good bet for the coming decades?
5. Monbiot has said “This is no longer a matter of moral choice. It is a matter of moral necessity.” In other words, if we don’t act now, we’re not just wrong, we’re guilty. How do you feel about accepting this burden of responsibility?
6. Monbiot points out that the wealthy countries got that way by exploiting fossil fuels. By this formula, demanding that developing countries not burn coal and oil is a lot like demanding that they not raise their standard of living, or at least not raise it as fast as they otherwise would. What are the ethical implications of asking someone else to live in poverty in order to save the world?
7. Though there are many, many exceptions to this, it seems that the younger you are, the more aware you are of climate change. What do you say to a parent or older relative who drives an SUV and flies a lot–and give no impression that he or she is aware of doing anything wrong?
8. The scale of the changes Monbiot proposes is massive. Do you think it is possible to achieve a 90% cut? What will be the easiest changes to make? What will be the hardest?
9. Canadian political parties are getting “greener” by the day. Which party is most convincingly serious about the environment? Will the environment be a decisive issue for you in the next election? Would you consider working on the campaign of the candidate you think it doing the best job for the environment?
10. What will be the first thing you do to diminish your carbon footprint?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This is a thorough and careful book, but also amusing in places. Monbiot manages this well. He is unafraid to call a spade a spade, and correctly diagnoses the wishful thinking that sometimes afflicts environmental activists. Rooftop wind turbines are no solution to anything. He makes a compelling case that that we should all demand that our economic system be issued new rules. Like NHL hockey players, no one (country/individual/business) wants to be the *first* to put on the helmet, yet we all wish we could wear them. The solution in the NHL was a rule change, and our global economy needs new, bold measures to protect us from us. I read the Canadian edition and it points out just how stuck in the 1950s our current government is.
From gas-guzzling America, Great Britain's comparative 'green-ness' is something of a model, at times. And I'm somewhat of an anglophile, so I was prepared to love Heat, a British author's look at climate change, in any case. In this particular case, however, its British-ness may be one of the failings of the book. I didn't realize it when I first picked the book up, but the American edition has hardly been adapted for audiences this side of the pond – the only concession I noticed was a thoughtful introduction explaining the peculiar failures our government has to answer for on the score of global climate change. Faced with figures in pence per kilo and constant references to 10 Downing Street, the average American reader might feel a bit overwhelmed.Ultimately, though, despite the hundreds of meticulous foot- and end-notes, it's not the details that matter in this book. George Monbiot, the author, describes the book as a "thought experiment." After a lecture on global warming that he gave a few years back, he says, he was startle by an audience member's question: what will our lives look like once we've achieved the carbon cuts scientists are calling for? This book is his answer, an attempt to show what will have to change, in order to achieve a 90% reduction in carbon emissions by 2030.Monbiot devotes less than a quarter of the book to the importance of curbing climate change, the science behind his proposed carbon cuts, and the political means by which to achieve them. All that, he says, has been covered elsewhere. Instead, Heat examines the feasibility of different proposals to cut carbon in four areas: heating and cooling our homes, providing the nation's electricity, traveling, and – in a token nod to retail and industry – grocery stores and concrete production. For the most part, his ideas end up somewhat middle-of-the-road: he embraces carbon capture and storage, the technique of hiding our carbon waste deep underground that many environmentalists love to hate, while still arguing for such enormous government-funded changes in our energy infrastructure that all but the most die-hard liberals might argue that it's just too costly.These kinds of inconsistencies make it hard for me to believe that his plan will ever be implemented. In addition, the British Isles are in a fairly unique political and geographical situation, and what works there cannot simply be held up as a model for the world to follow. These would be large failures if Heat were meant as a policy document. As it is, however, I think that Monbiot's accessible writing style and focus on everyday life target this book as a wake-up call for lay-people. Yes, he argues that fighting global warming takes government legislation and incentives, not just the more motivated among us changing a few lightbulbs. But he points out that we don't really want the government to impose heavy cuts on our carbon-dependent lifestyles. We're happy when politicians wave green banners and make promises, but it's the facade we want to see, not the true changes.What we need, says Monbiot, is a movement for austerity. Like few movements before it, this one will be fighting not for liberty, but against it – at least, against the sort of false liberty that is really borrowing against our childrens' futures. But, he points out, we've shown we can do it. Like the country-wide change of pace that occurred when the US entered World War II, a worthy cause, successful propaganda, tough government regulation, and financial incentives for industry, can turn transform our society almost overnight. Now let's get out and make it happen before it's too late.
'Heat' is an optimistic response to more pessimistic works such as Lovelock's 'The Revenge of Gaia' which suggest we should prepare for the consequences because it is too late. Monbiot asks the hard question: what specific solutions could reduce carbon emissions by 90% by 2050 and thus save the world from the worst impacts of global warming?He examines electricity production, transportation, housing and some case examples, such as retail stores and concrete production. Relying on government reports, think tanks and other sources he discovers that it may "just" be possible, so long as a society we approach it like we did WWII, with a massive and focused effort and some sacrifices. Except for long distance travel (by air, train or ship), everything else it should be possible, says Monbiot, to reduce by 90%.Monbiot mainly addresses England. However, England is one of the worlds best organized countries politically and economically, so anything difficult for England is going to nearly impossible for other nations - can Georgia or Belarus or Chile or China reduce carbon emissions by 90%? It is a global problem and Monbiot doesn't look beyond England and the US, thus it is difficult to see how the entire world can turn around in such a short period of time. There are big areas that Monbiot does not address, such as agriculture. He also does not look at "climate surprises" or tipping points, where a little CO2 increase by humans triggers a massive CO2 release in nature (see Fred Pearce 'With Speed and Violence: Why Scientists Fear Tipping Points in Climate Change').Monbiot is optimistic solutions are available, but I found his solutions so politically difficult to implement, and nearly impossible globally, I came away even more depressed about our prospects. However, one thing is clear, we have no choice but to try.
This is a very thorough analysis of how to really get CO2 emissions down to 20% of today's levels. It is a welcome bit of reality on quantitative points often avoided, for example, which renewables are likely to be too expensive, and which aren't large enough to make a significant difference when the scale is 80% reduction. It is thoroughly researched, although it covers every sector of the economy and thus cannot get all the details right in every one of them. This book will no doubt attract "customer reviews" from climate deniers. This shows that they not only don't understand climatology (we knew that) but also they don't read the work they are frothing about, since this is about solutions (which of course have other benefits) not about what the evidence is for climate change. This is highly recommended, conceptually honest and quantitatively very good, yet in a readable format.
Green publicist George Monbiot claims that climate change is `the greatest danger the world now faces¿. How great is the danger?
Monbiot relies on the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change¿s reports. Its 2007 report says, ¿For the next two decades, a warming of about 0.2oC per decade is projected¿, as in the 1980s and 1990s. At this rate, it would be 1.8oC warmer by 2100. Instead, Monbiot warns us of the possible effects of a 6.4oC rise, three and a half times the predicted rise. (In fact, although global CO2 emissions have continued to rise, temperatures have not risen since 2001 ¿ contrary to claims that emissions raise temperatures.)
The global average sea level has risen by 29 centimetres since 1860, at a rate of 1.96 centimetres a decade. At this rate, it would be 17.6 centimetres higher by 2100. (The IPCC¿s 2007 report says, ¿The rate was faster over 1993 to 2003: about 3.1 mm per year. Whether the faster rate for 1993 to 2003 reflects decadal variability or an increase in the longer-term trend is unclear.¿ At this rate, the global average sea level would be 28 centimetres higher by 2100.) Instead, Monbiot warns us of the possible effects of a 3.4 metre rise, 19 (or 12) times the predicted rise.
On the incidence of tropical cyclones, Monbiot misrepresents the IPCC¿s conclusions. He claims that its 2001 report said there was evidence for `an increase in intense tropical cyclone activity in the North Atlantic since about 1970¿. No, it didn¿t say this (he seems to be quoting from its 2007 report). The 2001 report actually said, ¿There is no compelling evidence to indicate that the characteristics of tropical and extratropical storms have changed.¿ It also said, ¿Based on limited data, the observed variations in the intensity and frequency of tropical and extra-tropical cyclones and severe local storms show no clear trends in the last half of the 20th century, although multi-decadal fluctuations are sometimes apparent.¿ The IPCC¿s 2007 report confirmed, ¿there is no clear trend in the annual numbers of tropical cyclones.¿
The IPCC¿s 2007 report says, ¿Globally, the potential for food production is projected to increase with increases in local average temperature over a range of 1 to 3oC, but above this it is projected to decrease.¿ So, on the IPCC¿s projected 1.8oC increase, the world¿s food production will rise steadily over the next 90 years, as warmer weather produces higher crop yields in temperate regions like Western Europe, Midwest and eastern USA and eastern China. Also, in cooler regions, it means longer growing seasons and faster growing crops.
The IPCC¿s 2007 report says that global warming¿s one `virtually certain¿ impact on human health is `reduced human mortality from decreased cold exposure¿. Far fewer people die as winters get warmer.
So, the IPCC¿s reports do not back, never mind prove, Monbiot¿s claim that climate change is `the greatest danger the world now faces¿. (He showed what he really thought of science when he helped to trash a GM crop trial.) He dismisses Bjorn Lomborg¿s estimates of the costs of cutting carbon emissions, $8.5 trillion, and of not doing so, $4.8 trillion. He calls this `an amoral means of comparison¿, presumably because it refutes his argument.
Monbiot calls for a 90% cut in greenhouse gases by 2030, which would cause enormous harm. When environmentalist Meyer Hillman was asked what an 80% cut would make of Britain, he replied, 'A very poor third-world country'.