This is a very depressing book, paradoxically because it tries to be just the opposite. It claims there is hope, whereas I believe there is none.
George Monbiot is the well-known UK political commentator whose columns often grace the pages of the Taipei Times. He's known for his well-researched opposition to, among other things, the Iraq war. But in Heat he focuses his attention on global warming. As he remarks in its opening pages, he doesn't want to have lived ignoring the most important issue facing the planet. And for the last few years Monbiot, in his Oxford hideaway, has been convinced that global warming is precisely that.
His dramatic sub-title is "How to stop the planet burning" and he indeed believes it isn't too late. Some observers, such as the geophysiologist James Lovelock, believe all is already lost. But Monbiot thinks the seemingly impossible task can be accomplished. We can mend our ways, and life on earth can, if we're really determined, be saved.
But Monbiot is nothing if not an honest man, and there's no way he'll champion green causes en masse. This book is in large part made up of scrupulous examinations of the claims of wind power, solar power, wave power, methane gas from pig farms and the rest. In almost every case Monbiot concludes either that only little can be accomplished or that the game isn't worth the candle. He will make many enemies among environmentalists with this book, but he continues to insist nonetheless that, for instance, wind turbines on people's houses to be effective would have to be so big that they'd rip the roof off in a high wind. Again and again he comes to comparable conclusions.
Heat: How to Stop the Planet From Burning
By George Monbiot
One of the biggest obstacles to any easy answers is Monbiot's belief that the UK — the main focus of his attention — must reduce its greenhouse emissions by a staggering 90 percent if the tide of destruction is to be turned. By implication, other countries must do likewise. But how is this ever to be achieved?
The only way, he concludes, is by a massive reduction in the possibilities of life. We can no longer expect to fly off on long-distance holidays (aircraft are one of his biggest bugbears). The world can no longer expect to go on eating meat, fruit and vegetables imported by air from distant lands. Flights, he says of the UK, must be reduced by 96 percent. (Can anyone believe this will take place?) The construction of new airport runways must be resisted at all costs, and what flights are allowed should be by propeller-driven planes, much less polluting than the evil jets.
"Allowed" — ah, there's the rub. Monbiot knows people are not going to sacrifice the pleasures they currently enjoy willingly. Governments are going to have to make these kind of decisions over their heads, and then enforce them by massive taxation and outright prohibition.
A root-and-branch puritanism, in other words, is going to have to become the ethos of the future, with the population going around in woolly hats against the cold rather than sitting in front of warm and emission-producing fires. It's a gloomy picture, and all very English. But Monbiot points out that the current living standard enjoyed by Britons is the highest they've ever know, and they can't expect it to continue indefinitely.
This brings us to why this book is intrinsically so depressing. The reason is that what he proposes is simply not going to happen. It may just be that the UK, especially while under the leadership of a man like Blair who is desperate to get a wise and far-sighted image engraved on the tablets of history, might pass into law a few of Monbiot's ultra-austere recommendations. But what about the so-called "developing" nations"? Are China, India, the Gulf states, Brazil, and many, many more, really going to opt for these kinds of self-denying ordinances?