Heat by George Monbiot

10 January 2008

George Monbiot’s book Heat tells us how we can save ourselves from the Faustian bargain we have with fossil fuels. If we don’t want to roast – literally – we need to cut our greenhouse gas emissions by 90%. That is what the latest scientific evidence shows. The government’s 60% target by 2050 will not be enough.

A 90% cut seems like too much. If we cannot manage to meet our current Kyoto targets, how can we possibly manage a much deeper cut?
In careful steps, Monbiot shows how: “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 decarbonised, while remaining a modern economy.”

After establishing the realities of what we are doing to our own living conditions on the planet’s surface, and lambasting the climate change denial industry, Monbiot works his way through our inefficient housing stock, conventional and alternative energy, micro grids, upgrading our transport system, saving energy by making all our supermarket shopping from home via the internet, and our hyper mobile cheap flight lifestyle.
The good news is: by making sensible savings in all but one category, the UK could be transformed into a minimally carbon emitting economy. Similar methods could be applied to other countries. Monbiot has dug into scientific papers and done his own research to back up his contentions. There would be considerable changes to how this country would operate, but we wouldn’t be going back to caves.

The biggest sacrifice would be cheap flights. Monbiot sees no way to continue our selfish burning of fossil fuels to travel all over the globe. The planet can’t afford it, even if we as individuals can. He does not minimise the implications of this: “So I offer you no comfort in this chapter. A 90% cut in carbon emissions means the end of distant foreign holidays unless you are prepared to take a long time getting there. It means that business meetings must take place over the internet or by means of video conferences…..It means the end of shopping trips to New York, parties in Ibiza, second homes in Tuscany and, most painfully for me, political meetings in Porto Alegre.” He points out that these privations only affect a tiny proportion of the world’s population – if they seem so harsh, it is because this tiny population almost certainly includes me and you.
Heat is both groundbreaking, and also heartbreaking: we can do little, and let the planet burn, or work together and find solutions, which already potentially exist, to our problems. Heat should be the manifesto of everybody in Great Britain who believes something has to change.

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