George Monbiot’s Heat — Part One

Thermal regulation
Other recent books like The Weather Makers explain what we’re doing to cause global warming and the catastrophes it will soon cause. George Monbiot’s book Heat is devoted entirely to answering the question What Do We Do To Stop It. This is the first in a series of articles summarizing his action plan.

From the outset, Monbiot makes clear that he’s not looking for a subsistence solution: He doesn’t believe any such solution can be ‘sold’ to the majority of the people in affluent nations, so he doesn’t propose to try. We need to retain, he says, our creature comforts, our political and economic freedoms, our right to health care and education and security and freedom from fear.

The deadline for effective action to curb global warming, he argues, is 2030, and by then we need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 90%, nothing less. Heat prescribes the least difficult and least painful means to do so. This includes:

  • dramatically improved ways to build homes and other buildings
  • the optimal mix of feasible renewable and non-renewable means of supplying energy to those buildings
  • radical changes to land transportation without significantly reducing mobility
  • a significant curtailing of air travel, since it is a major greenhouse gas contributor for which no satisfactory way of reducing emissions by 90% is available
  • mechanisms to reduce greenhouse gas emissions of the retail and cement industries by 90%

Monbiot quickly dismisses voluntary approaches to achieving these ends, and asserts that “unfashionable” strict government regulation and compliance enforcement will be essential to success. “By and large”, he says, “whatever our beliefs may be, we consume as much as our incomes allow”. But beyond the regulations absolutely needed to achieve these 90% reductions, he insists that governments must maximize freedoms of citizens.

Monbiot is scornful of the ‘light green’ technophiles who believe (because it’s easy) that new technologies will allow us to innovate our way to solutions to global warming. Micro wind turbines, for example, are “a waste of time and money”. He is equally scornful of the ‘dark green’ eco neosurvivalists who rejoice at the idea of civilizational collapse, and their cohorts who proclaim (as I have done) that it is already, realistically, too late to hope that anything we could do will be enough or in time.

So in his introduction he’s already set himself against the global warming holocaust deniers, the believers in using market forces, the technophiles, the radical greens and the green fatalists. That’s just about everyone. “As always”, he says, “I am destined to offend everyone”. His goal in this book is “to prompt you not to lament our governments’ failures to introduce the measures required to tackle climate change, but to force them to reverse their policies, by joining what must become the world’s most powerful political movement”.

The key mechanism for enforcement of Monbiot’s solution is a carbon rationing system, using a second ‘currency’ (Monbiot calls it ‘icecaps’ to remind us of its purpose)allocated equally to each consumer on our electricity, home fuel and transportation fuel usage. Individuals would be allotted 40% of the national total carbon ration, and the remaining 60% would be held by the government for its use and to auction to corporations to the highest bidder. There would be a free market for the rations — the poor and efficient could sell what they did not need to the rich for whatever the going market price turned out to be, so that the ration would apply fairly to all yet also allow for income redistribution between rich and poor. And the rationing system would also reward conservation and innovation in energy efficiency.

The rationing system would have to be accompanied by a large, subsidized system to encourage improvements in home appliance efficiency and insulation, in public transportation, and in special subsidies during extreme weather conditions (to buy more ‘icecaps’, not to exceed their ration).

You can’t fault him for ambition.

In upcoming parts of this review, I’ll describe the other elements of Monbiot’s solution in more detail: Improving home energy efficiency, optimizing the mix of alternative energy sources, improving the transportation system, reducing our ‘air miles’, and improving the retail and cement industries. In each case the improvement is towards the goal of reducing emissions, not energy efficiency — by decoupling these in our minds and our markets he proposes to encourage and reward technologies that are cleaner, without depending on them for success. And in his final chapter, Monbiot tackles, and lays to rest, the four ‘messiahs’ that others believe can or will make the need to tackle climate change moot: new fuel technologies, new cleaning technologies, Peak Oil, and the market mechanism of carbon offsets. Peak Oil in particular, heargues, could well make global warming worse.

Stay tuned for Part Two. And go get the book.

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5 Responses to George Monbiot’s Heat — Part One

  1. Mike says:

    Alex Steffan’s intro to the new Worldchanging book sets out the challenge before us in great detail. btw there’s a plot to put the book at #1 on Amazon by ordering it Nov 1 at 11:11 am.

  2. MLU says:

    Hmm. It does seem to me the left has a track record of “saving us” by attempting to enslave us. First, create a panic about impending doom if they aren’t given power. . .Maybe some of what is being said is true. Maybe most of it is. But count me among the many who have quit paying attention. The glee at talking about a coming disaster that conveniently requires imposing the leftie agenda is just too palpable. And the history of crying wolf is too well known.

  3. Kevin Carson says:

    The auctioning of carbon permits, based on the atmosphere’s sustainable yield as a pollution sink, is perfectly compatible with the geolibertarian understanding of free markets.Aside from that, a genuine free market approach to funding highways and airports would have most of the same effects as the policies he recommends. If urban freeway grids were funded by tolls on cars, and the Interstates by weight-based tolls on trucks, and if sprawl weren’t encouraged by zoning and FHA redlining and subsidized utilities, we’d probably be moving toward a decentralist economy that used quarter or less of existing transportation resources to produce the same output.

  4. Dave Pollard says:

    Kevin: You need to read the book. He addresses this exact point, and why it won’t work.

  5. Pete Best says:

    Come on people this book looks at lots of technologies and possible political and economic solutions to this issue and what he offers many people currently reject because the masses how no notion of a 2 or 3 C rise tim temperature being a problem. AGW is now on the political map globally, Europe and the USA need to develop the technologies and policies and practises by which Co2 emissions cna be toned down enough to resolve this issue. Trouble is that in this free maket liberal world that the west enjoys and everyone else wants there is little chance of any of it working or coming online anytime soon.

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