Heat: How We Can Stop The Planet Burning
By George Monbiot
The premise of Heat is that the world’s rich nations needs to cut their carbon emissions by 90% by 2030 if we are to prevent global temperatures from rising 2º above pre-industrial levels. Monbiot then goes on to show how this cut can be achieved whilst allowing us to maintain a similar standard of life to the one we now enjoy. This cut will involve a carbon rationing system that applies equally to all, a radical change in the way we build houses, a complete overhaul of the National Grid, involving a combination of carbon capture and various forms of renewable energy, a switch from the current shopping model to large warehouses and home deliveries, and a transport system that is more logical.
The only carbon intensive sector in which Monbiot is unable to find a way of cutting emissions is the aviation industry – it seems the only solution is to fly less. Monbiot admits that this is a difficult thing to tell people, not least because he recognises the impact his own travels around the world have had on his life and views. It’s also something that I find challenging to face up to. I enjoy flying and I hope in the future to be able to visit more far-flung corners of the world. But as Monbiot points out:
Recognizing that it was possible for a human being to fly; then that it was possible for a human being to fly long distances; then that it was possible for many humans to do so; then that it was possible for you to do so, required a series of imaginative leaps. It required the construction by the people of the twentieth century of a possible world which did not exist before...Recognising that while it is still possible for a human being to fly, it will no longer be possible for many humans to do so, indeed that it will no longer be possible for you to do so, requires a similar series of imaginative efforts.
Throughout Monbiot brings to light absurdities, such as the fact that coach stations are currently situated in town centres, meaning that coaches have to go out of their way, battling through traffic and one way systems, in order to pick people up. Instead, Monbiot proposes a transport system whereby coach stations are closer to the motorway, with shuttle buses to connect the town centre to the coach stations. This system would drastically reduce the usually lengthy coach journeys – a huge factor in my own reluctance to use coaches. This seems like such a logical and obvious system, yet we seem content to grumble about the current system. When looking at supermarkets Monbiot points out the absurdity of door-less freezers and fish counters that use bright – and thus, very warm – lights to make the fish glisten attractively, whilst also keeping the fish on ice and using a lot of energy to maintain these cold temperatures. This battle between heat and cool in our supermarkets seems ridiculous once Monbiot points it out.
The cover of Heat states that the book is “Myth-busting, hypocrite-baiting, exhilarating, awe-inspiring, killer-fact packed...” Clearly this is designed to attract readers, although there is some truth in it. Monbiot does indeed bust some myths. For example – a myth I myself had bought into – that the scientific community is divided about whether recent increases in global temperatures have been man made or not. This uncertainty was in fact generated by the oil companies, for obvious reasons. Monbiot is also not afraid to bring to light hypocrisies, even on the part of fellow environmentalists. Indeed, Monbiot goes so far as to state that even he is a hypocrite, since he doesn’t lead a truly carbon free lifestyle. The book is packed with facts; Monbiot has clearly done his research and is always thorough about checking for alternate motives. There are also a lot of figures in the book, and I did at times find myself skimming over them, trusting that he’d done his maths correctly, but this didn’t seem to affect the over all message of the book. ‘Exhilarating’ and ‘awe-inspiring’ are a bit of an exaggeration, but I did find myself feeling more motivated to take action and make changes to my own lifestyle.
If you're hoping for a book that will reassure you and allow you to carry on your merry way, then don't read Heat. Heat isn't about telling you everything is going to be okay. The message is that things need to change fast and it won't be enough to simply recycle a few more bits of paper. It will mean giving up flying, consuming less and putting more pressure on the government. It will mean taking an imaginative leap, completely re-imagining our lives and giving up the sense of entitlement we have been raised to feel. Alternately, as Monbiot puts it, “I might make people so depressed about the state of the planet that they stay in bed all day, thereby reducing their consumption of fossil fuels.”