It would be much easier and more comfortable to read this book if Monbiot wasn't an acerbic, rude and somewhat arrogant writer who sometimes appears to think most of his fellow creatures are stupid. The nanny in Monbiot's green utopia is a very controlling state, one involved in much administration of carbon and transport rationing schemes, one that acts as a combined shepherd and herder for the flock of carbon-emitting people that it governs, for their own good of course.
And Monbiot knows what that good is. It is a lifestyle for both individuals and consumers which features a drop in carbon emissions of 90 percent compared to the present, and a world in which air-travel is virtually banished and personal oil product-fuelled vehicles a rarity. On your (push) bike is a back story to this book, and on your legs too. Walk or pedal and you are green and bask in the warm waft of Monbiot's approval. Drive or fly and Monbiot says you are condemning Ethiopian peasants to starvation and the population of Bangladesh to drowning.
For Monbiot, green evangelism is personal and he has no hesitation in calling a personal earth-moving tool a damnable spade, none at all. But then, when global apocalypse threatens, the acceptable limit of what constitutes a proportionate response can be set as high as you like.
Monbiot says man-made climate change is happening and incontrovertible unless you believe in magic or alchemy. Therefore something must be done to lower carbon emissions drastically. He sets a target of a 90 percent cut. If it is done by taxation then the poor would be hit much harder than the rich. That's unfair. He settles on rationing as a fair way of limiting personal, household and business carbon emissions.
This begins with a decision about the amount of carbon the world can emit annually with a downward trend to the desired level. Countries are given a proportion of this, which is then allotted to their population and businesses, with under-emitting countries allowed to expand emissions and over-emitting countries - like the UK - having to reduce emissions. Different countries would then converge towards the same amount per person - called contraction and convergence.
He thinks that we would need a second pricing system, reflecting the carbon emissions of products and services. From our ration of carbon emissions per year we could 'buy' products and services until that ration was used up and then we could consume no more carbon-emitting items for the rest of the year. Businesses would buy carbon emission licenses for fixed amounts of emissions in, perhaps, an auction-like process. People would get 40 percent of the UK's carbon emissions with government and business getting 60 percent.
The public sector administration, monitoring and policing of this would represent, in my view, a huge expansion of public sector employment and oversight of our personal and business lives. Austerity and carbon ration books beckon.
Monbiot looks at how we could produce energy in cleaner (meaning low-carbon emission) ways and at how we could travel in cleaner ways. Petrol and diesel-burning vehicles are largely out for personal travel and greatly restricted for business and other organisations. Coaches and trains are good; lorries a hard-to-accept evil, and airplanes use heavily restricted. Forget holidays in Madagascar or ski trips to the USA.
He thinks things like restaurant patio heaters and open fridge units in heated supermarkets are near obscenities in an environmental sense. Retail can be made green but at the expense of a vast expansion in online shopping, removing the need for seductively-displayed goods in over-heated, over-cooled and over-lit supermarkets generating millions of shopping car journeys a year..
Reading the book is like being in a combined Methodist Church, Boys' Brigade and Tomorrow's World environment of earnestness, religious (green) fervour, excitement about green technologies, and a huge sense of self-satisfaction about being able to justifiably scream green abuse at rich polluters of the planet. In Monbiot's green world we're all going to be more equal than now, and governed under a kind of low-carbon communism approach.
It is written by one of the foremost environmental prophets of our age and it's probably an exceedingly good idea to read it, if only to understand the background to environmental activists and others less hard-nosed about things but with a generally benevolent approach to the environment.
Heat was published by Penguin in 2006.
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