Heat, Preliminary Review of:
George Monbiot, Heat, How to Stop the Planet from Burning, Anchor
Last year publishers cashed in on the fervor about global warming stirred up by Al Gore's film, "An Inconvenient Truth," by producing a spate of books on how to save the planet. I am at last getting around to reading one of them, specifically George Monbiot's "Heat, How to Stop the Planet from Burning." According to the cover, Monbiot's Guardian column makes him the most-read columnist in the world outside the
The second chapter in the book is about the subverters of the climate agenda. It stands on its own. In fact, you can read it on the web as serialized in the Guardian at:
The gist is that the real bad guys are not whom you might expect, the oil industry. No, it all started back in the early nineties when the besieged cigarette industry set up semi-independent agencies to spread lies in the media about how safe cigarettes really are. You will recall their motto, "Doubt is our product." Spin doctors of prevarication. Later, they branched out into climate change, financed by Exxon, the world's most profitable corporation. They are a less violent version of the Shining Path terrorist group -- you know their story, how they were financed by the
"For years, a network of fake citizens' groups and bogus scientific bodies has been claiming that science of global warming is inconclusive. They set back action on climate change by a decade. But who funded them? Exxon's involvement is well known, but not the strange role of Big Tobacco. In the first of three extracts from his new book, George Monbiot tells a bizarre and shocking new story." (Guardian,
Other chapters of the book list even more shocking facts. For example, trillions of dollars are wasted subsidizing global warming, the destruction of fish stocks and the impoverishment of farmers in poor regions. If we want to stop global warming and wonder where the money might come from, all we have to do is stop financing the problem with our own tax dollars. We would then have more than enough money left over to put into green power, economizing on wasted energy, and so forth.
So much for his muckraking. Interesting as it is, he does not dwell always on the negative. The reason I am reading him is that he concentrates very specifically on what we will all have to do to save our planet. The Wikipedia article on George Monbiot sums up his contributions to this important question in these words,
"Monbiot believes that drastic action coupled with strong political will is needed to combat global warming, Monbiot states that climate change is the "moral question of the 21st century" and that there is little time for debate or objections to a raft of emergency action he believes will stop climate change..." (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Monbiot)
As he says in "Heat," Monbiot's goals are designed to slow carbon emissions to about 1990 levels by the year 2030. In other words, though the cover of this book calls him a "radical," his goals are, in the face of the reality of climate change, most modest and conservative. He notes that he is being optimistic, and that some environmental experts have already thrown up their hands and conceded that it is too late, that the apocalypse is upon us. In any case, here are the solutions proposed by Monbiot, as listed in the Wiki article, except that I have listed them under two groupings, A and B:
Group A (national)
- setting targets on greenhouse emissions using the latest science.
- banning incandescent light bulbs, patio heaters, garden floodlights and other unnecessary
- constructing large offshore wind farms, replacing the national gas grid with a hydrogen pipe network.
- scrap road-building and road-widening programmes, redirecting their budgets to tackle climate change.
- close down all out-of-town superstores and replace them with warehouses and a delivery system.
It is conceivable that his "Group A" solutions could be done, given massive political will, without major changes to present nationalist governments. Group B, though, is more questionable.
Group B (world, local and personal)
- issuing every citizen with a 'personal carbon ration.'
- new building regulations with houses built to German passivhaus standard.
- a new national coach network to make journeys using public transport faster than using a car.
- all petrol stations to supply leasable electric car batteries with stations equipped with a crane service to replace depleted batteries.
As Monbiot says in "Heat", issuing a personal carbon ration for every citizen is a tremendous undertaking, equivalent to setting up a second monetary system on a world level. We do not even have an international unit for money, and now we have to set up a second monetary system to limit carbon emissions? But he makes a convincing case that carbon rations are the only fair, realistic way to deal with this situation. Rationing worked during the Second World War, and it can work again, given efficient regulation and honest officials running it. As for his suggestions for housing and transportation, both are inherently international in this day and age. If airplane travel were curtailed and electric cars were to rival the present hydrocarbon burning setup for speed they would have to be integrated into a containerized, world embracing transport system. And re-building every house on the planet according to world standards of efficiency? You are not going to tell me that that is even imaginable without a world government.
And on top of all that, remember how minimal, how piddlingly tiny a baby step to a beginning this is. If we really hope to stop global warming, we will have to go far beyond carbon reduction, beyond carbon neutrality to carbon negativity; that is, a level of efficiency that would actually suck out greenhouse gasses from the atmosphere. We have been madly pumping poisons into the air for the past few centuries, now we have to clean it all up. That means carbon credits built into everything we do, it means housing and transport orders of magnitude more efficient, and beyond that, it means mega-projects to extract carbon dioxide and methane from the air.
I will not comment more on Monbiot, since I have only just begun his book. But it is especially illuminating reading Monbiot's proposals along with my new hero, Mo Tzu. Mo Tzu, little as we realize it, had the answer. Mo Tzu, in most important respects, could be thought of as the world's first Baha'i. Consider how highly he values peace and unity:
Mo Tzu said: The purpose of the humanist is to be found in procuring benefits for the world and eliminating its calamities.
"But what are the benefits of the world and what its calamities?"
"Mo Tzu said: `Mutual attacks among states, mutual usurpation among houses, mutual injuries among individuals; the lack of grace and loyalty between ruler and ruled, the lack of affection and filial piety between father and son, the lack of harmony between elder and younger brothers -- these are the major calamities in the world.'
"But where did these calamities come from, from universal love?
"Mo Tzu said: They arise out of want of universal love. At present feudal lords have learned only to love their own states and not those of others. Therefore they do not scruple about attacking other states. The heads of houses have learned only to love their own houses and not those of others. Therefore they do not scruple about usurping other houses. And individuals have learned only to love themselves and not others. Therefore they do not scruple about injuring others." (The Ethical and Political Works of Mo Tzu, tr: Yi-Pao Mei, Arthur Probsthain, London, 1929, at: http://www.humanistictexts.org/motzu.htm)
This is so needed right now, simply to value love and unity, to love each other more universally. That is Baha'i love. That is also the gift to the world that Confucius, Mo Tzu's teacher, gave us. Most Chinese scholars contrast Mo Tzu with Confucius, but to my eye the similarities are far more important than their disagreements. Mo Tzu was born into the Confucian tradition, unlike most of us, and appreciated the value of organization.
"Mo Tzu said: Now, all the rulers desire their provinces to be wealthy, their people to be numerous, and their jurisdiction to secure order. But what they obtain is not wealth but poverty, not multitude but scarcity, not order but chaos -- this is to lose what they desire and obtain what they would avert. Why is this?
"Mo Tzu said: This is because the rulers have failed to promote the talented and to employ the capable in their government. When the talented are numerous in the state, order will be stable; when the talented are scarce, order will be unstable. Therefore the task of the leader lies nowhere but in increasing the numbers of the talented."
How are we ever going to establish carbon credits for every individual without universal organization, and individuals of talent and integrity to implement that organization? For God's sakes! The Confucian tradition understood what Monbiot and most environmentalists today do not seem to realize: we are never going to get a start on a world infrastructure if we do not set up a world bureaucracy. Even the word we use, "bureaucracy," is hateful and prejudicial. The Confucians understood that "bureaucrat" is not necessarily a synonym for "red tape." If you do it right, it is the hope of the world. A body of officials, well chosen, educated and disciplined by civil service exams, can become the greatest force for good in the world. They are our sole hope. Let Mo Tzu have the last word on that for today.
"Again, to govern requires knowledge. When knowledge is not increased by ten times, while a tenfold task is assigned, it will evidently result in attending to one and neglecting nine. Though the task be attended to day and night, still it cannot be well executed. . . If the rulers now want to govern their states so that they will be permanent and unshakable, why do they not learn that promotion of the talented is the foundation of government?"
"How do we know promotion of the virtuous is the foundation of government?
"When the honorable and wise run the government, the ignorant and humble remain orderly; but when the ignorant and humble run the government, the honorable and wise become rebellious. Therefore we know exaltation of the talented is the foundation of government.
"The wise rulers in the past greatly emphasized the promotion of the talented and the employment of the capable. Without special consideration for relatives, for the rich and honored, or for the good-looking, they exalted and promoted the talented, enriched and honored them, and made them governors and leaders. The vicious they kept back and banished, dispossessed and degraded, and made them laborers and servants. Thereupon people were all encouraged by rewards and threatened by punishments and strove with each other after virtue. Thus the talented multiplied and the vicious diminished in number. Such is promotion of the virtuous. Then the wise rulers of the past listened to their words and observed their conduct, found out their capabilities, and carefully assigned them their offices. Such is employment of the capable.
"When rulers cannot make a coat they will employ able tailors. When they cannot kill an ox or a sheep they will employ able butchers. In these two instances they do know they should promote the talented and employ the capable for business. But when it comes to the disorder of the country and danger of the state, they do not know they should promote the talented and employ the capable for government. Rather, they would employ their relatives, they would employ the rich without merit, and the good-looking. But as to the employment of the rich without merit and the good-looking -- will these necessarily prove themselves wise and intelligent? To let these rule the country is to let the unwise and unintelligent rule the country. And disorder can then be predicted.