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58 of 67 people found the following review helpful
Bullseye!26 Nov 2006
Stephen A. Haines
- Published on Amazon.com
With many politicians and scientists asserting that the Kyoto Protocol emissions levels cannot be met, should we abandon it for an "alternative solution". George Monbiot says that's the wrong question. The proper query is: "Have we really tried?" Monbiot thinks not and lists numerous cases of inattention, indifference and downright dishonesty in why our society continues to pour greenhouse gases into the air we breathe. However, unlike so many viewing our climate situation with alarm, Monbiot is neither a "calamity howler" nor a hand-wringing commentator waiting for somebody else to set a good example. Instead, this book is a catalogue of solutions to the problem.
None of the correctives proposed here are beyond us, either as individuals or nations. Monbiot, with admirable clarity and understanding of how to accomplish them, lines out easily implemented steps we can take and/or propose to our neighbours. After introductory comments on various "alternate" energy options, Monbiot discusses how we reached the energy consumption levels we enjoy. He deems our situation a "Faustian Pact" and heads each chapter with a quote from Christopher Marlowe's play "Doctor Faustus". Like Faust, we have made a deal, but it's with Nature, not with a devil. For Monbiot, Mephistopheles is fossil fuel and our use of it has advanced. The time for settling up on the bargain is now.
After a massive research effort, Monbiot is able to describe the problem in graphic detail and targets the means of continuing our existence. He quickly dismisses the "envirosceptics" as people who are as out of touch as those who believe in magic. There are some imposing numbers involved. The UK uses 400 terawatt hours per year. A terawatt is a one with twelve zeros trailing after it. Why, for a society of that size, is the number so big? The author examines closely and clearly the circumstances he lives in and how those are threatening the future. Housing and other buildings must be built or retrofitted to exacting standards. Most importantly, those standards must be enforced. Roads that expand capacity which is quickly filled is exactly the wrong policy. The same is true for airports, which encourage more carbon dioxide-producing flights.
His chapter on transportation is even more arresting than the one on housing and buildings. He's particularly scathing on the Bush administration's encouragement of "biofuels" to replace petrol. The lands taken up to produce ethanol will reduce even existing croplands and could instead be turned over to reforestation projects. The types of crops that would provide petrol replacement are hugely thirsty, adding to the depletion of an already overtaxed water supply. Air travel is a conundrum even this perceptive observer cannot resolve. Transatlantic flights, the transport of "exotic" foods to our mega-grocers to entice our palates, and the long-distance vacations generate an astonishing amount of pollutants. How many "business" flights can be replaced by teleconferencing? Yes, if you're dealing with somebody in Sydney, one of you will have to arise early. There will be adjustments, but these need not be severe.
Monbiot devises a cute catch phrase to arouse individual sensitivity to the immediacy of the task ahead. He proposes all people be assigned "icecaps". This isn't a cure for hangover, but a weight measured in acceptable carbon emissions per person. The "cap" is the maximum allowable carbon discharge we each produce to keep the planet cool enough for us to survive. From these "caps" Monbiot demonstrates the costs involved in maintaining them. That is the particular advantage of this book over the extensive list of other "climate change" works. Monbiot's cost assessment and value received for whatever investment we can make in protecting our children and ourselves. And children, as Monbiot admits "discovering" in his concluding chapter, is what this book and the circumstances it describes is all about. Having produced an offspring, Monbiot is keen to see her survive in a liveable world. It's a feeling many of us share.
Although this book's focus is United Kingdom, the issues are global. The book should be left in hotel rooms instead of those works of fiction called The Gideon Bible. As my copy is a "Canadian Edition", perhaps a first step has been taken. In his Foreword in this edition, Monbiot notes how poorly Canada is performing in emission control. He almost presciently forecasts the hopelessly inadequate "Made in Canada Solution" introduced by the present Conservative government. Even Monbiot, however, could not have seen our "solution" will require that government to be elected to power eleven times before the provisions come into effect. What is the situation in your country? [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
21 of 26 people found the following review helpful
Incisive, as ever, but UK emphasis1 Nov 2006
- Published on Amazon.com
An oddly disappointing book. Chiefly because GM talks mostly about the UK, not the world.
I guess GM isnt flying 'abroad' much these days, as jet aircraft are the most noxious carbon emitters he has discovered.
His columns pack a wallop, they are diffused in his book.
However, it is likely one of the most important books around.
.......... T CO2 per person
"micro wind turbines a waste of time and money"
I recall staying in a hippie hovel on Great Barrier Island. On the roof was a bicycle wheel with a hub generator. Pieces of tin as vanes, in the spokes. Fantastically inefficient, but on an island miles from any grid, a zero-cost way to run a radio, or charge a cell phone (which didnt exist then).
Tens of thousands of outback farms used small windmills to pump water. Way less investment than pv/electric.
GM reckons that emissions trading is like shoving food around your plate & pretending its eaten.
Taxes are unfair. What we need is rations & regulations. I cant fault him, but on my bicycle in clouds of carbon, it seems unlikely.
At present: Huge subsidies to carbon, falling investment in alternatives.
GM scatters mentions of good things being done in Germany & Sweden & Switzerland etc.
Then he returns to Leaky houses in gloomy England venting scads of carbon.
Giant Plasma TVs 5x crt
Vacuum panel fridges 12% of current fridge energy use.
Smart meters: an idea he doesnt develop.
We have the smart sensors to turn streetlights, roomlights on only when something moves nearby.
Water heaters should heat water just before its needed (they could learn)
Dimmed lights until you need to find something.
Burying CO2: GM is bullish, although he admits the maps of suitable strata arent available.
I fear this is a boondoggle.
Worlds powerstations: 10.4E9T/yr (nice to see a 'world' figure)
He mentions 'underground coal gassification' but omits the more realistic CCCGassification, which SciAm claims may be the only realistic way to capture CO2.
Uranium. The blatant unreality of the situation where the State agrees that nuclear power doesnt need to insure against disaster. The constant leaks. Every reactor sits beside a pool cooling spent fuel. If the pool dries, tens of thousands die, cities become wastelands.
The good ore isnt plentiful.
Highvoltage DC cables (1700km in DRCongo) mean that wind etc can be spread about.
"In Helsinki 98% of heating comes from district schemes" - we need another book maybe "New Energy schemes in continental Europe" , GM's book begins to seem like "dreary failure of Englands energy vision"
GM rabbits on about Hydrogen "fairly cheap" (sic) - I fear he has bought into another big-carbon boondoggle.
On Land transport, GM reckons that buses are best. I regretfully must concur. I hate the things, from a bicycle seat they are unhuman scale. The answer seems to be to give them special lanes. Fine on Freeways, but in the city, the kerbmost lane is designated bus-only. Guess where bikes go?
Buses are ten times more efficient than cars.
GM doesnt bite the bullet and recognise that we meed micro-transport; 30kph electric cars, more like golf carts than current cars. We could drive one to the bus stop, then use another (hired) to drive around town.
Europe features briefly again: "Holland,Germany,Switzerland & Denmark several different kinds.. vehicle tracking systems, gps, call centres, shared taxis."
I await the European Energy book for more details.. this isnt it.
Fast trains: above 180kph they use huge amounts of fuel.
Shop and shopping trips are a huge waste. GM'sobvious answer is delivery.
Air travel: There is no solution, we just must stop flying. I personally vote to allow GM to fly to conferences anywhere in the world. He deserves the break.
Hydrogen airships at 130kph are ok, but dodgy in strong winds.
Some of the things GM attacks seem perverse. He criticises tree planting for offsets, but I reckon tree planting per se is a darn good thing. GM also hits out at the 'rebound' effect whereby increase in efficiency is followed by increase in use such that more energy is used. GM may be correct in saying that regulation is required, but its hardly an argument against efficiency.
Read this book, but keep an eye out for the real book on 'how to stop the planet burning'
17 of 21 people found the following review helpful
Written in a language even America may understand...8 Jan 2007
- Published on Amazon.com
I have yet to find a more illuminating write up on the subject of Global Warming.
Monbiot is convincing and challenging at the same time; this book flat out asks the reader to either pay attention or go out and find a better examination on the issue.
Precise and without fanfare, Monbiot brings a most burning problem close to every home and incites discussion and interest.
Buy one for yourself and three to give to the most important persons in your life.
13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
What would it take?5 Jun 2007
- Published on Amazon.com
Heat is an optimistic response to more pessimistic works such as Lovelock's The Revenge of Gaia which suggest we should prepare for the consequences because it is too late. Monbiot asks the hard question: what specific solutions could reduce carbon emissions by 90% by 2050 and thus save the world from the worst impacts of global warming?
He examines electricity production, transportation, housing and in some case examples, retail stores and concrete production. Relying on government reports, think tanks and other sources he discovers that it may "just" be possible, so long as a society we approach it like we did WWII, with a massive and focused effort and some sacrifices. Except for long distance travel (by air, train or ship), everything else it should be possible, says Monbiot, to reduce by 90%.
Monbiot mainly addresses England. However, England is one of the worlds best organized countries politically and economically, so anything difficult for England is going to nearly impossible for other nations - can Georgia or Belarus or Chile or China reduce carbon emissions by 90%? It is a global problem and Monbiot doesn't look beyond England and the US, thus it is difficult to see how the entire world can turn around in such a short period of time. There are big areas that Monbiot does not address, such as agriculture. He also does not look at "climate surprises" or tipping points, where a little CO2 increase by humans triggers a massive CO2 release in nature (see Fred Pearce With Speed and Violence: Why Scientists Fear Tipping Points in Climate Change).
Monbiot is optimistic solutions are available, but I found his solutions so politically difficult to implement, and nearly impossible globally, I came away even more depressed about our prospects. However, one thing is clear, we have no choice but to try.
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
Excellent evaluation of problems & solutions for global warming21 May 2007
- Published on Amazon.com
Monbiot accepts the reality of global warming and looks closely at the measures at hand we can use to prevent the worst possibilities. I am impressed with the thoroughness with which he has researched the problems for our homes, our power and transport systems and the possible solutions. He is optimistic if we make maximal effort soon but somewhat pessimistic about the political will to do so. He is convinced that we will largely have to do with technology that already exists, although often not yet developed, rather than hoping for major scientific breakthroughs because of the typically long delay in implementing new energy technology. I would urge you to read this book if you want to understand the trade offs that will be required to meet the global warming threat.
Since writing this review I have come across another very important book on energy policy -A Question of Balance: Weighing the Options on Global Warming Policies by the Yale economist, William Nordhaus. This book looks at the trade-offs of various approaches to ameliorating global warming using computer modeling to forecast the cost and results. A gradually increasing carbon tax, maximal participation by all nations and industries and support for alternative energy research come out best. The Gore approach (which is similar to Monbiot's) of stringent carbon restriction from the start ends up costing much more to reach the same results which surprised me.