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4.5 out of 5 stars
4.5 out of 5 stars
Heat: How We Can Stop the Planet Burning
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on 14 January 2010
Heat is a hard nosed, unsentimental analysis of the problem of climate change and what can be done about it. Monbiot sets himself a difficult challenge of a 90% reduction in carbon emissions by 2030, and then tackles each source of carbon emissions in turn, from housing to transport. Some of it is familiar and easy to agree with, such as better insulation, or passive house architecture. Other sections are less comfortable reading - many popular solutions are stripped down and exposed as useless, from biofuels to small scale wind turbines. Ardent greens will find plenty to worry about as nuclear power gets a tacit nod, and the sacred cow of renewable energy gets cut down a size.

A great many ideas are discarded, but this is ultimately a book of solutions, and there are all manner of things that will work. Efficiency measures, tighter planning laws, improved coach travel, combined heat and power, hydrogen fuel cells, tele-working, internet shopping. There is no single answer, but dozens of helpful avenues that will trim carbon from our current lifestyles.

As well as the solutions, the book spends some time exploring why it has been so hard to get climate change onto the political agenda. The findings here are fascinating. A lot has been said about climate change denial and conspiracy theories. I don't have a whole lot of time for that, or for environmentalist martyrdom, but anyone tempted to dismiss those theories entirely should read Monbiot's chapter on `The denial industry.' Obviously not everyone who disagrees with climate science is in the pay of the oil companies, but a shocking number are, and there is plenty of evidence here to prove it.

As always, Heat is well researched, thorough and rational. As a guide to what can practically be done about climate change, as a society, this is second to none.
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on 28 September 2010
George Monbiot's Guardian columns are always well worth reading, as was his well received and best selling book on the links between big business and the state in Britain (Captive State). "Heat", whose subject matter is global warming, is likewise a well written, and informative read, dealing with some of the issues thrown up by the dangers of climate change.

The book begins by summarising the state of scientific knowledge at the time of its initial publication in 2006, and how this bears on the reductions of greenhouse gas emissions required in a country such as ours in order to make a fair share in reducing the risk of damaging global climate change. The result appears to be a reduction of 90% by 2030. Before moving on to the important questions of how this can be achieved, Monbiot takes time out for an entertaining look at what he terms the "denial industry". Publications such as the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail seem to be the leading sites for those who are keen to rubbish climate change, among the authors he cites are leading climatologists Melanie Phillips, Peter Hitchens, and most disturbingly of all for those of us who have fond memories of him from childhood, David Bellamy. Bellamy is apparently now a campaigner who vigorously denies the possibility of climate change, some of the information cited in his Daily Mail Article ("Global Warming? What a Load of Poppycock!") came from millionaire American Lyndon Larouche's publication "21st Century Science and Technology" - other propositions that Larouche has supported over the years include the notion that the Royal Family is running an international drugs syndicate, and that Jewish bankers control the British Government. One wonders if fellow Daily Mailist Mad Mel knows about this last one? One wouldn't have thought it was amongst her favourite causes?

The main body of the text involves examining a number of sectors of the economy including housing, transport, power generation, airlines, retail and industry and looking at what could be done to meet the targets that science appears to indicate. Monbiot's aim, which some in the environmental movement may find controversial, is to look at each sector individually and work out how they could meet the targets with the minimal amount of change to their functioning, and by association to the functioning of the economy as a whole. With the exception of the airline industry, which he would drastically curtail, his proposed solutions appear to meet those criteria.

This is an interesting book that clearly brings into the public debate a serious set of proposals for limiting the possibility of climate change occurring while minimising the effects on the way we live now. No doubt climate change doubters, and those whose pecuniary interests seem to compel them to muddy the water (primarily the oil, coal and automobile industries), will scoff at Monbiot's efforts; but even if their doubts were to be taken seriously, the desirability of reducing our reliance on finite energy resources ought to be sufficient reason for making the changes, or changes that are just as effective, in reducing our output of greenhouse gasses. A book I'd well recommend to anyone with an interest in this issue, which going on the current scientific evidence, should be all of us.
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VINE VOICEon 7 July 2008
I have a great deal of admiration for George Monbiot and for his work.

There is a problem for the general non-academic reader with this book, however, since the subject matter demands an earnest approach, complete with minutely researched statistical corroboration. Such worthiness can become daunting and sometimes makes for a slow and difficult read. That is not necessarily a bad thing, of course, but I suspect it might close the book off to the very audience which neeeds to read and absorb it, i.e. the layman.

That said, there is a great deal of value in here; the use of Marlowe's "Dr. Faustus" is a clever but ultimately misplaced leitmotif and the (deliberately?) quirky suggestion that the future of public transport is the coach will be a little diffcult for many to swallow, but those caveats apart, this is one which rewards the effort it demands of the reader.
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VINE VOICEon 24 June 2007
George Monbiot of The Guardian is in any ways a more upmarket version of Michael Moore - just as determined to slay the dragons of corporate self-interest and government hypocrisy, but going about it with a little more finesse.

In this uncompromising thesis on global warming, he takes the view that carbon emissions need to be reduced by a whopping 90% if we're to avoid hitting the "tipping point" which will accelerate us towards global disaster. Having laid that on the line and debunked the oil industry- funded naysayers, he goes on to point the finger at the ones who are really responsible - us.

It's our inertia, he says, that keeps emissions so high, because once we're used to our gas-guzzlers, our long-haul flights and our out-of-season luxuries, we're far too loath to surrender them in the name of collective survival. And as long as industry keeps on burning the midnight oil, why should we bother with energy-saving lightbulbs?

Monbiot prescribes a diet of privation. If we want to avoid a forcible return to Neolithic hunter-gathering, we need to elect to ration ourselves: and cutting our energy consumption to the bone is the only way ensure a positive outcome. That means eating what's locally available, keeping our cars in the garage and evolving a workable system of public transport and food deliveries. And most of all, it means an end to globetrotting - because there's no fat and effective way to travel that's acceptably carbon-neutral.

As always, though, everyone is waiting for everyone else to act. "Everyone has to move, or no-one moves," says one supermarket boss. "If we do it and nobody else does, we're lost." The situation as a lot in common with the old cold war, nuclear proliferation and mutually-assured destruction: except in this case, it's a lack of action that will bring on environmental Armageddon.

Where the book is weak is dealing with solutions in areas that are not the haunts of the chattering urban middle classes. Monbiot makes a valuable point when he says that the keys to change are held by exactly those people with most to lose, but that very arrogance is reflected in his own delineation of both problems and solutions. What do you do if you live in a rural area with little or no public transport, the nearest shop is eight miles away and Tesco don't deliver within fifty miles of your home? Such areas could also have much to teach suburban-dwellers about growing vegetables in season rather than importing posh nosh from Costa Rica.

Still, it's a valuable book, if a depressing one. As Monbiot says in his introduction, "I have one last hope - that 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."

As published at Subba-Cultcha.com
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on 17 November 2012
I have a strong interest in environmental issues and found a lot of good ideas in this book such as the ideas for reworking the UK coach service infrastructure and the fundamental restructuring of supermarkets. The supermarket idea could be further developed as an Argos style system so shoppers could still visit a supermarket, but would select their order from a screen. It is not feasible that the supermarket model could wholly shift to a delivery system, but his proposal has real potential if it was reworked somewhat. So I would recommend this book to anyone interested in ideas for emission reductions.

Additionally, I checked a lot of the references in the book and found that they generally checked out. It is in parts a well researched book but in other parts more emotion based than facts based. There is an excellent chapter on the climate change denial industry, which would be of interest to anyone who wants to learn more about the area of climate change and is confused by the fact that, seemingly "They can't make up their minds about climate change". Again, I checked these references out and they are solid.

I wanted to give it four stars, but it falls down in a few areas. For a start, he refers to an unpublished paper by a non-climate scientist to say we need to reduce emissions by 90% instead of 80%. So we have a non-scientist reviewing a paper on climate change by a non-climate scientist. He should only refer to peer reviewed papers by climate scientists and would never accept anything else from a climate change denier. I should add that Monbiot is not a scientist, but Matthew Prescott was the reviewer for this book. Writing or reviewing a paper outside your area of expertise is extremely dangerous as you often miss a critical nuance that only a trained eye could spot. Prescott is not a climate scientist (although in reality only one chapter is concerned with climate science, so that is not a necessity), but has strong credentials and is clearly well versed on a range of scientific issues. The book promotes micro-grids, but the authors don't seem to understand that micro-grids are substantially more inefficient than national grids. Splitting the country into a number of micro-grids would actually necessitate the consumption of far more feedstock (be that biomass, gas, coal or whatever). Wind and solar don't have the potential to reliably power a micro-grid all of the time, so some form of back up plant would be required for much of the day. Biomass is an environmentally friendly, dispatchable option, but authors seem to absolutely loath biofuels. It may be that times have changed since the book was written, but exporting Concentrated Solar Power from the Middle East and North Africa is not just for "nutters" and is now on many college courses (I read this book about five years after it was published, so some of my review may be coloured by developments subsequent to it being published). There are also unsubstantiated claims that building roads will put more cars on the road. I find it hard to believe that this is always the case. The issue of road building is not as black and white as this: severe traffic is a quality of life issue and public transport is not an option for everyone. Also, far too much attention in this book is given to hydrogen as a panacea, but it is unlikely hydrogen will ever be the solution from an energy balance point of view.

The two areas I had the biggest issue with were the comments on biofuels and air travel. There are sweeping statements like that biodiesel is worse for the environment than regular diesel and when he writes off all biofuels he also makes a "slithering" comment about methods of making them including in fermenters. Even though he in no way analyses the production of biofuels in fermenters and all of his arguments are actually against energy crops (so irrelevant to fermenters - for example read up on recent work in San Francisco on this technology). These kinds of comments about biofuels are very frustrating, because there are some biofuel feedstocks which are worse for the environment than regular petrol or diesel, but there are also a range of biofuel feedstocks which are much better for the environment. There are cases where biofuels have had negative impacts such as ~2008 when they contributed to global food price rises due to bad biofuel policies in the USA and EU. However studies by the World Bank and OECD, as well as a 2011 paper in the International Journal of Environmental Studies conclude that energy crops in Brazil, the world's biofuel superpower, did not have a significant effect on food prices. So anyone who states that biofuels are innately bad simply does not understand the nuances of this area. The impact of biofuels on food prices is often overblown, as food price rises are attributed solely to energy crops, ignoring the effect of droughts and rising commodity prices. Biofuels have a significant potential to be part of the arsenal against rising GHGs. For example, it will take years before our current fleet of cars is retired and decades before our current fleet of power plants are retired. Biofuels can serve as a transition fuel. Furthermore biofuels produce jobs, hedge consumers against an oil crisis, reduce air pollutants and reduce a country's trade deficit. I would say that these are all positive impacts.

With respect to air travel: the book begins by lecturing us that making small changes in our own lives will not make a difference even though the air travel chapter finishes by telling us that if we fly, we destroy other people's lives. So he completely misses his own point on that issue. Also, the conclusion that there is no solution for air travel emissions and that we should stop flying is pretty arrogant. This is not a study by a National Academy of Sciences, it is a book by a non-scientist environmentalist and a scientist without a background in engineering or fuel development. Just because they did not find the answer doesn't mean it doesn't exist. There is ongoing work on biofuels and electric batteries for airplanes. I don't see air travel ceasing any time soon, so maybe more focused research is a more sensible response.
Finally, I think his comments in the edition I read where he attacks The Stern Review are childish. He rails against putting a price on human life, but that is simply reality. If we can take approach A, which saves one life per million euro and approach B, which saves one life per ten thousand euro, where should we put our money?

I do think this is a good book and recommend reading it, but don't believe every word!
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on 4 October 2006
This is an outstanding book - a call for action that must happen now if we are to avoid climate change spiralling out of control. Its strengths are that it describes the issues with great clarity and conjures up possible solutions for dealing with them. Not all of these seem politically or practically realistic, but in a way that's not the point: they demonstrate that action can be taken and climate change kept in check.

I would strongly recommend, as a companion volume, The Rough Guide to Climate Change, which in many ways is an easier book to get yourself up to scratch on the science and the issues. It is very clearly written, with excellent diagrams, ranges widely over issues and solutions, and demystifies in the way that Rough Guides are so good at.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 21 March 2010
Heat: How to stop the planet burning, by George Monbiot, Allen Lane (Penguin), 2006, 304 ff.

Another book on climate change!
By Howard Jones

Do we need yet another book on climate change, in particular, on global warming? Well it seems that indeed we do, as the message is still not getting across to enough people. One or two unusually cold winters in Britain and America and people are all too eager to believe that global warming is a fiction - a right-wing plot to prevent industrialisation of underdeveloped countries, a left-wing plot to destroy American capitalism, or simply a plot by puritanical religious fanatics to curb our hedonistic lifestyles. The melting of both polar icecaps and the majority of glaciers around the world (a very few are increasing in size), the flooding of low-lying Pacific islands through increase in sea level, the increase in frequency and severity of tropical storms and of forest fires in Australia are all conveniently ignored by those whom Monbiot describes as constituting The Denial Industry. Thus Peter Hitchens of The Mail on Sunday and brother of Christopher (`God is not Great') Hitchins said in 2001: `The greenhouse effect probably doesn't exist. There is as yet no evidence for it' - there was then and there is even more now. The majority of informed scientific opinion (yes, there are dissenters) is that the global climate is changing and that human activity is the greatest contributor, both directly and indirectly (through the increased rearing of animals, for example). George Monbiot is an investigative journalist at The Guardian newspaper.

Monbiot systematically explores the main factors contributing to emission of greenhouse gases and what we can do to halt and even try to reverse this destructive trend. After an Introduction on The Failure of Good Intentions, he uses the story of Faust's pact with the devil for a life of power and pleasure as a metaphor for our pact with Gaia for a life of hedonism, exploiting Nature's treasures. Using reputable (though not always utterly uncontroversial) data, in successive chapters Monbiot explores the wastage of energy from inadequately insulated homes, an assessment of how much energy we can generate from renewable sources, how to better organise our transport system by road, rail and air so as to minimise pollution and toxic gas emission, how local or Internet shopping can be used to reduce trips by car to the supermarket, how supervised `walking crocodiles' of children can be used to safely get children from home to school and back without the congestive chaos of cars and buses, and many more suggestions.

At the end of the book, there are a couple of pages of organisations in Britain devoted to studying and reducing climate change (as far as that is within our power), and forty pages of Notes and references, as well as a rather short Index (given the mass of data in this book). There is a wealth of reliable information here and this is one of several books that should be on everyone's reading (and action!) list, especially in Britain, for whom it is most relevant.

Dr Howard A. Jones is the author of The Thoughtful Guide to God (2006) and The Tao of Holism (2008), both published by O Books of Winchester, UK.

Outgrowing the Earth: The Food Security Challenge in an Age of Falling Water Tables and Rising Temperatures
The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight: Waking Up to Personal and Global Transformation
Hell and High Water: Climate Change, Hope and the Human Condition
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on 25 November 2006
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]
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on 15 April 2013
I am deeply impressed by both the quantity and quality of the research that has gone into this tightly-argued and well-thought-through book. There are not many that I would regard as "essential" (a word that is abused in our language) but this one really has the potential to change our future, if enough of us can get behind what it says and make its recommendations a reality. The alternatives don't bear thinking about...except that we must think about them because there is almost no sign that the people who can really make the requred difference are taking this issue seriously.
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on 3 October 2006
This book puts climate change firmly forward as a disaster waiting to happen, and very soon as well.

George then goes on to outline the sort of practical, achievable ways we can change our lifestyles to curtail our greenhouse gas output. All his ideas are well thought out and allow us to maintain our current levels of comfort and living standards.

I thoroughly recomend people read this, then take action.

All that is needed is political will and for people to actually want to change.

If only the people who NEED to read this book would read it, but I fear that wont happen.
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