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What sets apart Heat: How To Stop the Planet from Burning by George Monbiot, and part of what makes it worth your time to read five years after its publication, is its unusual take on the problem of the global warming.  Rather than trying to convince readers of the dangers of climage change, it tackles the complex and thorny problem of an adequate societal response.

George Monbiot sets himself the formidable task of finding ways to reduce the U.K.'s energy usage by 90% between 2007 and 2030.  He says that he chose that number based on a study by the U.K.'s MET office.  (If that seems extreme, in 2009 Hans Schellnhuber, Germany's chief climate advisor, found that 100% reductions would be necessary, as noted in Mark Hertsgaard's Hot.)  The focus is not the whys of such a reduction, though they get their due, but the hows: how on Earth we could do such a thing without throwing whole societies into chaos.  How it could be possible without freezing, starving, being rendered immobile, or plunged into literal and figurative darkness.  

The wonder of the matter is that Monbiot does, for the most part, succeed.

In the process, he delves deeply into problems of energy generation and use, both mechanical and economic.  What is, and is not, possible and feasible is not merely summarized, but explained.

Along the way, issues that might be entirely unfamiliar to non-engineers crop up.  For instance, I hadn't known that energy companies need to boost generation in anticipation of what would seem to be minor blips in demand.  Something as innocuous as the timing of the end of a major football (or, in our terms, soccer... or then again, football) match has to be monitored.  

How come?  Because when it's over, a staggering number of U.K. viewers will get up and turn on an electric kettle to make tea, and the electricity has to be there when they do.

Monbiot relies on data and logical analysis to persuade.  His purpose is quite evidently not to make the reader feel comfortable.  His emotional appeals sometimes seem designed to provoke as much shame as empathy, as in the chapter about air travel (the one place where he cannot achieve his emissions goal).  He concludes, not happily, that routine air travel is incompatible with preserving a liveable planet.  He is abundantly aware of his readers' likely impulse to reject that conclusion, since it affects them so closely.  He himself refuses to reject it because he can't find a basis on which to do so, besides selfish desires.

Late in the book, he admits that he has set aside sentiment to write certain passages, as it is impossible for him to write about the climatic catastrophes that await if he lets himself think of the real human beings and human societies they'll affect.  Monbiot may be, or affect, the prickly curmudgeon, but there is feeling beneath the prickliness.

The style of Heat is dense, sometimes technical, and always direct.  While Monbiot is certainly aware of the obstacles, he has little patience for bluster about what political realities demand, when he knows the planet itself has its own inexorable realities.  Physics cannot be bargained with.

This is not to say Monbiot lacks an understanding of human dynamics.  Indeed, he puts forth an insightful proposition at the end, pointing out that climate change campaigning puts us in the unusual position of having to "fight ourselves" as well as politicians and energy companies (p. 212).  

And then he says this:

The problem is not that no meaningful progress has been made at the international climate talks.  The problem is that we have not wanted it to happen. ... [I]f those governments that have expressed a commitment to stopping climate change have found their efforts frustrated, it is partly because they wanted them frustrated.  They know that inside their electors there is a small but insistent voice asking them both to try and to fail.  They know if they had the misfortune to succeed, our lives would have to change.  They know that we can contemplate the transformation of anyone's existence but our own.  (pp. 212-123)
I wish I could be sure he's wrong.  But the truth is, it's hard to imagine a lifestyle fundamentally different from the one we're used to.  I am convinced -- sometimes to horror -- of the danger.  I know a change of course is necessary.  I want to believe myself willing to jump in feet first... but that doesn't mean there's no trepidation involved.  My health situation makes some of the necessary changes especially daunting.

The problem is, everyone can cite some kind of obstacle, some reason they can't change what they're doing.  We do need structural reforms to make change doable.  We need our collective imagination to envision what change woud look like.  But perhaps most challenging of all, we in the developled world need to demand that governments, businesses, and civil institutions push us to alter our own lives -- and maybe make them harder.  

And we have to mean it.

Heat is not an easy book to read, on any level.  Which is the other reason you should read it.

© cai


Monbiot, George.  Heat: How To Stop The Planet From Burning.  Cambridge, MA: South End Press, 2007.

Originally posted to DK GreenRoots on Sun Aug 05, 2012 at 11:38 AM PDT.

Also republished by Climate Hawks and Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Monbiot has since endorsed nuclear power; (8+ / 0-)

    I happen to disagree with him on that.  But you shouldn't let that stop you from reading Heat.

    © cai Visit to join the fight against global warming.

    by cai on Sun Aug 05, 2012 at 11:41:47 AM PDT

    •  A number of people I more or less (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      respect have endorsed nuclear power which puzzles the heck out of me.  As the man said "physics cannot be bargained with" - and we do not have the time or the water to move to nuclear power even if it was the safest, cheapest, and most environmentally benign source possible.

      •  Good point. Already one Chicago area nuclear (0+ / 0-)

        plant has had to apply for a waiver -- their intake water is over 100 degrees, the limit on their license.  If that's happening now, what will happen in a world with more extreme heat events?

        I suspect such people are looking for "stabilization wedges" -- methods to bring down our greenhouse gas emissions by 1 billion metric tons per year by 2054.  (See Field Notes From A Catastrophe by Elizabeth Kolbert, p. 137ff for more on this.)  They know we are desperate for those, and can't see excluding any method, even nuclear.

        I understand that, but personally I see nuclear as too dangerous, as well as flawed for the reasons I list below.  (Most important, as taking too much money from other energy generation methods that are truly sustainable.)  But I do get where they're coming from.

        © cai Visit to join the fight against global warming.

        by cai on Mon Aug 06, 2012 at 01:07:21 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  And the twin to that Chicago reactor (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          had to shut down because the lake level had fallen below its intake pipe.  I understand the desperate grasping for a simple answer but nuclear isn't it.  I used to work in Bechtel's power division - many years ago - and nukes are a 10-year build.  We don't have the time.

  •  I've been wanting to read this book (6+ / 0-)

    But I'll admit something: I've completely given up on the idea that anything will be done about this, so I'm just kind of sitting back and waiting for the world to burn.

    Nihilistic? Yes. But it doesn't matter how many individuals give up cars and shop smarter or whatever, in order to stop this something has to be done on a very large and dramatic scale. We don't even have the political will to ensure that American's don't starve. How are we going to tackle a global problem when the heaviest polluters have all the politicians in their pockets?

    Sigh. This is why I've given up. I'm just too pessimistic to believe that we'll do what we need to do before it's too late.

    Which is why I'm apprehensive about reading the book. I've done literally all I can as an individual. It hasn't stopped the heat.

    As far as nuclear power goes, I am very, very conflicted about that one.

    P.S. I am not a crackpot.

    by BoiseBlue on Sun Aug 05, 2012 at 12:21:01 PM PDT

    •  Topic for Nov. 7th. The Democratic Party As it Is (9+ / 0-)

      will never speak out appropriately, nor do a number of other things that are essential for various crises. We have to elect all we can of course but the day after, we need an entirely new relationship with the party and activism.

      Climate change is the biggest long term reason but there are shorter term reasons as well. We can't change energy business as usual immediately but we can change political behavior as usual.

      We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

      by Gooserock on Sun Aug 05, 2012 at 12:26:46 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  I get that. It's hard to be optimistic. (5+ / 0-)

      Indeed, I don't consider myself optimistic.  (On anything, really; I'm a bit of a cynic.)

      But at the same time, I feel like something is shifting.  Lots of diaries about climate change this summer.  More people waking up.  As the science shows us a bleaker future, and sooner, I feel like we're paradoxically reaching a positive tipping point as well.

      Of course, some climate impacts are locked in, based on greenhouse gases already emitted.  But it may not be too late to stop the worst of it.  And in any case, I feel like knowing is better than not.

      As for individual actions, Heat isn't really about them.  Of course those things are mentioned, but it's mostly about how systems could change, and how governments could make them change.  Energy generation and efficiency initiatives, transportation reforms, even (most controversially), carbon rationing.  (In Hertsgaard's Hot, he discusses something called Cap and Dividend, where the fines assessed to everyone who goes over their limit is divided evenly on a per capita basis.)

      © cai Visit to join the fight against global warming.

      by cai on Sun Aug 05, 2012 at 12:31:32 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  P.S. -- as for nuclear, I've come to see it as (9+ / 0-)

      not really green: you need to expend energy to mine the uranium (which is dangerous to workers and nearby communities), and then you need to expend energy to cool the spent fueling rods.  

      And the industry is deeply corrupt and untrustworthy -- it's all taxpayer subsidized, monumental cost overruns are standard, and some companies have take millions in subsidies to start building plants, and then stopped -- and kept the money!

      Nuclear is so damned expensive, if we put the same amount of money into wind, geothermal, tidal and wave power, local biomass, and solar tech, it would buy us not only a lot more energy, but a lot cleaner future.  (And if you spend on nuclear, that sucks up the budget for those.)

      My $0.02.

      © cai Visit to join the fight against global warming.

      by cai on Sun Aug 05, 2012 at 12:36:01 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  And the cement is astonishingly bad (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Creosote, chimene, Calamity Jean, cai

        ... from a CO2 standpoint, and there's an astonishing amount of cement in a plant. We need to solve the problem sooner rather than later, but the CO2 breakeven is a decade or more out from the first day of operation of a new nuclear plant - that is, it takes at least 10 years of operation before the plant has made up for the CO2 its construction and fueling generated.

        In the mean time, plants need lots and lots of water to run, and the water they output is warmed considerably, increasing threats to those bodies of water that feed them.

      •  KISS (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Calamity Jean, cai

        We need a crash program, and nuclear (or clean coal, for that matter) doesn't lend itself to fast.  The simplest things we've got are wind,  solar thermal, and maybe photoelectric.

    •  What bothers me is even if a large %age try (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      cai, dinotrac

      to reduce thier carbon footprint there will be others to take up the freed resources with little regard for effects. China has been doing this increasingly. It needs to do something desperate to help thier nearly 20% of the worlds population. Isn't China increasing its use of coal? Aren't they building that huge dam system and trying to corral natural resources to fuel thier industrialization.

      Actually I am beginning to believe that some elitists (with the cover of some religious groups) are aiming for a calculated population reduction that they think they can survive ... and many of those people are the ones controlling the power to create a mass movement. Problem is even the best climate scientists have been conservative about the end results... It is very difficut to calculate the interactive effects... Because climate change can add new diseases to the mix as well as resource wars that cause even more damage. It is a dangerous game if that is what they are doing... But then after the 2008 meltdown it is apparent that Wall Street and the corporations are willing to gamble with the worlds economy for profit and arrogantly believe they can avoid the penalties for that behavior.

      How can you tell when Rmoney is lying? His lips are moving. Fear is the Mind Killer

      by boophus on Sun Aug 05, 2012 at 12:56:03 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Well, even with rapid development, China is still (5+ / 0-)

        a lower per capita emitter than the U.S., by far.  But the U.S. has mainly been using China and India as excuses -- while actually putting the kibosh on even committing to 2 degrees C warming over pre-industrial levels.

        If we say, "We won't do it until they do (even though we industrialized first and are far better off)," we'll just merrily waltz off together towards disaster.

        © cai Visit to join the fight against global warming.

        by cai on Sun Aug 05, 2012 at 01:01:02 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  You are right the US has transferred to China (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          much of the energy use and pollution as well as adding the costs of energy for shipping.... And that is exactly the problem... why should we continue at the apex of consumerism and food while expecting the rest of the world to do with less... This has to be a whole world solution and I think that there is not a will even in the US to share with those who have less... This is why I don't think we will be successful. We must try because the cost is going to be horrendous but as always humans like most animals will climb over the bodies of those they can to reach security and plenty. In that I see no evidence of either moral superiority or intelligence over other animals...Is intelligence an illusion? Is self awareness no more then seeing ourselves in the mirror? So many seem to be placing thier trust in some being coming to thier rescue if they are submissive and obedient... which seems to be the very tool that those who would use them value cynically.

          If I hear one more bozo claim that "yes there is global warming but it is natural" I will pop. Up to now I have kept my calm and told them to go to NASA for the temp video. No one wants to be the one who alters thier lifestyle and with the continual pressure for economic growth to provide jobs there is an attitude of "we have to live for today and worry about tommorrow when it comes".

          How can you tell when Rmoney is lying? His lips are moving. Fear is the Mind Killer

          by boophus on Sun Aug 05, 2012 at 03:42:39 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  I think part of it is that we simplify: (2+ / 0-)

            "we" are rich, and "they" are poor.  The thing is, many of us are poor, and many of them are rich.  

            Also, I think the fact that so many programs -- like Bush's bailouts -- are geared to save and enrich the already rich makes people a lot more cynical about shared sacrifice for the real greater good.

            © cai Visit to join the fight against global warming.

            by cai on Sun Aug 05, 2012 at 04:40:11 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

          •  We have transferred to China? (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            Funny how nobody mentioned US exports when we were the big producer.

            Also funny how nobody mentions that China was not forced to adopt CO2 intensive means to provide their own energy.

            In case you haven't noticed, China is a large and powerful sovereing nation.  The Chinese make their own choices.

            LG: You know what? You got spunk. MR: Well, Yes... LG: I hate spunk!

            by dinotrac on Sun Aug 05, 2012 at 07:27:01 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  Economic success followed the transfer of jobs (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              radical simplicity, cai

              but with it we reduced our manufacturing affect on our own energy use and manufacturing effluent. China is now in full effort to increase that economic benefit. Do you think they are going to want to let go of it to improve the worlds climate?

              This is the tension point... Global warming versus manufacturing + jobs. We control our own country and the right is fighting tooth and nail not to let the environment become more important than profits... they could give a shit about jobs because they will sing and dance with communists if they can get slave labor. Meanwhile in the US some speak of how we have reduced oil consumption when what has happened is that so much manufacturing has moved to China that they now are using more oil (raising our costs at the pump because of the competition) and they in turn use even more oil to ship the product back to us.

              You reinterated my point back to me... WE DO NOT CONTROL them. We can't even control the elements in our own country that feel profits and jobs are more important then the temperature and climate... So hence I feel it is dubious that we will succeed in dealing with GW. Heck we can't even communicate clearly between people who are on same side in the GW issue.

              But it is a whole mesh of issues that have different levels of importance to those concerned which is all of us on this planet. And to have the largest consumer country try to tell others what they should do is not gonna work when they see what we have.

              Why do you seem angry at me? I never said China was forced. It is a calculation on thier part just as many practices including militarism is a calculation on ours....I just think the issue is a lot more complex then just focusing on the one issue (which personally I consider paramount). That is why I am very concerned that no effective action will be taken in time.

              How can you tell when Rmoney is lying? His lips are moving. Fear is the Mind Killer

              by boophus on Sun Aug 05, 2012 at 08:16:13 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  Reflex. Too many times, I've seen that (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:

                line about transferring emissions to China used as a way to say "Bad Americans!" and avoid criticizing China.

                This would be the line that invoked the knee-jerk:

                why should we continue at the apex of consumerism and food while expecting the rest of the world to do with less
                I don't know that "we" -- whoever that may be -- necessarily expect the world to do with less.

                Although --

                I remember American church ladies at the New York Times and elsewhere clucking up storm when Tata introduced the extremely inexpensive Nano as a car for Indian families who had been relegated to scooters.  Lots of "Let's hope India is smart enough to tax and restrict, etc" talk, to which some prominent Indians relied, effectively, "Screw you. You got yours and you're sure as hell not going to tell us not to get ours"

                Completely reasonable response, I think.

                At any rate, a re-read finds me mostly agreeing with you, if not so angry at American consumers who are doing pretty much what Chinese consumers, Indian consumers, and consumers everywhere else do when they get some money in their pockets.

                LG: You know what? You got spunk. MR: Well, Yes... LG: I hate spunk!

                by dinotrac on Sun Aug 05, 2012 at 08:28:34 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

              •  As I said to dinotrac below, if we act (0+ / 0-)

                we can expect developing countries to follow.

                Perhaps more importantly, if we DON'T act, we cannot expect them to listen to our moralizing about what they should do that we won't.  Because that is not fair.

                Personally, I think the economy vs. environment thing is not only overplayed, but a big lie.  Germany has a massive program to refit its oldest and most energy inefficient homes.  Not only does this save people money, it creates skilled jobs that cannot be outsourced -- you need the insulating and the installations to be done on site.

                And then there's installation of solar panels, wind turbines, etc.  All that has to be done in place.

                The truth is, certain sectors will lose out under carbon limits, and certain sectors will boom.  The problem is, the losers -- the oil companies, the energy companies, to some extent the car companies -- are enormously influential and spend huge amounts of money lobbying and funding politicians.

                The American people could win under a Green Apollo program -- but these days, it's a challenge to do anything that benefits people before corporations.

                © cai Visit to join the fight against global warming.

                by cai on Mon Aug 06, 2012 at 01:38:40 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

        •  China's use is growing by leaps and bounds. (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          silence, cai

          Though lagging the US significantly, per-capita use has passed that of France and is closing in on Germany.

          Total Chinese emissions are nearly double those of the US and should triple American emissions within the next 5 or six years.

          LG: You know what? You got spunk. MR: Well, Yes... LG: I hate spunk!

          by dinotrac on Sun Aug 05, 2012 at 07:25:26 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

    •  It's so much harder than it used to be, with so (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Creosote, cai

      much of the new emission load coming from emerging economies -- countries with internal considerations that are not compaitble with failing to ramp up energy use.

      We should be frantically searching for ways to curb CO2 rampup that are comatible with growing economies and jobs.

      Wouldn't hurt to find ways to make air travel a little easier to live with, either.

      LG: You know what? You got spunk. MR: Well, Yes... LG: I hate spunk!

      by dinotrac on Sun Aug 05, 2012 at 07:16:39 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  In Field Notes From A Catastrophe, (0+ / 0-)

        David Hawkins of the NRDC asserts that if we just DO the renewables thing, the rest of the world will follow, as it did on, say, fuel efficiency in cars.

        Part of the dynamic is that when a technology is scaled up -- as when the U.S. populace or the U.S. government adopts it -- the price comes down, so it becomes feasible for other countries to do.  And not just feasible, but lucrative.

        © cai Visit to join the fight against global warming.

        by cai on Mon Aug 06, 2012 at 01:32:28 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  For parents: (4+ / 0-)

    Climate Parents is a new group calling for climate action.  I think they're right, that parents have been an untapped demographic in climate change activism, and they should be a major one.

    © cai Visit to join the fight against global warming.

    by cai on Sun Aug 05, 2012 at 12:40:01 PM PDT

  •  For me the crux of the matter is the need to (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    cai, Mary Mike, Blicero

    come to terms with the fact that we can no longer afford to produce and consume anything and everything that can be imagined which people can be convinced to buy.  That translates into people having to change their lifestyles.  That change is viewed as "giving up the good life".  We need to change this mindset.  

    A lifestyle that effectively tackles climate change can and should be packaged as a "better/improved way of life".  
    I believe it can be done.  

    If we really want to straighten out all this crap we need to really think about shit!

    by John Crapper on Sun Aug 05, 2012 at 01:04:34 PM PDT

  •  For BoiseBlue and others who are losing hope: (4+ / 0-)
    Hopelessness is a corporate asset.

    © cai Visit to join the fight against global warming.

    by cai on Sun Aug 05, 2012 at 01:07:01 PM PDT

  •  thanks for this review, cai (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    i always read Monbiot in the Guardian (god, I love the environmental coverage) ...

    Most recent, in compiling analysis of the failure of Rio:
    After Rio, we know. Governments have given up on the planet

    "The post-summit pledge was an admission of defeat against consumer capitalism. But we can still salvage the natural world"

    The long and short of the failure of the official talks to succeed in addressing climate change has a lot to do with the grip of international corporations who need to insure they can invent and market the technology to mitigate climate change and make as much money as they can in the process. Their blindness to scientific analysis and input remains so shocking, as does the fact that they are still holding out the fallacy that 2 degrees is the endgame!

    From this July's CDM Policy Panel (official results released Sept.

    In the words of the high-level panel chair, Valli Moosa, the recommendations “reflect a wealth of materials and inputs and address all the significant challenges faced by the CDM.” According to Mr. Moosa, “the panel believes that the CDM can play an important role as a cost-effective mitigation tool in the future. Our recommendations offer a unique opportunity to reform the way the CDM operates and improve its performance in the future."
    In formulating its recommendations, the high-level panel considered conclusions from an extensive programme of meetings with stakeholders and results from top-quality research commissioned by the panel in the areas of the impact, governance and future context of the CDM.
    “Our recommendations convey a sense of urgency that measures need to be taken not only to meet the target of limiting global warming to a maximum of two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels but also to ensure the international carbon markets can support that effort,” said the vice-chair of the panel, Joan MacNaughton.
    Just my 2 cents...
    •  2 degrees is not "safe", but we know (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      that 3 is not.

      My alarm has as much to do with nations' (including ours) refusal to set any binding limits, as where they've set the targets.  Targets can be adjusted (although it may be too late), but if the international agreements are all about "goals", they're next to useless.

      © cai Visit to join the fight against global warming.

      by cai on Mon Aug 06, 2012 at 01:42:44 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Thanks for the Rescue! (0+ / 0-)

    It came and went from the front page in the time I was away.  :)

    © cai Visit to join the fight against global warming.

    by cai on Mon Aug 06, 2012 at 01:10:50 PM PDT

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