HEAT: How to Stop the Planet From Burning

by George Monbiot, Doubleday Canada, Toronto, 2006, ISBN-10: 0-385-66221-1, 277 pages.

By Bre Walt (reviewer)

George Monbiot is one of the world's most influential radical thinkers. His columns for the Guardian are re-published all over the world and Google lists his personal website as the most popular columnist's site on earth.

In Heat: How to Stop the Planet from Burning, Monbiot shows great concern for the effect that global warming will soon have on the earth's species, if action is not taken immediately. He calls for a 90 percent worldwide reduction in carbon dioxide emissions by 2030, using the United Kingdom as the basis for his thought experiment to show how this can be achieved.

Monbiot starts by criticizing the Kyoto Protocol, the only existing international agreement that has so far been struck on the issue of climate change. This agreement stipulates that its signatories cut emissions by only 5.2 percent by the year 2012, which as Monbiot points out, is completely inadequate for addressing the problem of climate change. In order to cut emissions by the level he proposes, he suggests a worldwide rationing system, by which every country would be forced to cut their emissions by 90 percent by 2030. According to Monbiot's model, everyone need be allowed to emit the same amount of carbon per year, which in order to meet his target, would have to be at a rate of no more than 0.33 tonnes per year within the United Kingdom.

The average global temperature has risen only 0.6 degrees, yet sea ice in the Arctic has shrunk to the smallest size ever recorded. The global sea level has been rising by about 2 millimeters per year and almost all of the world's glaciers are now retreating. The World Health Organization estimates that 150,000 people per year are now dying as a result of climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates that global temperatures will rise anywhere from 1.6 to 5.8 degrees this century.

In 2004, researchers found that if temperatures rise to even the middle of the expected range, between 15 and 37 percent of the species on this planet are "committed to extinction" by 2050. With only 2 degrees of warming, all the sea ice in the Arctic could melt in the summer, which would mean the end of the polar bears, walruses and much of the rest of the ecosystem. At 1.5 degrees or even less, an extra 400 million people are exposed to water stress and another 5 million to hunger.

Monbiot, similar to most climate change scientists, suggests that the poorer countries will be hit the hardest and quickest by effects of global warming. This is despite the fact that these countries emit the least amount of carbon emissions. The top emitters are Luxembourg, the United Kingdom and the United States. These countries have the money and resources to protect their inhabitants for a longer period of time, yet they emit the most carbon on a per capita basis. Bangladesh for example, emits only 0.24 tonnes per capita of carbon (compared to the highest which is Luxembourg at 24.3), yet if sea levels rise by 1 meter, 21% of the country could be flooded. Monbiot suggests that, though rich nations are not intentionally killing the poor, there needs to be an active effort to reduce emissions.

By examining electricity use, renewable energies such as wind and solar power, the emissions caused by aviation and land transport, as well as the retail industry, Monbiot shows that his goals are possible. His target means a far different lifestyle than what many nations have become accustomed to. In his quest for efficient energy efficiency, Monbiot examines two new technologies. Smart meters, as a result of new legislation from the provincial government, to be installed in every Ontario home by the end of 2010, at a cost of 250 Canadian dollars each, measure the electricity used by an entire household and reduce consumption by about 12 percent. Smart Meters do this by encouraging people to use higher amounts of electricity during non-peak times. High voltage direct current cables will make the implementation of wind power more feasible in that they allow for electricity to be drawn from a far greater area than before. In comparison to AC (alternating current) lines, they have already been shown to make economic sense over as little as 60 kilometers. Already in the Democratic Republic of the Congo there is a line that travels over 1,700 kilometers.

Monbiot's book is well written, easy to comprehend, and his suggestions are realistic. This issue is of extreme importance, and more need to truly understand the complexity of it. I suggest the book for anyone interested in learning more, and perhaps trying to do something about, global warming. It is not too late, but Monbiot paints a picture of the extreme urgency of the situation.

Reviewed by Bre Walt, a member of the Peace Magazine editorial group.

Peace Magazine Apr-Jun 2007

Peace Magazine Apr-Jun 2007, page 27. Some rights reserved.

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