In recent months, all the major players in Canadian electoral politics have become â€œenvironmentalists.â€ Stephane Dion, the new Liberal leader, has a dog named
This treatment of climate change as just a new factor in the electoral horse race, of course, misses the real point entirely. What needs to be discussed are the more fundamental issues, including: Who is responsible for our current predicament and the governmentâ€™s shameful inaction? What economic and political interests have obstructed meaningful measures to curb emissions? What technological and legislative solutions are needed? And, finally, what social forces can be mobilized to confront this critical challenge to humanity?
A number of books have hit the shelves over the past year, helping to begin to take up these questions. And of course Al Goreâ€™s film An Inconvenient Truth has brought the ABCs of global warming to a wider public than ever before.
But perhaps the most important of the recent titles on this subject is George Monbiotâ€™s Heat: How to Stop the Planet from Burning (Random House, 2006). Monbiot, a widely read columnist with the UK Guardian, delivers a clear and stark message: The industrialized world must cut their greenhouse gas emissions by 90% by the year 2030; if this sort of drastic reduction is not made, world temperatures will rise to a point where â€œrunaway climate changeâ€ will be beyond our ability to curtail, and unspeakable disintegration of human civilization inevitable.
In a special preface to the Canadian edition, Monbiot makes clear that with regards to climate change, this countryâ€™s government is among the worst rogue regimes in the world. This damning indictment applies to the former Liberal government as well, which saw emissions rise over its decade-plus in power. (Dionâ€™s dog, incidentally, was acquired within the past year, and wasnâ€™t around when his master was Minister of the Environment). A sample of Monbiotâ€™s unsparing assessment on this front suffices to illustrate the authorâ€™s take on
“Thanks to the efforts of Mr. Harper and your environment minister,
Monbiotâ€™s Heat dissects the â€œdenial industryâ€ that has obstructed action on global warming for at least two decades. Following the money, it is revealed that the oil and gas industry bankrolled a network of think tanks and mercenary scientists to sow â€œuncertaintyâ€ and delay real action. Exxon-Mobil is exposed, unsurprisingly, as a prime backer of this network.
The remainder of Heat is a hardheaded sector-by-sector analysis of how a developed economy could be transformed to drastically reduce carbon emissions, while maintaining as high as possible a standard of living. Monbiot has more than done his homework, and his examination of all the pertinent technological questions is instructive, not to mention totally unsentimental, weighing the pros and cons of all energy alternatives, including nuclear power (which he ranks second to last, to coal from open-cast mines, as a potential energy source).
There is one consistent theme running throughout Heat that annoys. The author repeatedly directs his pitch in moral terms to an assumed comfortable middle class audience. This tends to imply an equality of responsibility for climate change to all readers, erasing enormous divisions of power, wealth and differences in degree of control over the political and economic system. In a nutshell, issues of class are obscured by this approach. So, for instance, Monbiot casts the social movement needed to confront climate change as one that must fight for â€œausterity.â€
Surely it is more useful and accurate to describe the goal as social and environmental justice. Achieving this will, it is true, demand measures to enforce austerity for the rich, and especially for the super-rich elites of the western world. These, of course, are the elites and corporate interests that have supported right-wing governments throughout the world, and that have imposed austerity on the poor and working classes, while preventing substantive efforts to reduce emissions. Monbiot spells out the international inequity at the heart of the global warming issue â€“ the primary victims will be those in the poor countries who have contributed the least to the problem â€“ but comes up short in terms of describing the class divisions, and the inherent challenge to them that real efforts to minimize climate change necessitates, within the industrialized world itself.
To take on climate change, we will have to name those who are most responsible. Following from this, we also need to see this issue as inextricable from global capitalism; the most prescient commentators have for some time placed ecology at the centre of the still preliminary international discussion of building â€œ21st century socialism.â€
To meet â€œMonbiotâ€™s challenge,â€ reducing emissions by 90% by 2030, will require something so far beyond the mass marketing and cynical maneuvering that passes for political discussion in
In order to really change the political landscape of