#32 – Heat

July 23, 2007

declare this an emergency, come on and spread a sense of urgency and pull us through; this is the end of the worldIn his terrifying book on climate change, Heat: How To Stop the Planet From Burning, George Monbiot suggests we have less time to save the planet from global warning than is generally thought.  Once average temperatures rise to a certain degree, apparently, certain environments such as rainforests which previously retained carbon dioxide will be unable to sustain themselves and will instead begin emitting carbon into the atmosphere, creating a snowball effect the world will not be able to recover from.  In order to avoid this, Monbiot argues that by the year 2030, there must be a 90 percent drop in worldwide carbon emissions.  Meanwhile, Stephen Harper has stated that Canada’s Kyoto target of a 6 percent drop in emissions is not possible.  The outlook is grim, but Monbiot claims to have two goals in writing Heat.  The first is to convince the reader that, while it may be extremely difficult to do so, it is possible to drop emissions by the required degree and save the planet.  Failing that, his stated secondary goal is to “make people so depressed about the state of the planet that they stay in bed all day, thereby reducing their consumption of fossil fuels.”  Well, I am semi-pleased to announce that he succeeded on both counts.

After laying out the chilling state of affairs, Monbiot proceeds to go through various types of carbon dioxide sources step by step, and explain how they can be reduced or improved.  He debunks a few global warming placebos like biofuels and mini wind turbines, and makes some proposals which could actually reduce emissions: carbon rationing, renewable energy sources, building more efficient houses, improving public transit and drastically reducing air travel, among numerous others.  This is the part where he convinces me that a 90 percent drop is possible.  However, the depressing, stay-in-bed part comes next: none of these individual measures will be effective enough on its own for a decrease of this magnitude.  In order to meet the 2030 deadline, we will have to adopt all of the measures almost immediately, and the world’s government will had to commit to them strictly, equally, and universally.  I’m not optimistic about the chances of success.

Now, I’m no sociologist, but I’ve noticed that people prefer being comfortable to being uncomfortable.  The anti-climate change movement has undeniably been picking up support over the past few years, but I don’t think we’re at a point yet where a massive grassroots movement demanding the government take away our SUVs and limiting the amount of energy we’re allowed to burn in a year is going to spring up of its own accord.  By the time situation is dire enough that the majority of the populace is willing to do what needs to be done, I’m concerned that it will already be too late.  Monbiot even believes that there’s a 30 percent chance it already is too late, but he suggests possible solutions because he claims to be an “optimist”.  He’s got to be the grimmest goddamn optimist I’ve ever seen.

So, do I think humanity is doomed?  Well, I’m starting too, yeah.  Are you going to vote for the candidate who promises to ground all aircraft and raise taxes to fund ultra-efficient passivhauses?  If you are, is it even going to matter if they don’t in Texas?  Or China?  Considering the gradual Idiocratization of society, public restrictions of this scale based on science such as this seem destined for failure.  Just look at the current conservative arguments denying the existence or impact of manmade global warming.  If Monbiot’s numbers of 90 percent by 2030 are correct, by the time we mobilize it’ll be far too late.  In Heat’s introduction, Monbiot compares humanity and carbon emissions to the story of Faust, and begins every new topic with a chillingly prescient quote from the play.  It’s a hugely compelling analogy, and effectively used.  However, unlike Goethe’s Faust who was saved from damnation by some deus ex machina, it appears to me that we’re on the path to Marlowe’s Faust – dragged screaming into hell after 24 years of debauchery.

Jesus Christ, what a downer.  I’ve got The Assault on Reason by Al Gore sitting on my desk, but I’ve got to take a break for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – after The Road and Heat, I can’t take too much more existential hopelessness right now.

(Incidentally: This feels a bit like fiddling while Rome burns, but if you’ve noticed, I’ve been using song lyrics as the alt text on the pictures of book covers in these posts; songs which the books remind me of or that are somehow related.  I mention it because the song that Heat: How To Stop the Planet From Burning made me think of, Apocalypse Please by Muse, is so appropriate that I’m sure it must have been written about this climate change.  Also, it’s a great song.  If I’ve figured out how do to this properly, take a listen below, courtesy of Under The Rotunda.)

Muse – Apocalypse Please (from Absolution)


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