Heat: How to Stop the Planet Burning (Penguin, 2007) describes the growing evidence that we must reduce carbon emissions by 90% by 2030 if we are to prevent catastrophic climate change from killing millions through famine, flooding and other eco-disasters. Heat sets out a series of practical steps by which we could reach this demanding target. While Monbiot can successfully "fix" the housing, energy, retail and transport systems, after a valiant attempt he concludes that "long-distance travel, high speed and the curtailment of climate change are not compatible. If you fly, you destroy other people's lives" (p.188).
The book is a carefully researched, detailed look at the most arcane details of German housing standards, wind/wave/solar energy technology, supermarket design and a whole range of other subjects that are critical to demolish our carbon emissions. It is also an exhilarating and well-aimed kick in the balls for airport chiefs, energy industry lobbyists, Nigella Lawson, politicians, transport officials, hyperactive businessmen and everyone else who values their comfort and convenience above the lives of millions of citizens of the developing world. Monbiot's beautiful writing makes you alternately laugh, cry and wince:
The middle-class people I know still fly to the Canaries for their holidays. Some of them still have second homes in Croatia and Greece. One environmentalist flies from the UK to Thailand to have a pipe stuck up his bottom (the proper term, I am told, is 'colonic irrigation'). They drive Volvos or sporty convertibles. They use a gas to heat their homes (even in the summer) and have radiators in their conservatories. Many of them haven't even bothered to replace their incandescent lightbulbs.
Yes, it is true that they recycle their bottles and buy handmade candles, organic meat and locally produced vegetables. This permits them to feel that they are on the side of the angels, without being obliged to make any significant change to the way they live. But as soon as they are asked to make a decision which intrudes on the quality or quantity of their lives, their concern about the state of the planet mysteriously evapourates. If the biosphere is wrecked, it will be done by nice, well-meaning, cosmopolitan people who accept the case for cutting emissions, but who won't change by one iota the way they live.
While I have recently been taking the train on trips to western Europe, this book is making me think very seriously indeed about travelling further afield in future. My cycling, recycling, living in a well-insulated flat and being vegetarian are all totally overwhelmed by the carbon emissions of just one or two intercontinental flights each year.
Monbiot deserves the highest praise for the radical yet practical course he sets out in both this book and his weekly Guardian columns. The quality of the research, writing and most importantly message of Heat deserves the widest possible audience.