George Monbiot’s programme for tackling climate change

Posted on 21/10/06 | in ideas, society

Based on his talk at the Sheldonian in Oxford on 20th October 2006, here is a summary of George Monbiot’s arguments for achieving the necessary turnaround in otherwise disastrous climate change within our lifetimes, put here to spread the message and encourage debate.

1. Carbon rationing. Don’t use taxation, use rationing to give everyone a quota and make it fairer across rich and poor; in fact, it would help redistribute energy wealth, as the rich can buy the extra carbon credits they need from people who don’t use as much energy as they do or want to. (One person in the audience argued for caps at the source of energy production instead, but GM sensibly said that this wouldn’t give people a motive in their daily lives (a) to campaign for more energy efficient products in the marketplace (b) to reduce their own energy use in creative ways – personally, I think both routes might be needed.)
2. Efficient homes. Come on, you know this stuff: loft and cavity wall insulation, low-energy light bulbs, etc.
3. Energy transport. Use DC rather than AC to transfer power as its more efficient over long distances.
4. Look to yourselves. Yes, yes, China has a huge, growing and increasingly demanding population – but we in Western Europe and the US are still far and away the cause of the problems at the moment.

1. Offshore wind power on the continental shelf on a massive scale. Monbiot controversially (to environmentalists) dismisses micro-scale wind and solar power, on the basis that, well, it’s overall impact on the problem is going to be diddly squat, unless we have wind turbines on our homes that are dangerously massive. (Though he did concede to the greenies in the audience that of course there’s no harm in people doing it to some extent.)
2. Solar power in the Sahara – the east-to-west axis of the desert provides sun at some point all day long. (He was less clear on the issue about who gets this power – Africa? Or us? – except to suggest…)
3. A global electricity grid to distribute this stuff.
4. Use hydrogen for heat – domestic boilers can burn hydrogen rather than oil or gas. Much of the technology is there, and it is already transported across huge distances for some industries.

1. Drive electric cars. The technology is there, and the battery problem is easily oversome: he cleverly proposes that the existing network of filling stations becomes a network of battery-charging stations instead, where your battery is swapped out for a charged one, and on you go. Charge the batteries at night. (Nice – though he doesn’t explain how you could bootstrap such a system without wholesale, dramatic change in government policy…) Oh, biofuels are a disaster: to use them on a large scale takes crucial food-producing land away.
2. Coach networks. We have motorways already, so let’s use them intelligently. Move coach stations from town centres to motorway junctions, and have express services running up and down the Mways all the time; then use local networks to connect to the coach stations. (A statistic: the M25, at full capacity with current average car occupancy, and traffic flowing at 60mph – clearly impossible on the M25! – can accommodate 19,000 people; a coach system would manage 250,000.)
3. Stop flying. The Monbiot headline: we need to stop flying by 90%. He began his talk in awareness of ‘love miles’ – the long-distance journeys we feel morally obliged to take to visit friends and family. His argument is basically that we have to wake up to a ‘new morality’: where our right to travel like this is seen as inferior to our right to survive and not be destroyed by climate change. If we want to fly, we need to save up our carbon credits over a long time.

He’s a convincing speaker, though it’s hard to see how these suggestions can all be begun to be implemented within the 10-year timescale that he says is urgently upon us, given the intransigence of governments, and large corporations’ enthusiasm for clinging to their current profit streams. He throws it at us to motivate political change.

But can we? How, realistically? What do you think?

Leave a Reply