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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Book review: Heat. Part one

Obligatory disclaimer...

I wasn’t too happy with my last book review. I don’t like writing one long review for such an in depth book. There were so many things I never even touched on. By the time I’d finished the book and started writing the review, I’d forgotten about many things I’d wanted to comment on. Of course I remembered them after I wrote the review. :-P Not much good, since I had to return the book the next day. I also didn’t have a chance to reference the review as I prefer to.

I’m going to try it a bit differently, this time. I’ll try posting a series of reviews as I read the book. How many parts it works out to be, we shall see.

On to the review. This part will be a run over of the book itself, as well as any previews and introductions.

Heat: How to Stop the Planet from Burning
(Canadian edition)
George Monbiot

First, a look at the author's bio. Monbiot is described as “the world’s most influential radical free thinker.” He writes columns for The Guardian, which I’ve read on occasion. His website is listed by Yahoo as the most popular columnist’s website on Earth, outside the US. He wrote some other books and has won many prizes, including “the UN Global 500 award for outstanding environmental achievement, presented to him by Nelson Mandela.” He’s also “a visiting professor at the School of the Built Environment, Oxford Brookes University.”

So… he’s a “radical free thinker,” writes a column, wrote other books, has a popular website, won some awards, and is a visiting professor. There are no formal credentials listed. He isn’t a scientist of any kind. In fact, he’s got about as many credentials as Al Gore. Or me, for that matter.

Now, I don’t hold too much to formal credentials. As a home schooling parent, I know full well that education happens everywhere, not just in schools. One doesn’t need to have formal schooling to become an expert on something – a prime example of that is author Jean M. Auel who, in researching her books in the Earth’s Children series, has become a recognized expert of the time period. No, what I find funny about Monbiot’s lack of formal credentials is that the very person who “challenged” me to read the book had condescendingly dismissed me for my lack of credentials.

The next thing I look for is references. Here, I was rather impressed. Unlike most of the other pro-climate change catastrophe books I’ve read and reviewed, Monbiot actually has extensive references; forty six pages of them, with the forward and each chapter having its own section. There’s also a section on “Organizations Campaigning to Reduce the Impact of Climate Change” with names, postal addresses, phone numbers, websites and, where applicable, email addresses.

Next, it’s to the book’s front pages. It’s copyrighted to 2006, so it’s quite recent. That should mean that its information is up to day, excepting, of course, the significant amount of new information that has emerged in even so short a time.

I had actually not paid any attention to the cover photograph; a red river that I thought might’ve been lava or something. I happened to notice, however, the credit for the photo, described as “Nickel Tailings No. 34, Sudbury Ontario, 1996” and took a closer look. Curious, I’ve since done some searches on nickel tailings. You can see the photo here. The reason the image caught my attention is that I’d only recently read this article, which blasts the Prius as being less environmentally friendly than the Hummer, mostly because the nickel for its batteries are from Sudbury. It should be noted, however, that neither site tells the full story. You can read more about them here, here, here, here and here. That last one is particularly interesting. (Did I mention I prefer to reference my reviews? ;-) )

Now, we move on to the “Foreward to the Canadian Edition.” Within the first two paragraphs, the author already manages to blast the US, Australia and Canada, giving the UK a pass because, “In Europe, climate change campaigners are – as we should be – heartily ashamed of our nations’ contributions to the destruction of the biosphere.” He then proceeds to give the numbers for CO2 emissions for various countries.

At this point, it’s already tempting to dismiss Monbiot completely. He clearly equates CO2 emissions with “the destruction of the biosphere.” I can think of a lot of things far more destructive – like certain fishing practices that involve scraping the ocean floor, or the actual polluting substances emitted from our cars – not to mention such naturally occurring disasters, such as massive earthquakes and volcanoes. The fact that they’re natural doesn’t make them any less destructive. I’ve recently learned that the 2004 earthquake was so massive, it not only affected all the oceans of the world, but caused the planet itself to wobble and start to spin faster. Did you know are days have been shortened by 2.68 microseconds after that?

It’s the third paragraph of the foreward that Monbiot changes things, though. Here, he starts talking directly to the Canadian reader – a most annoying artifice at the best of times. Here, the author is… well, judge for yourself.

“You think of yourselves as a liberal and enlightended people, and my experience seems to confirm that. But you could scarcely do more to destroy the biosphere if you tried.

“I admit that yours is both a big country and a cold one. Crossing Canada requires a great deal more fossil fuel than crossing Britain. … Nice and well –intentioned as you are, you do as much to drown Bangladesh or starve the people of the Horn of Africa as the most obdurate throw-backs in the shrinking state of Bushistan. My calculations, explained in Chapter 1, suggest that the sustainable limit for carbon dioxide emissions per capita is 1.2 tonnes. That’s one sixteenth of what you currently produce.”

By the time I finished reading this, I was laughing out loud (and my family was looking at me funny). What a pretentious git! So our CO2 emissions are drowning people in Bangladesh and starving people in Africa? Of course, he just had to throw in some American and Bush bashing. Can’t write a book about climate change without that! And how presumptuous for him to be able to calculate what my CO2 emissions are in the first place – the down side of speaking to your readers in the first person.

He then proceeds to roast PM Harper and (now former) environment minister, Rona Ambrose. He claims “Harper declared himself an irresolute wimp” for claiming it would be too hard for Canada to meet a 6% emissions reductions, which Monbiot’s own calculations “suggest that Canada should cut her carbon emissions by 94% between now and 2030.” He then proceed to suggest that our government’s “made-in-Canada” approach is… wait for it… “looks as if the plan will in fact be made in the USA.” Surprise, surprise. It’s the ‘old, Harper/Conservatives are in the pockets of the evil Bush’ routine. That one was getting old even when this book was published. Ah, but

“I don’t blame you, the citizens of Canada, for this. Not all of you, at any rate.”

How generous of him.

He then moves on to talk about the warming of the Arctic (which, it turns out, isn’t all that unusual after all – see here for some photos of land based changes, and here for info about past changes in the Arctic ice cap.), and while acknowledging some things, admonishes that it’s not good enough.

He finishes the foreward with a few more condescending remarks and slings at Harper while stating that “This book has an overtly political purpose.” Rest assured, however, Monbiot will “equip you with the political tools you need… to turn one of the most polluting nations on Earth into a place which commands the rest of the world’s respect.”

To which I had this overwhelming urge to say “F* you!”

Seeing how much I’ve written so far, I’m going to skip the Introduction and include it in my next part of this review.

Obviously, I’m already having a problem with this book. The author seems to have an over-inflated ego and an exaggerated sense of his own intelligence, for starters. I would hope he can back his claims up with hard evidence. I already disagree with his basic premise, however. He describes Canada as “one of the most polluting nations.” While we certainly have our problems, the only “pollutant” he talks about is CO2, which isn’t a pollutant at all. Like the US and other First World nations, Canada has significantly improved our environment. We have greatly improved the safety and quality of our water, reduced air pollution, as well as cleaning up ground pollution while continuing to find ways to prevent pollution in the first place.

Yes, we have problems, but they pale in comparison to real pollution in other countries, particularly developing nations. None of this counts, however. Only CO2 emissions do, apparently.

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