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Friday, January 18, 2008

Book Review: Heat Part three


Part One
Part Two

I have to quickly run through this, as I’m running out of time to return the book. :-P

Here, we move on to chapter two, The Denial Industry. This is where, in my opinion, Monbiot looses it completely! The chapter is basically all about some vast conspiracy theory, not only by Big Oil, but Big Tobacco, too. As far as the author seems to be concerned, Big Oil (namely Exxon) and Big Tobacco (namely Philip Morris) have been diligently and deliberately buying up scientists (and the US government) and doing everything they can to convince you and me that global warming and climate change aren’t real. No one escapes the author’s broad stroke. If anyone disagrees with AGW or climactic climate change, they are in the pockets of either Exxon or Philip Morris. He tries to back these claims up with numbers, but considering what seems to be his primary source, exxonsecrets.og, for those, they can hardly be acceptable at face value. It took me all of a few minutes browsing to recognize it for a conspiracy site it is. There are people and organizations listed as being in the pay of Exxon that haven’t got anything to do with the company at all, or only the vaguest connection. Considering it’s a Greenpeace site, with Greenpeace well known for being fast and loose with the truth, this is hardly surprising.

The author spends particular time attacking Steve Milloy of Milloy, by the way, holds a B.A. in Natural Sciences from the Johns Hopkins University, a Master of Health Sciences in Biostatistics from the Johns Hopkins University School of Hygiene and Public Health, a Juris Doctorate from the University of Baltimore, and a Master of Laws from the Georgetown University Law Center. He is also, according to Monbiot, firmly in the pocket of tobacco company, Philip Morris. Junkscience is, the author writes, funded by TASSC (The Advancement for Sound Science Coalition), which is funded by Philip Morris. He does quote Philip Morris’ statement that “We are not in a position to suggest that TASSC examine any issue; it’s an independent organization and will no doubt proceed as best they determine.” Cleary, Monbiot doesn’t believe that. It because really obvious that Monbiot views Milloy as some sort of nemesis, and is dismayed by the numbers of people who send him links to Milloy’s articles that don’t agree with Monbiot’s views. Clearly, no one should believe a word Milloy says, and the only reason he states for that is because of TASSC receiving funding from Philip Morris.

I don’t bother questioning the numbers Monbiot claims that (according to sources like exxonsecrets) are being paid to the “skeptics” and “deniers.” Let’s just go on the assumption that they are right (though there is serious doubt about that). If, as he asserts, that funding by oil companies and other industries to an organization means they control the views of people in those organizations, then we shouldn’t believe pretty much any environmental organizations at all. In the 10 years Exxon supposedly gave $2 million in funding to CEI, Greenpeace alone received $2 BILLION in funding from oil companies. That doesn’t count the funding they receive from other industries. The global warming industry (and it *is* an industry, now), has received about $50 billion in funding in total, while the “deniers” have been funded at about $19 million. See here, here and here.

Personally, I find it very convenient that someone can say all deniers and skeptics are paid by Big Oil, therefore you can’t believe anything they say, because if they weren’t paid by Big Oil, they wouldn’t be deniers of skeptics, while we are to assume that all the AGW promoters are completely honest and uninfluenced by the sources of *their* funding.

In chapter 3, A Ration of Freedom, Monbiot finally reveals his great solution. Assign everyone carbon rations. (Oh, how I wish I had more time to go into this!) Basically, Monbiot proposes that each and each and every human would be assigned a carbon ration, based on a mathematical calculation of how much CO2 humans should be allowed to emit and dividing that by the number of people, to achieve his goal of 90% CO2 reduction by 2030 (oh, and he also uses carbon and CO2 interchangeably, even though they are completely different things). He’s come up with .8 tonnes of carbon allowed per person. We would get 40% of that. The remaining 60% would go into each country’s “carbon budget” to be distributed as deemed necessary. He then writes

“…in creating a carbon rationing system, you are, in effect, creating a new currency. The entitlement to pollute will be accounted, saved, spent and exchanged much as money is today. As far as I can discover, no one has yet given it a name, except the rather dull “carbon unit.” So for want of a better term, I will call the new currency icecaps, in the hope that the name will remind people what the system if for: it enables us to cap our carbon emissions to keep the planet cool”

I can’t imagine a sillier concept. We *are* carbon. We live on a carbon based planet. Not only do I find it silly to ration the very stuff from which we are made (and using the solid element, carbon, interchangeably with the gas, CO2), but to implement such a concept would be disastrous. Just imagine the bureaucracy such a system would require! Then imagine what would be required to force everyone to follow it. And it would be forcing – Monbiot not only acknowledges that, but believes it to be the only right thing to so. He also, bizarrely, believes that imposing such a regulatory system would actually give us greater, not lesser, freedom. Clearly, he has little understanding of either economics or human nature. Assuming that rationing human CO2 emissions will actually affect global climate (which is questionable all on its own), to do so requires a single world body to have a level of dictatorial control over all other countries that goes against the most basic tenets of democracy and individual freedom. That Monbiot doesn’t seem to believe individual freedom is a good thing is also obvious.

He doesn’t take full credit for the concept. He attributes it to “a man called Aubrey Meyer. He is one of those extraordinary people whose lack of relevant qualifications appears to work in his favour: he is a concert viola player. Meyer was able to leap over the more constrained proposals of the professionals and produce an idea that was simple, based on science and fair.”

Good God. If anyone on the “skeptic” side of things made a statement like that, they’d be completely rejected. We, however, are supposed to go along with it because in this case, the point of view matches Monbiot’s own.

Monbiot then goes on to paint a glowing picture of all the wonderful things his “icecaps” will give us. We might all have to feel the pain, but his system will automatically create all sorts of opportunities, and all the worlds’ problems will be solved. The poor will no longer be poor, but the rich won’t necessarily be less rich. We’ve got pollution, poverty, hunger and world peace, all solved by Monbiot’s brilliant mind. Of course, this is a mind that things CO2 is a pollutant, and the only one he actually mentions.

He then discusses Bjorn Lomborg, whom he describes as a statistician. Keep in mind that Lomborg also believes in AGW, and the climate change is a danger we need to deal with. Where they differ is in the cost. Lomborg believes that it would be more cost effective to spend the trillions of dollars he estimates it would cost to fight global warming (Monbiot believes the cost would be much lower) in areas that we can actually make more of a difference. You can see Lomborg explain his views here. Monbiot then writes:

“I could seek to counter Lomborg’s case… by arguing that he and the economists upon whose figures he relies are wrong: that the economic costs of letting climate change happen greatly outweigh the economic costs of tackling it. But I will not do so for this reason: it is an amoral means of comparison.”

He then, surprise surprise, brings up Hurricane Katrina as an example.

“We can determine, for example, that the financial costs of Hurricane Katrina, which may have been exacerbated by climate change, (at least he says “may have” – though it’s already been shown that global warming can NOT be in any way associated with Hurricane Katrina) amount to some $75 billion, and we can use that number to help derive a price for carbon pollution. But does it capture the suffering of the people whose homes were destroyed? Does it capture the partial destruction, in New Orleans, of one of the quirkiests and most creative communities on earth? Does it, most importantly, capture the value of the lives of those who drowned?

In other words, is it possible to place an economic price on human life? Or on an ecosystem, or on the climate? Could such costs, when rolled out around the world, really be deemed to amount to $4,820 billion, give or take the odd dollar? If you believe the answer is yes, then I charge that you have spent too much time with your calculator and not enough with human beings.”

If you’ve visited the link I posted above and watched Lomborg speak, you can see that this is a complete misrepresentation of what Lomborg is all about. If anything, it is Lomborg who most clearly puts caring for humans above all else – fighting climate change is still on his list, just a lot lower.

I could go on, but I don’t have the time. Instead, I will jump to chapter 4, Our Leaky Homes.

In here, I find a lot to agree with Monbiot, even if I disagree with his basic premise. I completely agree that we need to improve the efficiency of our homes. His discussions of various innovations are interesting, and I look forward to learning more about them. I don’t have the time to discuss his paradoxes and other claims, however, so I’ll leave that for now.

This is where he looses me in this chapter. Monbiot begins to describe how he and his wife discovered that their own home, which they bought for environmental purposes (close to work an amenities, and where they can grow “zero-carbon vegetables” – I wonder what planet he got those from?) turned out to be an environmental disaster. The previous owner, a property developer, had bought it from the original owner as a ruin and completely renovated it. “He must have spent about ₤60,000 restoring it. Had he spent an extra ₤1,000, he would have cut my gas bills in half.” Monbiot goes on to describe the problems with their how, determining that it would cost them about ₤20,000 to fix, and they’d have to move out into a rental home while the work was being done.

So who’s fault is it that Monbiot’s house is so inefficient? Why the state, of course! It seems that renovations are not held to the same standards as new homes, therefore the developed wasn’t forced to make the home as efficient as possible, therefore Monbiot now has high gas bills. Having lived in an incredibly inefficient home myself, I can completely understand the pain of that, but never in my wildest dreams did it occur to me that it was the state’s responsibility to give me an energy efficient home!

At this point, I’m going to have to close off. To conclude, I have two major problems with this book. One is Monbiot’s desire for regulation, whether for his icecaps, the housing industry, or any other aspect that might in some way effect our CO2 output. Obviously, I disagree with his basic premise of CO2 driving climate change, but I’d be able to live with that if his proposals would still make a positive difference to the world. The other problem I have is with Monbiot himself. Perhaps it’s just his writing style, but the entire book is all “I, I, I, me, me, me, my, my, my.” That works in a column or blog, which are all about personal opinions in the first place, but this isn’t just a giant version of one of his columns. Here, he comes across as having an ego bigger than the globe he alone can save, with is brilliant intellect and moral superiority. Aside from making my eyes go buggy from rolling them so often, it instead has the effect of showing him to be far less intelligent than he seems to believe himself to be.

Hopefully, I’m wrong, but so far, I have no reason to believe otherwise.


  1. Personally, I think those 'IceCaps' may be a grand idea.
    The revolutionary backlash would be refreshing.

  2. *L*

    The problem with revolutions is that the wrong people get hurt the most. :-P


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