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Friday, January 18, 2008

Book review: Heat Part two

Obligatory disclaimer...

Part One

This is going to be the last review for a while. I have to return the book today, as it’s already overdue. That’s what I get for hanging on to it, thinking I’d finish the other books I was reading faster than I did! *L*

Here, I’ll be reviewing the introduction and first few chapters.

In the Introduction: The Failure of Good Intentions, Monbiot explains what prompted him to write this book. Specifically, it was an answer to a question posed to him at a lecture, “When you get your 80 per cent cut, what will this country look like?” He got someone by the name of Mayer Hillman to answer, and his reply was “A very poop third-world country.” A statement (and person) the author considers outrageous. The author continues with comparing a fictional book with real-world situations (something I’ve noticed he does a fair amount, even in his columns), and a brief overview of human history. He does acknowledge the benefits fossil fuels have provided us humans. I’ve noticed he can’t seem to say anything positive without turning it into an even greater negative.

“Our freedoms, our comforts, our prosperity are all the products of fossil carbon, whose combustion crease the gas carbon dioxide, which is primarily responsible for global warming. Ours are the most fortunate generations that have ever lived. Ours might also be the most fortunate generation that ever will. We inhabit the brief historical interlude between ecological constraint and ecological catastrophe.”

While I agree with the author that we are the most fortunate generations that ever lived – at least those of us also fortunate enough to live in first world nations – I disagree that CO2 is “primarily responsible” for global warming. I had been willing to believe that before I started doing my own research, but have since learned that the great the accumulation of CO2, the less it effects global temperatures. There are other factors that play a much bigger role, few of which we have any control over. I won’t go into those here, yet.

The author goes on to describe why he now feels we need a 90% cut, rather than 80%. He tells of being contacted by someone named Colin Forrest (I’ve tried to figure out who this person is, but the link on Monbiot’s site now leads to a sponsors page at, and other searches find a lot of people by that name). Forrest apparently convinced Monbiot that a 2C increase is a “point of no return,” where major ecosystems begin to collapse, and the only way to stop it is by reducing human greenhouse gas emissions by 90%. I find this curious, as the earth has certainly been warmer than now in the past, and a 2C increase per century is well within the norm (we’ve only had a .5C to .7C increase, depending on what source you look at). While I’ve heard the supposition that 2C is some sort of trigger point, I remain unconvinced. It hasn’t been in the past, why would it be now?

Further in his introduction, the other describes his own process in finding out how we can all reduce our CO2 by 90% while maintaining our current comfort levels. He’s just as quick to blast hypocritical environmentalists as anyone else, too. The author clearly has little faith in the ordinary person. He writes as much in his columns, such as here.

“Ridley believes that modern humans are destined to behave well if left to their own devices; I believe that they are likely to behave badly.”

His solution?

“… only regulations… can quell the destruction wrought by the god we serve, the god of our own appetites. Manmade global warming cannot be restrained unless we persuade the government to force us to change the way we live.”

I can’t understand how someone who has little faith in individuals can have any faith in government! Governments are, after all, made up of individuals. Unlike you and me, people in government have a level of power and authority we don’t – and big government leads to big abuses of that power. The idea that was must be forced by government to change our lifestyles goes against my core beliefs of freedom and democracy. What Monbiot is promoting is nothing more than a dressed up version of Communism, which we already know not only doesn’t work, but has led to devastating environmental consequences.

The author makes a few odd comments that had me scratching my head. Here’s an example.

“One of the discoveries I have made in writing this book is that my instincts are almost always wrong.” (that’s a refreshing admission) “Like many environmentalists I have succumbed, for example, to what could be described as the aesthetic fallacy: I have made the mistake of confusing what is aesthetically pleasing with what is environmentally sound.” (??? He can speak for himself, but for other environmentalists? ) “For instance, I have always assumed that candles are more environmentally friendly than electrical lighting, for no better reason than that I like them and that they produce less light.” (at least he’s honest, but I can’t understand how anyone can conclude that burning candles is in any way environmentally friendly – especially for someone who sees fossil fuels as the enemy, since paraffin wax is a petroleum product. That he assumes his own misconceptions can represent “many environmentalists” is bizarre to me.)

The author goes on to ask a very valid question when it comes to research – deciding who to trust. That is something we each need to decide. For himself, Monbiot writes “One rule I have devised for myself is to trust no one who has something to sell.”

By that very broad criteria, I shouldn’t believe a thing Monbiot says in this book! He is, after all, trying to sell me not only the book itself, but the ideas and concepts within it. He’s trying to sell me on his great global warming solution. I’m not sure what Monbiot’s personal definition of “something to sell” is, but the reality is everyone is trying to sell something, even if it’s just our points of view. This is especially true when it comes to AGW and catastrophic climate change.

The author then lists what sources he felt were trustworthy. Some of the names on the list, I am unfamiliar with. Some I agree with. Others, I completely disagree. Of these, Monbiot claims “The most eminent of these… is the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Scientists (IPCC)…” Of all the organizations that have something to sell, none has as great a stake as the IPCC! AGW and catastrophic climate change is their sole reason for existence. If global warming and climate change proves to be natural and cyclical, or that humans haven’t been as responsible for is as we’re lead to believe, the members of the IPCC panel stand to loose their jobs. As for trustworthiness, they are a UN organization, and the UN may very well be the most corrupt organization in the world today. While a few governments may be more corrupt, they are at least limited in influence. The UN’s damage is global.

Monbiot then concludes his introduction by stating, “I have one purpose in writing this book: to persuade you that climate change is wroth fighting. I hope I have been able to demonstrate that it is not… too late. I hope to prompt you not to lament our governments’ failure… but to force them to reverse their policies by joining what must become the world’s most powerful political movement.

Failing all that, I have one last hope: that I might make people so depressed about the state of the planet that they stay in bed all day, thereby reducing their consumption of fossil fuels.”


Considering I disagree with the author’s basic assumptions, it’s going to take an awful lot of convincing for him to persuade me otherwise. We shall see.

Judging from the first chapter, A Faustian Pact, I don’t see that happening anytime soon. Monbiot begins his book by describing the story of Dr. Faust, a man who sold his soul to the devil. After quoting and describing Marlowe’s play, The tragical History of Doctor Faustus,” Monbiot writes,

“If you did not know any better, you could mistake this story for a metaphor of climate change.

Faust is humankind, restless, curious, unsated. Mephistopheles, who appears in the original English text as ‘a fiery man’, is fossil fuel. Faust’s miraculous abilities are the activities fossil fuel permits. Twenty-four years is the period – about half the true span – in which they have enabled us to live in all voluptuousness. And the flames of hell – well, I think you’ve probably worked that out for yourself.

… The Tragical history of Dr. Faustus is not an allegory of climate change. But the intention of the poet does not affect the power of the metaphor. Our use of fossil fuels is a Faustian pact.”

This has got to be the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever read in the AGW debate. I’ve got no problem with literary metaphors, if they actually make sense, but here more than anywhere, Monbiot displays the contempt he holds for humans. I find it a stretch, to say the least, to equate fossil fuels with the devil, and our use of them as some sort of satanic contract! Monbiot never strays far from the Faustian metaphor, either. Every chapter even begins with quotes from the play.

The author then writes, “To doubt, today, that manmade climate change is happening, you must abandon science and revert to some other means of understanding the world” alchemy perhaps, or magic.”

How presumptuous! He goes on to write the usual claims about Antarctic ice core data showing that CO2 levels are higher now than 650,000 years, concluding that the *only* way CO2 levels could have accumulated so quickly is due to humans burning fossil fuels, and that it has caused the average global temperature to increase by .6C. If you happen to disagree with his conclusions, he cuts that off at the quick and writes:

“If you reject this explanation for planetary warming, you should ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Does the atmosphere contain carbon dioxide”
  2. Does atmospheric carbon dioxide raise the average global temperature
  3. Will this influence be enhanced by the addition of more carbon dioxide?
  4. Have human activities led to a net emission of carbon dioxide?

If you are able to answer ‘no’ to any one of them, you should put yourself forward for a Nobel Prize. You will have turned science on its head.”

Now there’s an interesting tactic. Break down a complex system into something that’s hyper-simplistic, then mock anyone who dares disagree. This is how I would answer his questions.

  1. Yes (duh!)
  2. First yes, then no – and only CO2 in the upper atmosphere, not ground level CO2
  3. Only up to a certain point.
  4. Yes, but for such a tiny amount, you could remove the percentage of CO2 humans produce completely, and the effect would be so small, we – and the Earth – wouldn’t even notice.

The author continues by throwing out more information, some of which has since proven to be wrong or not attributable to global warming. One of them being the shrinking of the Arctic Ice Cap. That has already been attributed to other factors, and in recent months, the Arctic Ice Cap has not only recovered what it lost in 2007, but is almost back at 2004 levels.

Throughout the chapter, Monbiot continues with a long list of disasters that will befall us with increased global temperatures. There is, of course, cause to debate whether these predictions will prove true. That increased temperatures of the past *hasn’t* lead to these disasters (look up the Medieval Warm Period, the Roman Optimum and other periods where increased temperatures lead to vast improvements for both humans and the rest of the world). I’ll skip over most of this to get to where Monbiot goes into the past to prove that increased warming will, indeed, be disastrous. He describes the Permian period of 251 million years ago, where the Earth went from “one of the most biologically diverse periods,” to where nearly everything stops dead. He describes all the things that disappeared, and how these coincided with a series of volcanic eruptions. “The volcanoes produced great quantities of two gases: sulphur dioxide and carbon dioxide.”

The sulphur dioxide would have led to acid rain, but it quickly dismissed as a problem, as it wouldn’t have lasted long in the atmosphere. The CO2, on the other hand, is the ultimate cause of destruction, increasing temperatures by 6C and 8C (he doesn’t mention how quickly the temperatures are believed to have risen). He continues with another long list of destruction. (You might find this an interesting read. Funny how he doesn’t mention it.)

Here, we discover who Monbiot’s correspondent, Colin Forrest is. Vaguely. He is “… not a professional climate scientist but appears to have done his homework.” Uhm. Okay.

Then Monbiot makes this claim. A 90 per cent cut should make the sort of warming that took place at the end of the Permian impossible.”

Say what??? This sort of warming has happened much more recently, during the Younger Dryas. This is just after the last ice age, ending a mere 12,000 or so years ago. This period saw remarkable changes in temperature taking place in very short periods of time. The idea that, by tweaking how much CO2 we emit, we can actually prevent such an event is laughable. These extreme climate shifts happen with or without us, and there’s no sign that the current warming we have been experiencing in the past century can in any way duplicate these climactic events.

So far, there is nothing in this book that changes my views of the subject. Monbiot hasn’t “sold” me on his product, yet.

Oops... I'd better split this review again. Stay tuned for part three.

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