Two years ago George Monbiot published Heat, a ground-breaking book which armed a generation of activists with the technical and scientific know how to fight climate change. Jonathan Neale’s new book starts in a similar vein, by explaining the science of climate change and by showing that the technology already exists to prevent it (or at least to prevent catastrophic abrupt climate change. Climate change as such is already with us, and hitting the world’s poor first and hardest.)
But whereas Monbiot concluded that the battle against climate change is ‘a campaign against ourselves’, Neale takes the opposite tack. Ordinary people should not be prevailed upon to make sacrifices, an approach which tries to tackle the problem ‘at the wrong end of the pipe.’ Instead we must build a global mass movement to force through the changes that are needed, particularly in energy production, transport, housing and industry. And whereas Monbiot tried to develop a utopian scheme of tradable individual carbon rations, Neale explains why such market mechanisms (and others such as green taxation and carbon trading) are incapable of solving the problem.
To fight climate change effectively will necessitate rational planning and extensive government intervention. However, the rich and powerful will fight tooth and nail to prevent this happening, since they will perceive any retreat from neoliberalism, which has brought pain, hardship and fear to so many people, as a threat to their wealth and power.
Neale suggests demands that are eminently achievable and realistic, yet sufficiently inspiring to motivate people to act. These include 5 million solar roofs in 5 years; a 20 fold increase in wind power in 5 years (Germany already has ten times the wind power of Britain); 10 million fully insulated homes in 10 years; car free cities; free public transport; public ownership of the railways; an end to airport expansion; union environment reps in every workplace; and policies to guarantee alternative work (with no loss of pay) for all those currently employed in unsustainable industries. If every union fights hard for these demands, we would not only have a real chance of preventing climate chaos, we would also ensure a better quality of life for all.
Among the most illuminating chapters are those dealing with the history of climate politics. The scientists and environmental NGOs performed an invaluable service to the world by warning us about global warming. Now everyone knows. But their political strategy, which is based entirely on trying to persuade the rich and powerful to act, was fatally flawed. What is needed now is for the social movements, and in particular the unions, to pick up the baton and run with it.
Neale imagines four possible outcomes to this crisis. The first is that abrupt climate change will overwhelm us. This is all too possible. The second, and least likely outcome, is that the ruling class will see sense and do what needs to be done. The third possible outcome is that a huge mass movement will force the rulers to act, and that the rulers will make a compromise. And the fourth is global social revolution. We don’t yet know which outcome will prevail.
I would take issue with Neale’s analysis of the former Soviet Union, which in my opinion leads him to grossly underestimate the global impact of its collapse. And some economists might argue that Neale underestimates the extent to which the rate of profit has been restored under neoliberalism. These are issues for ongoing debate within the movement, as are the precise details of the demands we should be raising. But overall this is a wonderful book, a positive and optimistic addition to the armoury of socialists and climate activists alike. It is written with genuine warmth and humour, and filled with boundless faith in the humanity and decency of ordinary people.
Everyone should read this book and read it soon. Order a copy now from your local bookshop as a way of encouraging them to put it on their shelves: ISBN 9781905192373. And when you have read it, pass it on to your friends, family and workmates, and get them involved in the movement. We have a planet to save, and in the process of saving it, we have a world to win.