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Posts Tagged ‘Monbiot’

Recently George Monbiot has been in the blogosphere for his exchange with Iam Plimer in which he joined the bastion of scientists, bloggers and journalists condemning Plimer’s recent book. Personally I found his debate with Paul Kingsnorth far more interesting,

Kingsnorth criticises Monbiot for seeking to create ‘Liberal Democracy 2.0′ arguing that

‘What we face is what John Michael Greer, in his book of the same name, calls a ‘long descent’ – a series of ongoing crises brought about by the factors I talked of in my first letter, which will bring an end to the all-consuming culture we have imposed upon the Earth. I’m sure ’some good will come’ from this, for that culture is a weapon of planetary mass destruction.’

Monbiot’s retort is that a series of crises would mean billions deaths and an immense amount of suffering, and that this scenario would likely see

‘instead of gathering as free collectives of happy householders, the survivors of this collapse will be subject to the will of people seeking to monopolise remaining resources. Thiswill is likely to be imposed through violence. Political accountability will be a distant memory. The chances of conserving any resource in these circumstances are approximately zero.’

Consequently Monbiot argues that

‘Strange as it seems, a de-fanged, steady-state version of the current settlement might offer the best prospect humankind has ever had of avoiding collapse. For the first time in our history we are well-informed about the extent and causes of our ecological crises, know what should be done to avert them and have the global means – if only the political will were present – of preventing them.’

Of the two perspectives pertaining to the probable and possible outcomes for humanity in the medium term future I would say that I more closely associate with Monbiot’s position of remaining hopefull despite mounting evidence that climate change will create massive detrimental impacts to civilisation as we know it.

Similarly I consur with Monbiot that the likely consequences of inaction are widening global inequalities, which under the current geopolitical climate of nationalism and antagonism fuelled by a neo-liberal drive for competition and self-interest will likely translate into war between nation states for resources, the collapse of social welfare where it does currently exist and a vast amount of suffering for billions. I also agree that this kind of scenario would not represent a positive development.

Where I feel that I differ from both authors however is in the framing of the debate itself. Civilisations are not static objects which can be saved (preserved intact) or destroyed (completely) as some kind of binary pair, they evolve as dynamic processes dependent on a multitude of factors. This means that the actions we take now are relevant as these actions will have an effect on which of the many potential futures we realise. The more sustainable technologies are developed and implemented, the more ghg emissions are cut, the more social solidarity and a sense of community, both locally and globally are constructed in the here and now, the better the prospects for the future will be. The difference may only be a small one, but that will largely depend on how many people decide to actively engage with the problem – larger actions now mean better conditions for the future.

Even if the future looks decidely gloomy, and both Monbiot and Kingsnorth argue that they are, the actions of people today still has some agency (not the myth of unilateral control Kingsnorth critiques, but an active factor in a dynamic causal network) in deciding what the future will be like. While individually our actions are only minutely consequential, collectively they can be massive. That is why I believe in building networks of change from the grassroots up.

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book cover

The latest offering from one of Britain’s best known social and environmental activists is a compilation of over 50 of his newspaper articles written over the last few years. As such, for avid Monbiot fans there isn’t really any new material here, however for those seeking an easy to read introduction which demonstrates the breadth of Monbiot’s research and consequent opinions Bring on the Apocalypse summarises the main areas Monbiot cas campaigned around.

While Monbiot is best known (at least in the UK) for his campaigning around climate change, and his previous book Heat: How to Stop the Planet Burning, where he aims to illustrate how Britain could implement a 90% cut in carbon dioxide emissions without reverting to a pre-industrial society, Bring on the Apocalypse covers a broad range of topic, with the book being divided into six parts, each of which contains a selection of arguments dealing with the topic. In order, these sections are

1. Arguments with God: In which Monbiot addresses religious fundamentalism, particularly American Evangelical Christianity

2. Arguments with Nature: In which Monbiot addresses environmental issues, particularly anthropogenic climate change

3. Arguments with War: In which Monbiot addresses the War on Terror, especially the War in Iraq

4. Arguments with Power: Which deals with corporate exploitation, transnational non-democratic institutions such as the IMF and issues surrounding neoliberal globalization

5. Arguments with Money: Which investigates various ways in which corporations and the super rich elite who benefit from their prominence avoid paying taxes, and have generally attempted to avoid participating in welfare state styled socialist democracies, preferring a cut throat privatised state whereby the rich get richer and look after themselves while the poor are left to their own devices

6. Arguments with Culture: Wherein Monbiot examines aspects of contemporary British culture, such as anti-speed camera organizations and drivers associations groups whose individualistic values concur with neoliberal ideology, but conflict with Monbiot’s preference for a society based on free people rather than free markets.

In general I found myself nodding along to the vast majority of what Monbiot has to say across a broad range of topics. His knowledge on a vast array of topics is exemplary, and he consistently puts forwards logical and well-reasoned arguments. Part of the reason I enjoyed this book so much was the way that it addresses so many topics, giving a holistic perspective on many of the key areas where social struggles can create a beneficial impact on other people’s lives. It is rare to find a book which is accessible, enjoyable and manages to cover environmental activism, the anti war movement, a critique of aspects of contemporary culture allied with a rejection of religious fundamentalism.

A general criticism of the book would be that on each issue covered, there is far more left out than left in, however given the form of the book this is entirely to be expected, and Monbiot has indeed published far more comprehensively on Climate Change (Heat: How to Stop the Planet Buring), the rise of Corporatism (Captive State: The Corporate Takeover of Great Britain), and the anti-democratic nature of the international capitalist institutions and some thoughts as to how to replace them with democratic, transparent and publicly accountable replacements (The Age of Consent).

My favourite quote from this book is contained in the Arguments with God section, where Monbiot addresses reincarnation/the afterlife and gives a materialist perspective not dissimilar to my own:

‘I like the idea of literal reincarnation: that the molecules of which I am composed will, once I have rotted, be incorporated into other organisms. Bits of me will be pushing through the growing tips of trees, will creep over them as caterpillars, will hunt those catepillars as birds. When I die I would like to be buried in a fashion that ensures that no part of me is wasted. Then I can claim to have some use after all.

Is this not better than the awful lottery of judgment? Is a future we can predict not more comforting than the whims of inscrutable authority? Is eternal death not a happier prospect than eternal life? The atoms of which we are composed, which we have borrowed momentarily from the ecosphere, will be recycled until the universe collapses. This is our continuity, our eternity. Why should anyone want more.’

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