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Heat: How to Stop the Planet from Burning.

HEAT: How to Stop the Planet from Burning by George Monbiot. Cambridge, MA: South End Press, 2007. xx + 278 pages, index. Hardcover; $22.00. ISBN: 9780896087798.

Published a year earlier in the UK, this book now appears in a US edition ("printed and bound in Canada, by union workers"), with a new foreword, and a 3-page list of American "organizational resources addressing the impact of climate change" that includes a few interfaith groups (but not the Au Sable Institute of Environmental Studies). The cover image by E. Burtynsky shows a river glowing fiery red against the blackened landscape of Sudbury, Ontario. The author (born 1963) read zoology at Brasenose College, Oxford; did investigative journalism in Indonesia, Brazil, and Africa; and has written several books on environmental and political causes. He is Visiting Professor of Planning at Oxford Brookes University, UK. Here in Heat his thesis is that catastrophic climate change can only be averted by reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 90%, a reduction that can nevertheless be accomplished.

The foreword, introduction, and first three chapters (with 2 graphs) set out the problem. Fossil fuels have enabled the industrialized countries to raise their standard of living enormously, but at the price of a looming change in climate comparable to that at the time of the Permian mass extinction. Politicians have failed to act, because of ignorance, or disinformation from "the denial industry" (chapter 2). The large cost of effective actions, not overwhelming compared to expenditures such as subsidies or warfare, would amount to postponing the next level of prosperity by only a few years in growing economies. A rationing scheme is feasible: individuals get units of entitlement to emit carbon, to be exchanged, together with the payment in money, when they buy electricity or fuel.

In the next seven chapters (not illustrated), details are worked out on how to accomplish the 90% reduction: in home heating; in electricity production from fossil and nuclear fuels, and from micro-generation; in transport, urban and regional, and trans- and intercontinental; and in retailing and cement manufacture. The final chapter "Apocalypse Postponed" urges readers to press politicians from talking about the problem to taking effective action. Combining information from a variety of reliable sources with his own insights, Monbiot argues convincingly that these big reductions are feasible technically and economically, yet the political will is essential. At the back of the book are the 1,011 notes the text refers to, which cite mostly internet sources, with a few books and articles in peer-reviewed scientific journals. The index fills 6 1/2 pages.

Monbiot has a forceful style that keeps the reader's interest in the quite technical subject matter. However, some expected references do not appear, for example, John T. Houghton, Global Warming: The Complete Briefing, 3rd ed. (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2004). Nor does S. Pacala and R. Socolow, "Stabilization Wedges: Solving the Climate Problem for the Next Fifty Years with Current Technologies," Science 305 (2004): 968-72, which identifies essentially the same ways as Heat, but with more emphasis on changes in agriculture and forestry, which Monbiot rather belittles. Somewhat credible arguments of academics who dispute the link between carbon dioxide and climate change, like Richard Lindzen of MIT, are not discussed and refuted. (See Royal Society at The detailed chapters focus on the United Kingdom, with British words unfamiliar to Americans. Poorly lagged [insulated] houses are less an issue in America, where air conditioning is a greater concern. Crossing the country by coach on motorways [by bus on freeways] is more feasible in Britain than in the United States and Canada.

The author maintains a high moral tone, with a real concern for the plight of the disadvantaged in the wealthy countries and particularly in the poor ones. Organized religion and the church are ignored in the text, with belief not being regarded positively: "A faith in miracles grades seamlessly into excuses for inaction." One author in "the denial industry," Arthur B. Robinson, is identified as a "Christian fundamentalist." The inspirational text under-girding the writing is Christopher Marlowe, Doctor Faustus (1604). An evangelical treatment of this subject, also oriented toward Britain, is given by Nick Spencer and Robert White in Christianity, Climate Change and Sustainable Living (London: SPCK, 2007). Nevertheless, by reading Monbiot's Heat, anyone wanting good environmental stewardship will benefit, because this book shows the way to a definite goal for carbon reductions to control global heating.

Reviewed by Charles E. Chaffey, Adjunct Professor of Natural Science, Tyndale University College, Toronto, ON, Canada M2M 4B3.
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Author:Chaffey, Charles E.
Publication:Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jun 1, 2008
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