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George Monbiot: ‘Climate change is the most important issue on our agenda’

This article is over 16 years, 11 months old
The writer and campaigner George Monbiot spoke to Socialist Worker about the G8, the environment and the task ahead for activists
Issue 1959
Droughts will become increasingly common (Pic: courtesy of USDA NRCS)
Droughts will become increasingly common (Pic: courtesy of USDA NRCS)

We have so far seen two drafts of the climate agreement that the G8 summit is meant to be coming up with. The first one was disastrous — and the second was even worse.

By the time we got to the second one, the draft did not even agree that climate change was actually taking place.

What this represents, of course, is the US position. It’s terrifying that the US position appears to have prevailed against the other seven countries. This nullifies Tony Blair’s pledge to make climate change one of the two priorities of the G8 meeting.

So they have a draft climate change agreement that won’t even admit that climate change is taking place. It’s like having a draft agreement about ending a war that won’t even admit that the war is happening.

One of the problems we have in the campaign against climate change at the moment is that our aims are very poorly defined — there are no clearly defined enemies.

It’s easier to campaign against GM crops or against road building, because the enemy is Monsanto or Tarmac. It is clear who is causing the problem, who is acting against our interests.

But with climate change, we are all responsible. Until we have clearly defined enemies, we are not going to have a clearly defined battle.


We need to call for the restraint and regulation of business. This would make it much easier for us to live in a climate friendly way — while making it more difficult for companies to push technologies that destroy the environment.

Once we have clearly defined enemies, companies such as Exxon, then we will find it much easier to fight.

I am currently working on identifying politically feasible means of cutting 80 percent of greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. That is the order of cuts we need if we are to avoid the catastrophic climate change that could bring a humanitarian disaster.

What I’m trying to do is work up a programme that would be applicable to any developed country. That would give a clear set of objectives that we can campaign for, so we know whether or not a government is moving towards the sort of cuts that are necessary.

The plan mostly includes the increase of energy efficiency and cuts in the amount of energy we use. You can make far greater changes that way than you can from building up renewable energy.

If we try to continue to live as we do, but power it with wind turbines or bio-fuel, then we really substitute one problem for another.

Take the example of bio-fuel. There’s a lot of talk now about everyone running their cars on bio-fuel, and even our aeroplanes on bio-kerosene. But in order to grow sufficient crops to produce that fuel, you would have to take up the entire land surface of several planets.

So in reality you create competition between feeding cars and feeding people. And there’s no question about how that question will be resolved, because food follows the money rather than following the human need.

We need to put the burden on business not people — make it an indirect political cost rather than a direct one. It will also quite deliberately set the corporations against the people, so that we have a clearly defined set of enemies.

One of the key points is that we have to respond as citizens rather than consumers. The whole idea of “consumer democracy” is a complete distraction from the political fight we need to engage in.

What you find is that people will consume as much as their credit card will allow.

We need to put massive pressure on governments to actually introduce the sorts of regulations that ensure that we’re not destroying the climate, whatever our consumer preferences might be.

So we’ve got to call for the sort of stiff regulation on business that Tony Blair is very resistant to. That means the change is going to take place on the streets and not the shops.

We have an extraordinary situation at the moment which reminds me of the Spanish inquisition at the height of its powers. There’s a deliberate policy, on the part of the Bush administration and certain big business — especially Exxon — to attempt to deny the fire they’ve made.


They want to prevent scientists from carrying out the research needed into climate change. We’re up against a concerted effort here to deny accumulated knowledge and to prevent attempts to find out exactly what is happening and why.

This is a major threat to freedom of thought and freedom of speech, as well as to freedom in an environmental sense.

We need to put climate change right at the top of the political agenda — it is by far the biggest threat to humanity.

The last time the climate changed by six degrees in a short period of time, it wiped out every species that was longer than three feet. That would include us if it happened again.

Six degrees is at the top end of the estimates for climate change in the next century.

As activists we need to recognise that unless we deal with this, it will be very difficult to meet any other goals to do with human rights or welfare.

We have to turn this into the primary political campaign. That means keeping on the streets, keeping up the demonstrations and putting an enormous amount of pressure on our politicians.

Climate change has got to be a component of every campaign we get involved in now. If we are trying to help end poverty, that aim is completely destroyed by climate change.

Research has just shown that the massive increases in droughts in Africa is as a result of climate change — and so is the huge amount of poverty that those droughts create. You cannot deal with poverty unless you deal with climate change.

George Monbiot’s website

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