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George Monbiot: ‘People’s power can save planet’

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Campaigner George Monbiot spoke to Socialist Worker in the wake of the publication of the Stern report on climate change
Issue 2025

‘There is an extraordinary awakening taking place on the issue of climate change. What some of us have been campaigning about for 20 years has suddenly begun to materialise.

People have recognised that this is an issue of the utmost seriousness – more serious perhaps than any other issue we are dealing with. They also realise that we have very little time in which to turn it around.

So we’re seeing climate change beginning to generate a mobilising potential on the sort of scale that we saw in the run up to the Iraq war.

The first thing to do is to start seeing ourselves as citizens rather than consumers. One of the most disempowering trends of recent years is the idea that we can change the world through better habits of consumption.

In actual fact our power is very limited in that respect. But our power is unlimited as citizens making use of political processes.

When it comes to climate change the key task is to turn state policy around, and to insist that the government starts to regulate to cut carbon emissions by 90 percent by 2030.

That initiative can only come from people lobbying government. Consumers and corporations can’t do it by themselves.

Even if you can make big carbon savings in your own life that doesn’t mean there are savings made across the economy.

Sir Nicholas Stern’s report has shown that the cost of not acting will be far greater to the economy as a whole than the cost of acting. While that is something that many of us have been saying, and climate change campaigners would agree with, I would urge caution.

Most of the costs of not acting cannot be measured in economic terms. They can’t be measured in pounds or dollars because they take the form of human life and the world’s ecosystem.

Human lives cannot be measured in terms of money.

While we should welcome this report we should ­remember that it is a distraction from the real issue. The real issue is moral not economic.

The more Stern is seen to consult companies like Exxon, the more authority the report is seen to have. The problem is that he is coming at this as an economist, when we ought to be coming at it as humanitarians.

The report should put to rest all the claims by the climate change deniers, sponsored by people like Exxon, that it would be cheaper to wait and to adapt to climate change than to try and do something about it. That’s a very useful thing.

But it’s not because of the economic reasons that we should be doing something about it – it’s because tens of millions of people could die.

I think the most important thing to do is to make sure that the huge gulf between government rhetoric on climate change and its actual policy can no longer be sustained.

We need to judge this government and perpetually prod and attack it over its failure to live up to its own claims about what it is doing over climate change.

We have got to become a movement of incredible political power using all the traditionally forms – lobbying, mass demonstrations and direct action, and every legitimate campaigning technique short of violence.

We have to make sure that climate change stays right at the top of the political agenda. Any government that doesn’t act decisively to prevent runaway climate change must find itself in hot water with the electorate.

I am not asking that people give up their lives – but I would ask that they give up watching television, and spend that time instead campaigning over climate change.

We must recognise that we are the last people, the only generation, that has the opportunity to combat this problem.’

National climate march

Saturday 4 November
12 noon, rally at US embassy, Grosvenor Square, central London for march to Trafalgar Square

Go to

George Monbiot is speaking at Bookmarks, the socialist bookshop, about his new book Heat at 6.30pm on Tuesday 7 November. Phone 020 7637 1848 or go to for details

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