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Book review: What We Need to Do Now—For a Zero-Carbon Future

Rebecca Carr reviews What We Need to Do Now—For a Zero-Carbon Future

Chris Goodall’s latest book on climate change is a welcome addition to the growing consensus that urgent and dramatic action is needed. Compact, concise and clearly structured, it sets out the urgency with which we must act, along with his proposed model for a “New Deal for Climate”. 

Throughout the book there is a directness of language that sets out the severity of the problem and makes clear that global government targets have never yet been met and are inadequate. Goodall lays out many of the greatest obstacles to achieving net zero, and some of the exciting potential solutions to those.

This is a New Deal in ten parts, each of which is then developed in some detail. We are presented with a wealth of specific examples, and the book is incredibly well-researched.

Goodall tracks some of the major developments in renewable energy, and outlines problems and possibilities for sustainable fashion, reforestation, a shift in transport and car ownership, housing, packaging, plastic steel and concrete, and furthering the shift towards a plant-based diet.

He also discusses more technocratic fixes, such as carbon capture and geo-engineering, and a focus on funding renewables through carbon taxing. 

There is an uplifting survey of the best practices in renewable energy. They include Germany’s municipal utilities, Japan’s shift to hydrogen, the Pilbara project in Australia, Nottingham’s numerous strategies for democratising energy and re-developing some of its social housing. 

In using Orkney as a key model, we are presented with the possibility of what could be achieved. As a relative newcomer to the subject of renewables, I found this first chapter particularly fascinating. Yet, Orkney, by Goodall’s own arguments, is a difficult market for the major energy companies.

He sets out the challenges in getting fuel to Orkney and the difficulties in producing and storing on islands. It seems hardly a surprise that major energy companies are happy to leave the—amazing and innovative—local community groups on the Orkneys to manage their own renewable energy capture and storage. 

Goodall sees the climate catastrophe as linked to poverty and inequality. He does not focus on individual consumer response but on the systemic economic forces which are a barrier to more rapid progress, as well as a range of practical ways in which these obstacles can be overcome.

Crucially, he also sets out the need for activism. This is a call to action as much as an attempt to further push more creative and radical solutions for climate change. He encourages us to read Naomi Klein, and sets out why his stance is less politically radical than hers, but is grappling seriously with the opportunities and limitations of current responses to climate change.

Goodall identifies some of the most urgent obstacles that must be swept away. Moreover, he sets out the reasons why change must be driven by and for local communities. His belief that this can be done within capitalism will not satisfy a revolutionary reader, however.

In focusing on cost and taxation, his self-stated “principal objective” is of “incentivising the big fossil fuel companies to switch from gas and oil to zero carbon energy”. Yet, Goodall insists that the financial benefits of renewable energy must stay in local communities—perhaps having his cake and eating it. 

Nevertheless, the text will provoke serious thought about how to bring about the change that is necessary, as well as serving as a useful and compelling read for those developing their knowledge on the subject. It’s an important book for the movement. 

What We Need to Do Now: For a Zero-Carbon Future. Chris Goodall. Profile Pubishing

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