POOR George Monbiot. The COP26 summit didn’t go the way he wanted – not by a long chalk – as was evident from his frenetic post-conference report in the Guardian.
His anguish was displayed dramatically before the nation last week when he broke down in tears live on breakfast TV as he bemoaned the bleak future he says is awaiting his children because of climate change.
The thing is, though, that whatever decision they reached in Glasgow – even if it had ended with the delegates doing a conga round the building, led by Greta Thunberg and chanting ‘Net zero now!’ – was never going to satisfy such a fervent eco-zealot as George.
He wants fossil fuels phased out by 2030 and quotes a study which tells how systems can quickly ‘flip’ given the right conditions. Hence, once the advance of electric cars reaches a ‘critical threshold’ everyone will want one.
As to where the power will come from to recharge their batteries – as well as simultaneously supplying the whole vast infrastructure of fossil-fuelless society – he doesn’t say.
But hang on, there’s a snag about electric cars. George says obtaining the material to make their batteries is destroying the planet – ‘ripping down forests, polluting rivers, trashing fragile deserts and in some cases forcing people into near-slavery’.
He adds: ‘Simply flipping the system from fossil to electric cars preserves everything that’s wrong with the way we now travel, except the power source.’
So what do we do, George? Well, his answer is that private cars would be reserved for the neediest and the rest of us would be encouraged to cycle, walk, or take public transport.
Even then, George isn’t happy. He fears electric vehicle makers and charging point firms will reap huge profits and ‘will want to spend this money, as they do today, on private jets, yachts, extra homes and planet-trashing extravagance’.
So paradise might be postponed. ‘It is not hard to envisage a low-carbon economy in which everything else falls apart,’ says George. ‘The end of fossil fuels will not, by itself, prevent the extinction crisis, the deforestation crisis, the soils crisis, the freshwater crisis, the consumption crisis, the waste crisis, the crisis of smashing and grabbing, accumulating and discarding that will destroy our prospects and much of the rest of life on Earth.’
What’s the answer? George believes more civil disobedience might do the trick – he reckons if 25 per cent of the population protest enough, it could ‘flip’ the system.
Flip the system to what, George? You’ll have got rid of fossil fuels, got rid of private car use and presumably achieved some sort of clout via civil disobedience.
So where would you go from there in your brave new world, in which centuries of hard-won human progress have effectively been reversed, where the comforts and conveniences that make life tolerable have vanished, and which will be looking more like the 16th century than the 21st?
Well, for zealots such as George, there’ll always be another grievance to be pursued. Even if electric cars were banned completely and we flipped back to using horses for transport in his Net Zero Nirvana, he’d probably be on the alert for any equine entrepreneurs trying to exploit us. Horse-breeding oligarchs, haymaking hegemonists and cart construction cartels, beware – George is on your case.