Monbiot Says Global Revolutionary Change Required

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From George Monbiot’s speech at the Camp for Climate Change in London Aug. 18. George Monbiot is the author of the climate change bestseller Heat, and a columnist for the U.K. Guardian.

From UK Indymedia

I’m going to start with some bad news, and the bad news is this. Two degrees is no longer the target. And the news is contained in a recent paper written by James Hansen of NASA in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society. And what Hansen shows is that the profoundly pessimistic assumptions in the latest IPCC Report are insufficiently pessimistic.And the reason for this is as follows. The IPCC assumes that the melting of the ice sheets at the poles will take place in a gradual and linear fashion. And Hansen’s own work with the paleontological record shows that that is an “entirely implausible” (to use his term) scenario.

The last time we had two degrees of warming in the Pliocene 55 million years ago, the ice sheets at the poles did not melt – as the IPCC proposes – over a millennia, but within the course of one century. And they did not cause a maximum sea level rise within the course of one century – as predicted by the IPCC – of 59 centimeters, but of 25 meters.

And Hansen proposes that through a series of factors – the collapse of the buttresses that prevent the ice from sliding into the sea, the melt water trickling down through crevasses and lubricating the base of the ice sheets, and melt water on the surface of the ice sheets changing the albedo, making the ice darker and therefore absorbing more heat, will lead to the sudden and – certainly in geological terms – almost immediate collapse of both the West Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets within the course of one a century at somewhat less than two degrees of warming.

Not only does this lead to the immediate affect of inundation of most of the inhabited world – something like 60% of the people live within 50 Km of the coast – it also means that you get a severe and sudden change in global albedo change as white stuff at the poles gives way to dark stuff absorbing much more solar radiation.

And he proposes that we can’t go beyond 1.5 to 1.7 degrees of warming above 1990 levels.

Combine this with what Richard was talking about and the stuff contained in the IPCC’s 4th Assessment Report which shows that in order to have a maximum cap of two degrees of warming we need an 85% global reduction even before you take population growth into account. So when that’s added to the fact that we’re going to have something like a 50% increase in population, you can see that that pushes way over 90% even before you take the issue of global equity into account which means that the rich nationsmust cut the emissions much further than anybody else, you realize that we are talking at a minimum of a 100% cut, and it looks like it might have to go to 110% or 115%.

You laugh but we’re talking about sequestration and we’re talking about such things for example, as growing bio fuel and burying it, simply for growing as much bio mass as we can and sticking it back on the ground …. something ….. anything to stave off this catastrophe.

We’re not talking anymore about measures which require a little bit of tweaking her and there, or a little bit of political tweaking here and there. We’re talking about measures which require global revolutionary change.

And that is a much tougher message than any that I’ve put out before, and this is the first opportunity really that I’ve had since that paper came out, to express the fact that what I thought were rather bold and revolutionary proposals in my book Heat, those proposals don’t go nearly far enough. Those proposals have been superseded and we need to start thinking on a different scale altogether….

And I’m afraid the second uncomfortable message I have to put out to you tonight is that when it comes to dealing with a problem of this scale, small is no longer beautiful. We have to start thinking on the biggest possible terms….

We have very very little time in which to act. We have very very little time in which to bring about the largest economical and political transformation the world has ever seen.



  • I agree that we must be careful not to overstate the level of emergency of the crisis. In fact, this is an error that I think the Savage Capitalism document, for one, is guilty of.But I cannot agree with brad b. that capitalism can or will “stop global warming”. I would like to think there was a third alternative between ecosocialism and barbarism – one in which capitalism manages to stop global warming – but I have yet to see the evidence for it.Furthermore, as Ian says: “Anyone who thinks that capitalism will ameliorate the effects of global warming should visit New Orleans.”

  • What I find fascinating is Monbiot’s challenge: we must, each of us, reduce and/or absorb enough greenhouse gases so that our current level of emmissions drops to zero, and 15% more, if catastrophe is to be averted. I can barely even concieve of such a dramatic and radical shift– not in any political sphere, but in my lifestyle, and the lifestyle each of us leads.If he’s right, we’d best stop worrying about who’s Marxist and who’s not, and get our tails in gear. He’s challenging each of us. What are you willing to do?

  • “…the realization that capitalism is not in fact going to prevent catastrophic change…” I think far too many people in the red/green camp accept this proclamation out of hand and I think it is a dangerous and problematic position. How many times have Marxists proclaimed the arrival of the final terminal crisis of capitalism. More importantly how many times have they been wrong, as capitalism revolutionizes itself to transfer the contradiction to some other social arena. Capitalism not only has the capacity to stop global warming, it is already in the process of using it to further expand its ability to create surplus extraction. It is already begining to transfer the contradiction elsewhere (corn for fuel vs. corn for food). As Marxists we must be careful to not overstate the level of emergency of the current crisis, less we undermine the legitimacy of a great theory of social analysis. I think the Socialist register was correct in its attitude toward the climate and capitalism dialectic (yes it is dialectical).

  • Monbiot is a reformist, and his book Heat reflects that. But what I find fascinating about his recent speaking and writing (aside from his excellent grasp of both the urgency and the gravity of the climate change problem) is watching the process of a reformist being radicalized by events. Monbiot is intelligent and open-minded enough to keep subjecting his own position to re-evaluation in light of new information. Not only is he gradually coming to the realization that capitalism is not in fact going to prevent catastrophic change, but he is also recognizing that the solutions he once advocated in his book (published only last year!) are inadequate to the task. He’s now talking about “thinking on a different scale altogether” and bringing about the “largest economical and political transformation the world has ever seen.” That last one has a nice ring to it.Somebody needs to sit him down and explain Marx and Engels. Or at least make him read John Bellamy Foster’s Marx’s Ecology .

  • In Heat he takes a very reformist political approach and seems to argue that lobbying, individual action and persuading the ruling class is sufficient. He also comes out strongly against central planning. We will have to wait until he puts some content into the word revloution.