Stop Global Warming–Change the World

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Jonathan Neale. Stop Global Warming – Change the World. Bookmarks Publications, London, 2008. £11.99

Reviewed by Roy Wilkes

Two years ago, George Monbiot published Heat, a ground-breaking book which armed a generation of activists with the technical and scientific know how to fight climate change. Jonathan Neale’s new book starts in a similar vein, by explaining the science of climate change and by showing that the technology already exists to prevent it or at least to prevent catastrophic abrupt climate change. Climate change as such is already with us, and hitting the world’s poor first and hardest.

But while Monbiot concluded that the battle against climate change is ‘a campaign against ourselves,’ Neale takes the opposite tack. Ordinary people should not be forced to make sacrifices, an approach which tries to tackle the problem ‘at the wrong end of the pipe.’ Instead we must build a global mass movement to force through the changes that are needed, particularly in energy production, transport, housing and industry.

And while Monbiot tried to develop a utopian scheme of tradable individual carbon rations, Neale explains that market mechanisms (and others such as green taxation and carbon trading) are incapable of solving the problem.

Effectively fighting climate change will require rational planning and extensive government intervention, but the rich and powerful will fight tooth and nail to prevent that. They perceive any retreat from neoliberalism, which has brought pain, hardship and fear to so many people, as a threat to their wealth and power.

Neale suggests demands that are eminently achievable and realistic, yet sufficiently inspiring to motivate people to act. They include:

  • 5 million solar roofs in 5 years;
  • a 20 fold increase in wind power in 5 years (Germany already has ten times the wind power of Britain);
  • 10 million fully insulated homes in 10 years;
  • car free cities;
  • free public transport;
  • public ownership of the railways;
  • an end to airport expansion;
  • union environment reps in every workplace;
  • and policies to guarantee alternative work (with no loss of pay) for all those currently employed in unsustainable industries.

If every union fights hard for these demands, we would not only have a real chance of preventing climate chaos, we would also ensure a better quality of life for all.

Among the most illuminating chapters are those dealing with the history of climate politics. The scientists and environmental NGOs performed an invaluable service to the world by warning us about global warming — now everyone knows. But their political strategy, based entirely on trying to persuade the rich and powerful to act, was fatally flawed. What is needed now is for the social movements, and in particular the unions, to pick up the baton and run with it.

Neale imagines four possible outcomes to this crisis.

The first is that abrupt climate change will overwhelm us. This is all too possible.

The second, and least likely outcome, is that the ruling class will see sense and do what needs to be done.

The third possible outcome is that a huge mass movement will force the rulers to act, and that the rulers will make a compromise.

And the fourth is global social revolution.

We don’t yet know which outcome will prevail.

I would take issue with Neale’s analysis of the former Soviet Union, which in my opinion leads him to grossly underestimate the global impact of its collapse. And some economists might argue that Neale underestimates the extent to which the rate of profit has been restored under neoliberalism. These are issues for ongoing debate within the movement, as are the precise details of the demands we should be raising.

But overall this is a wonderful book, a positive and optimistic addition to the arsenal of socialists and climate activists alike. It is written with genuine warmth and humour, and filled with boundless faith in the humanity and decency of ordinary people. Everyone should read this book and read it soon.

Order a copy now from your local bookshop as a way of encouraging them to put it on their shelves: ISBN 9781905192373.

And when you have read it, pass it on to your friends, family and workmates, and get them involved in the movement. We have a planet to save, and in the process of saving it, we have a world to win.

[Editor’s note: Stop Global Warming: Change the World published this month, doesn’t seem to be available yet outside Britain. But it can be ordered online through the Bookmarks Bookshop in London, or through Amazon UK.]


  • I agree with the previous comment but it’s unheard of for an elite to simply give up the perquisites of power and affluence. I know soi-disant upper-middle class environmentalists who don’t think twice about jetting around the world, buying a car, buying a house, etc. Only losers and poor people take the bus, rent living space, etc.

    I’m coming to the conclusion that the existing elites, and the next generation, are a write-off. A long-term project of educating today’s children and building a different mindset may be the best bet.

  • Contrary to what is apparently said in Neale’s book (explaining the science of climate change), we are entering a period of environmental conditions that no one knows about and still less understands.

    Worst of all is the wall of silence of man’s culpability in this, not least those of the Western world who are addicted to greed and excess.

    There is talk of what needs to be done to tackle global warming, such as changing to low-energy light bulbs, using less electricity, better home insulation, re-using or even abandoning the use of plastic shopping bags, and even down-grading to a less polluting car; but little is said about major polluters like the US military and the national airlines, and nothing at all is said about tackling the psychological problems that afflict the more affluent section of humanity and their insatiable greed for more.

    The media are ready to apportion blame to developing countries for exacerbating the situation, but rarely point the finger in any meaningful way at the chronic culprits. They certainly don’t tell us of the polluting activities of private companies, starting with the oil giants. These companies must bear a major share of blame for man’s pollution of the environment in land, sea and air. In seeking to promote their products, they have deliberately engineered the addiction to private transport, to international travel, the global conveyance of goods, and to the use of plastics and artificial fertilisers.

    What has caused this addiction? How is it spread? What can be done to curb it? And how can it eventually be eradicated?

    These are not just unanswered questions, THEY ARE UNASKED!

    In articles such as this the message centres on the fact that something needs to be done.

    Yes, something needs to be done and a good place to start is by recognising the harm that the political system promoted globally by the West is the prime cause of the problem.

    The free market CANNOT solve this problem. IT is the cause of the problem.

    It is only by collective action, such as PUBLIC TRANSPORT, run not for profit but for utility, that we can begin to reduce our dependence on an ever-expanding demand for energy.

    Our mindset needs to be changed and it is quite unreasonable to think that politicians of the kind presently exercising (or abusing if you wish) power are up to the job.

    I agree with Roy Wilkes’ comments about the Soviet Union in that the Soviet Union was based neither on greed nor on consumption for its own sake. There was a commitment to low-cost public transport. Yes, there was a massive industrialisation, but this was necessary in the circumstances that prevailed at that time, otherwise the Union would not have survived. That it collapsed is due more to American subversion by stimulating dissident groups, including Islamic fundamentalism than to any intrinsic fault in the political system.

    If we don’t move rapidly towards a massive collective system, with a clear purpose in mind and a common commitment to sharing the burden fairly, the current destruction of the earth’s environmental equilibrium (about which we understand so little!) will continue unabated until most if not all of us will be destroyed with it.

  • Tons of wonderful stuff. One thing though. Will the state be paying tens of millions to the top bosses of the unsustainable industries? I’d set a cap on the alternative work with no loss of pay idea; we could set the cap at an absolute maximum of £100K, maybe lower, maybe quite a bit lower

  • Neale is right on in calling for “policies to guarantee alternative work (with no loss of pay) for all those currently employed in unsustainable industries.”
    I think this has to be key to any Left eco-strategy.