Monbiot takes flight again: fantasy oil solutions and wishful thinking
I was going to flay some more skin off Monbiot’s back after his latest diatribe in the Guardian (We can’t use it – so why the heck are we prospecting for new oil?), but before my intense (and possibly self-important) irritation got the better of me, I thought I better consider what it is we’re discussing here – or should be.
What kicked this off is an article in which Monbiot asks what I can only describe as a bloody silly question:
“Why the heck are we prospecting for new oil anyway?”
Last week I was pretty scathing about Monbiot’s self-confessed transition out of adolescence. Remember this? “We allowed ourselves to believe that, with a little prompting and protest, somewhere, in a distant institutional sphere, compromised but decent people would take care of us. They won’t. They weren’t ever going to do so. So what do we do now?”
I used to think like that when I was 15, but I grew up. Last week, I implored George to follow suit, because he’s constructing his environmental arguments on the basis that those in power are suddenly, after several thousand years, going to start doing ‘the right thing’ if only we can put forward an argument good enough to turn their avaricious heads away from Mammon’s big evil pot, and towards a brighter future where it’s always sunny, everyone is nice, smiling pixies bring us honeyed morsels on delicate doilies woven by smiling orb spiders singing happy songs and nobody has to work any more because ever-smiling elves do it for us. That’s Murdoch’s dream for us all down to a tee, right?
Anyway, as bad a crash landing as Monbiot appeared to make, it was a landing none the less. Now the bugger’s taken flight again, arguing from exactly the same kind of indulgent, fanciful and deeply unlikely premises. Here’s a telling paragraph:
“It’s not a difficult issue to grasp. If we burn just 60% of current global reserves of fossil fuels, we produce two degrees of warming. We cannot afford to use what has already been discovered, let alone to find more. Yet no one in either the current or past governments has been prepared to engage with it”.
Here’s another issue that should not be difficult to grasp: a planet-sized civilisation, imbued with a comparable amount of inertia, is plunging forward on a course set two hundred-odd years ago by Lancastrian mill owners and Scottish engineers. Nothing will stop this engine except the fuel running out but until it does, the owners of this mighty vessel will continue to shove fuel into the boiler’s maw, and will do whatever it takes to assure the supply of fuel is maintained. Nothing can stop this, nothing will change it.
In the west, such a position sets you against unimaginable wealth, and the power that accrues to it. Elsewhere – the developing nations – you are asking those with rapidly diminishing hope of equity to abandon even that, to accept that their uneven progress cannot be maintained, even though the consumerism denied them is the embodiment of every colonial promise ever made, every IOU issued. The consumerist dream of all nations is founded on oil, gas and coal. Asking some poor bugger to give up his dreams isn’t going to win any arguments. It definitely isn’t going to produce any results, as you noted only last week in the article , and which I quoted here. How is it, a week after coming to your senses, you’ve abandoned them again, sacrificed to the kind of naive posturing that one normally leaves in the closet along with the school uniform?
My indignity spent, let’s cut to the chase. What should we be discussing, in lieu of impossible solutions to intractable problems? We should be discussing practical solutions, that don’t require societies to suddenly abandon every value, principle, objective and method – not to mention invoking the likelihood that the lights would also go out during the civil unrest that would ensue if change of this magnitude were to be imposed on us.
I’ve been writing for a while now about change, in the forlorn hope that we might manage it with a little dignity. Truth is, I know now that this world cannot be changed. It isn’t that we are incapable, more that the energy it takes to change is greater than that required for business as usual. I think it is anathema for most of us to be called to expend more energy for less reward, or none at all. Climate change is, for us in the west, about other people. We can predict economic and social problems, but it’s unlikely much of Europe will flood, not because we are susceptible, but because we can afford to defy the sea. What we consumerists must give up in the name of climate change, we give up for others. That never plays well.
So the adult world is set in its ways, and will not give up its indulgent lifestyle willingly. There are no arguments I believe will work, and of course I make this assertion in light of the evidence, the Copenhagen fiasco being a case in point.
‘Adult world?’ I hope I hear you ask. I have reached the conclusion that there is only one, long-term solution. If we cannot change the way the world works, then we must look to the future generations, because they might be able to make it work in a different way. They can bring finer values, reject the false, the glittering beads and baubles still dazzling the natives. They can be educated to be free of base ignorance, without fear of the ‘other’, without blind prejudice and superstition. Education is the silver bullet, and since we can all be teachers – by example if nothing else – we all get to take a shot. Only education provides a sound mechanism for gradual transition, for evolution instead of revolution. Monbiot advocates revolution, whether he admits it or not. I remind him that all revolutions fill body bags.
This world can’t be saved, only survived and, for many, endured. This generation is failing the future; through education, those who own that future can be prepared to make the most of it. God knows, they’re going to have a tough enough time.