Heat turned up in climate debate

There follows a letter by George Monbiot, Guardian columnist and environmental campaigner, in response to a review of his latest book by Daniel Ben-Ami, editor of Fund Strategy (see “Misanthropy will not save the planet” Fund Strategy November 13, 2006, page 25). After Monbiot’s letter there is a response by Ben-Ami.

Letter to the Editor

Dear Sir,

Daniel Ben-Ami’s review of my book Heat contains a number of outrageous misrepresentations. He claims that I call for “dictatorship” and “authoritarianism”. This is untrue. In the introduction, I write the following:

“A 90% cut in our emissions of carbon dioxide is, I admit, an inherently narrow constraint. I did not invent it – it is what the science appears to demand. But within that constraint, we should be free to live as we wish. The need to tackle climate change must not become an excuse for central planning. The role of government must be to establish the limits of action, but to guarantee the maximum of freedom within those limits. And it must help us by ensuring that even within those constraints, life remains as easy as possible.”

He goes on to suggest that I oppose projects such as carbon capture and storage. In fact I have devoted half a chapter to this technology, which I recommend. He chides me for not accepting a line now wholly discredited, by the Stern review and other reports: that efforts to prevent climate change will hurt the poor, while adapting to it, for example by moving human settlements “to higher ground”, is both cheaper and more progressive.

He plainly has not read or understood the Stern review, with which he seeks to contrast my book. And I can’t help wondering whether he has really read Heat.

George Monbiot

Editor’s Response

It is George Monbiot who misrepresents or fails to understand my arguments.

Monbiot objects to my point that his views are authoritarian yet my review quotes his book’s conclusion explicitly calling for curbs on freedom. He says the campaign against climate change “is a campaign not for more freedom but for less”. It is also hard to see how the imposition of mass austerity that he sees as necessary could be achieved by voluntary means.

Contrary to what Monbiot asserts I do not say he opposes carbon capture and storage. Rather my point is that new forms of technology should allow society to become more prosperous while tackling climate change at the same time.

My central argument is that Monbiot is wrong to claim there is a trade-off between prosperity and improving the environment. I note that he does not take up my substantial point in his letter.

Nor do I argue that efforts to prevent climate change necessarily hurt the poor. My point is that becoming richer puts humanity in a better position to mould the environment to its advantage. Moreover, even the Stern review, for all its flaws, sees a key role for adaptation in tackling climate change.

As for whether I have read or understood Stern, readers can read my cover story in last week’s Fund Strategy and judge for themselves.

Daniel Ben-Ami