Gabrielle Walker & Sir David King “Hot Topic”

ISBN 978-0-7475-9395-9. “The Hot Topic – How to tackle Global Warming and still keep the lights on” by Gabrielle Walker and Sir David King was published by Bloomsbury in 2008. Two books by two authors – Gabrielle Walker is an author, journalist and broadcaster whilst Sir David used to be Tony Blair’s Chief Scientific Adviser. From the off it is fair to point out that this book is a mixed bag of the good, the bad and the downright ugly. It has none of the plain speaking of George Monbiot’s “Heat” nor does it have any of the authority of David MacKay’s “Sustainable Energy without the hot air”. To be fair it probably isn’t even trying to take on either of these to giants. However its ugliest moments stem from the authors’ complete ignorance of the existence of David Hopkins’ “Transition Handbook” or Pat Murphy’s “Plan C”. Their’s is a world of mainstream convention. There is no talk of curtailment, relocalisation or building post-carbon societies. No. The fact that the book gets a glowing reference from James Lovelock just might set the alarm bells ringing. Firstly the good: the sections written by King give a good overview of the Politics of Climate Change. It is all rather self-congratulatory with glowing praise for the work of the EU and the UK. If you believed all of this you might believe we could leave it all up to the politicians and the job is practically done. Add to this the normal platitudes about a few energy-saving light bulbs and this is as “good” as it gets. Well, maybe I exaggerate, there is also a good overview of the science and the myths – however King is a scientist so this should be a slam-dunk. Likewise we get a reasonably balanced and praiseworthy account of Carbon Offsetting…. but…. Now for the ‘bad’ – King is pro-nuclear and manages to deliver this with all the usual pro-nuclear obfuscation that you come to expect. According to King there are some misguided people called “environmentalists” who believe that Nuclear Power is dangerous and leaves lots of radioactive waste. Of course this straw-man is easily disputable for a scientist. (Here’s a hint David: check out these other people called “economists” & “accountants” who also tells us that Nuclear Power is so expensive as to be an utter waste of time.) King then takes the sunny-side-up approach and talk only about the fantasy Nuclear Power that is utterly safe and, somehow, incredibly cheap. Too cheap to meter perhaps? Even worse is that King goes on to tell us that we’ll have more food to eat in a warmer world. It is left to Walker to tell us that it may not be that simple. As we are tapped into a global food market and our weather is about to get very violent then there is no guarantee that the global food situation is about to improve at all. (Without a large change in lifestyle then our meat-dominated diets are completely unsustainable – but this book doesn’t mention any of this.) Now the “ugly” – well, let me quote “[Governments should…..] Find a way to tap the rising tide of consumer desire for action.” This is so wrong in so many ways it is staggering. The archetypal belief that we can consume our way out of the crisis by buying a few A+ rated fridges is beyond belief. We will never make the sort of cuts in GHG’s required if people like this are running policy. Clearly they don’t have a clue how to solve the problem beyond a bit of carbon trading and unplugging your mobile phone charger. It is only by page 252 (out of 272) does the book even mention “local solutions”. (To be fair Chapter 14 is “How You Can Change the World” but it is all the usual bollocks about carbon footprinting and a drop of recycling.) However a “local solution” for Walker and King is something a Town, City, Council or Borough does. There is no mention of what communities or farmers can do. There is no permaculture. There is no reduction in consumption. There is no monetary reform or getting out of debt…. Still… “The Hot Topic” is not all that bad and a lot of what it says is perfectly correct. However, this is 2009 not 1989. The world has moved on but these two authors are stuck in the past where simplistic solutions might have saved us. It is too late. The climate has moved on two decades and now we need drastic community solutions not another climate summit. Get real and grow up. Read this book if you want to pretend everything is in hand and the Government will sort it out for you. However, as all the evidence shows that the Governments are doing jack shit we recommend you read the other books we mentioned above.

About post-carbon-man

A passionate advocate of a peaceful transition to a sustainable political-economy, Mark hails from a working class farming background. Today he is a Company Director and Chairman of the Low Carbon Chilterns Co-operative. Whilst at University (Engineering Masters) he was active in Conservative Student politics but has had no affiliation since. He has travelled widely on business covering the USA, Europe, Middle East and Central Asian Republics. In 2007 Mark founded Post-Carbon-Living and a year later co-founded Transition Town High Wycombe. He lives with is wife & daughter in a home they retrofitted to be carbon-neutral. Today he blogs about surviving politics on a shrinking planet and is passionate in his rejection of Nationalism.

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