At bottom, Monbiot is a funny, wickedly smart guy who's not afraid of doing some research so that when he swings at a pitch, he swings for the fences. When you read his essays is great gulps, as you can here, it gets overwhelming, in all kinds of ways. To wit:
- If someone who writes this incisively can be ignored by policy-makers, we really are screwed.
- With Monbiot writing so effectively, why are the rest of us not just posting his columns on politicians' doors, or tattooing them on each other's skins, rather than mumbling away in what might as well be our separate premature dotages?
In 2005, for example, he seems to have written the following: "the staggering returns the banks made this year should not have been treated as profits at all, but as money that might have protected them, and us, against bad loans when the next recession arrives" (p.171).
Rather than repeating the standard conspiracy-sounding line about the World Bank being a tool for American hegemony, Monbiot goes through the archives to find its founders saying almost exactly this, thus defusing the tinfoil-hat objections normally deployed to good effect by neoconservatives (and I think neoliberals as well, though "neoliberal" is rather like "bourgeois" in being an apparently meaningful word for others and yet beyond my brain's ability to make sense of it).
He even offers a wonderfully compressed explanation of why it's such a mistake to use the "undiscovered medicines" argument in seeking to protect wild areas: "By arguing for biodiversity on the grounds of human need, ... conservationists play into the hands of their enemies" (p.54). Monbiot's answer, ingeniously, is to reach for aesthetics and the non-rational. If the world would be a poorer place if an old painting or a rare book were to be destroyed, the same argument can and should be made in defense of endangered species and places.
It's a whole series of case studies, this book, in how to unpack a shallow argument, explode it, and plant your own conception in its place. Brilliant stuff, and for once I don't think the blurbs are over-reaching. Andrew Nikiforuk, writing in the Globe and Mail, suggested that Monbiot's previous book Heat "throws out more intellectual challenges by the page than the Canadian media does in a year": unrealistic, sure, but this book demonstrates how public intellectuals ought to carry themselves, even if Monbiot's technically a journalist rather than an intellectual.
Bring on the revolution.