Carbon Detox is the first popular mass market book on climate change to suggest that we might have a major problem actually believing in the problem, and the first to suggest that the before we can take action we will need to come to terms with our own denial.
Compared with two years ago (when climate change was less interesting to publishers than feng shui and sodoku) there has been a flood of popular climate change books. They fall into two basic categories. One type methodically spells out the problem and the threat to the world. The other type skips the science and presents personal solutions as fun and possible. These books are usually very engaging with lots of big graphics and titles like ‘1,000 easy-peasy, funky things you can do to save the planet before tea’.
These books cover a huge range, but they all share one basic premise: that information leads to action. They assume that if they can spell out the problem and then make the solutions attractive then action will follow.
But this doesn’t work. We’ve known about climate change for forty years now and the evidence and predictions become worse and worse every year. We’ve known for just as long what we will need to do- on both a personal and collective level. And I see very little real change.
So when I wrote Carbon Detox I tried to do something different. Taking my cue from self-help books (especially those on smoking and alcohol) I propose that before we can do anything we have to really believe that we have a problem. The first step has to be to overcome our personal denial and to confront the excuses we adopt for routinely pushing climate change away – its someone else, somewhere else, in the future and may not even happen.
Our second step has to be to find new ways to visualize the problem. I ask readers to reconstruct their thinking. For example to stop thinking of climate change as a future problem and think of it as a roller coaster ride that they are already on and cannot get off. I criticise the ‘environmental’ language and images (the first chapter is called ‘oh no not another bloody polar bears’) and argue that these prevent us from seeing that climate change relates to our real lives and concerns. Detox suggests instead that people create their own arguments and metaphors based on their own world view, politics and life experience.
And when it comes to solutions I argue that we set ourselves up for failure is we taking personal action out of guilt in the face of a huge global problem. Instead I suggest something deeper and harder – re-writing the story we tell ourselves about who we are. So forget about ‘saving the planet’, the reason for going through the ‘detox’ and living a lighter carbon life is because you are smart, honest and want to live in the present.
The only thing that counts is the carbon bottom line. Carbon Detox points out that many of the ‘easy tips’ such as recycling plastic bags and turning off tv standby make little difference to this bottom line. Instead it urges people to stop sweating the small stuff and focus in on the big ticket items- flying, house heating and commuting.
After these big items are addressed, I argue that how readers wish to spend their carbon budget is entirely their business – of course they can embrace a deep green vision but there is also room for occasional high carbon treats such as whizzing around a race track or luxury travel. The light carbon world is not one in which things are taken away- it is one that is richer, more meaningful, healthier and fairer. And that is the goal around which we can mobilize.
So, I think, a new take on climate change speaking to an entirely new audience. Oh, and I should mention- it’s also really entertaining, easy to read and funny as hell (or so other people tell me !)
Carbon Detox- published October 2007 £7.99
Author: George Marshall Gaia Books Ltd ISBN: 1856752887
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