Climate Change Denial

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November 2, 2007


George Marshall @ 3:04 pm

image002.jpgCarbon 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
RRP £7.99


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12 responses to “CARBON DETOX”

  1. I believe in acting local for one important reason: conservation saves money. Wearing more clothes to bed, shutting off the AC during the summer, and hand-washing dishes saves me $50-100 a month. I’ll take the train when I travel to Boston from Providence. I drive a fuel efficient car. I watch SUV after SUV driving 80 mph on our highways and I shake my head at how they can drive them and then turn around and default on their adjustable rate home loans. You would figure common sense would prevail when people make such major decisions in their lives.

    However, I’m someone who has watched three or four waves of “promises” from climate alarmists which haven’t even come close to coming true (still have my highlighted “Earth In The Balance” from my teenage years). I’ve seen the arguments, but the new charts look awfully familiar from those in the 80’s predicting doom (I’m a nuclear RO who does nothing but analyze charts, BTW). There seems to be something to it, but when scientists say stuff like “the might be something going on with the sun, but I can’t get funding to study that”, I can’t help but be somewhat skeptical.

    I guess my point is that you can get a conservation agenda through to the common man without making them feel bad about themselves, or looking down on them like most environmentalists seem to do.

  2. daren says:

    here’s an idea…walk to work and back

  3. Peter Winters says:

    Excellent – can’t wait to read and review it!

  4. Claire says:

    This sounds great but I can’t help wondering how you’re going to get the extreme skeptic/deniers to even admit that they have a problem let alone pick it up & read it. Some of those people are so determined! It’s a bit like getting an alcoholic to admit they’ve got a problem maybe? In my case, it took a friend’s awakening & subsequent life change to wake me up to the fact that I wasn’t doing everything I could. Having a healthy scepticism I think in my sub-concience I was waiting for the “evidence” to come in before I took major action. But then I realised that there’s no need to wait, we can make big changes now without sacrificing much.

    [George writes: You are dead right Claire- people choose to be skeptics and then adopt or fit the incoming information to fit that stance. And one way to do that is to only read skeptic materials and ignore the rest. But I do hope the book will provide people with some arguments to take on the doubters and, in truth, I think we’re all a bit in denial and can do with exploring that. Certainly I find it very hard to believe in climate change, and I’ve been working on nothing else fro eight years!]

  5. I think focusing on carbon only as the source of climate change is misleading and misinformative.

    According to the 390 page 2006 United Nations report, “Livestocks Long Shadow” (see wikipedia entry:'s_Long_Shadow or download the document for free at
    the livestock sector “generates 65 per cent of human-related nitrous oxide, which has 296 times the Global Warming Potential (GWP) of CO2” and “that livestock are responsible for 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, a bigger share than that of transport”.

    Focusing only on carbon is a blinkered view of the situation. All aspects of climate change need to be considered, and carbon is only one part of the picture, and possibly not even the most significant.

    I think it is time that activists such as yourself pointed out to the population that while changes to their carbon footprint are a worthwhile thing to do, other easy changes – such as moving towards a more plant-centered diet and reducing foods and products from the dairy and livestock industry – can possibly make a bigger difference to climate change than all the compact lightglobes, water-saving showerheads and ybrids put together.

  6. Annie says:

    Read the book, it addresses all this. Anyway, “carbon” is a short-cut concept to all the ways our human activity effects climactic change.

  7. Rita says:

    I’ve not been able to get hold of the book; asked the main Oxford bookshops, which didn’t have it 2 weeks ago, to get it in. I look forward to reading it soon. On the question about resistance to digesting the evidence and information and to changing behaviour, you might be interested in the following links which refer to addressing ‘resistant/’denying’ constituencies.

    All best.

  8. Michael Osborne says:

    Dear Mr. Marshall,

    Having just finished it, I can confirm that your book is absolutely awesome! I’m going to try and force it on as many people as I can.

    Michael Osborne

  9. Pete Dunkelberg says:

    What’sa matter your book & publisher?

    Checking amazon

    I see no Publisher’s information and only one reader review.

  10. Peter Winters says:

    Dear George,

    Great book!

    I’ve read Carbon Detox, and I am sure that it will stimulate people to take meaningful action to combat climate change. Your hands-on experience has allowed you take a critical look at what works, and what does not.

    I have made a review, but it ended up at nearly 6,000 words!! I’ll try and get it posted on a personal blog at sometime with a link from your site, but in the meantime, here is a summary. I have made 9 categories of comment – the first 5 are things which I particularly liked about Carbon Detox, and the following 4 are those which are meant as constructive criticism for your kind consideration. I end with a challenge!

    I liked:

    1. About Really Believing It!
    2. Motivating Behaviour Change (& Avoiding the Medusa Effect)
    3. Segmenting People into Types
    4. Importance of Social Interaction
    5. Budgeting and Investing in Low-Carbon Living

    Some constructively comments were about:

    1. Needing More of a Focus on Creating Solutions
    2. Transport Economics
    3. Higher Commitment to Ecological Thinking (& Beware of Averages!)
    4. The Possible Role of Contraction & Convergence (C&C)

    I also end with a challenge/discussion on what a resident of Canada should do. Canada is the world’s least successful country in meeting its Kyoto emissions targets. Since 1990, emissions have increased by 27% in Canada, and they are now around 35% above Kyoto target levels

    Best wishes,

    Peter Winters

  11. stuart says:

    I liked the book but it left me feeling a bit disempowered. Around half my emissions are from govt and due to my disposable income (we have a low mortage and a household income of £50,00 pa).

    Maybe this just highlights the systemic nature of the problem and the limits of individual action?

    By the way, the carbon calculator method you use doesn’t recognise savings in the bank. Surely these need to be accounted for as they are almost certainly being invested and generating carbon.

    [George replies. Dear Stuart- I think it is great that your emissions are so low. I don’t think you should feel disempowerd- I think you should be out there amplifying like mad. You are showing that low carbon living is posisble and you are already practising it. You are right about savings in the bank, but it is hard to quantify savings (which are a lump) as annual emissions. So, rather like the Inland Revenue, I have assumed that they are covered under gross income or investment income. This is crude, but the emissions from consumption are very hard to evaluate accurately and most calculators duck this huge area. Carbon Detox is, I think, has the first calculator to even try to calculate, and I have had to simplify it to keep readers engaged. As I stress in the book, the calculator is an imprecise tool to give you an idea of where your issues are (with government in your case). Glad you enjoyed the book.]

  12. An excellent book that presents the most useful information in a way that the layman can understand. I read it from cover to cover within a week, and had plenty of laughs along the way (Costa del Grimsby?)!.

    In fact I liked it so much I wrote a review of it which I’ve put on my website, along with links to amazon us and uk, available at

    I’m sure the light hearted tone you took with the book has rubbed off on me when writing content for my site – it’s an important topic, but people are scared by the ramifications. We need to make it as accessible as we can, and a little humour can’t hurt!

    By the way, if you want a source of hilarious climate “denier” arguments, might I suggest looking into the global warming section of Yahoo Answers:;_ylt=Ak3Mr47gGaQAAmPtzsZieQ8Fxgt.;_ylv=3?link=list&sid=2115500306

    I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been called a communist/liberal/conspiracy propagator/idiot/gullible… Oh well, they’re not going to stop me using a little common sense and encouraging others to do the same.

    It’s an excellent book which I thoroughly enjoyed reading. Thanks for writing it!


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