Heat by George Monbiot

George Monbiot is the Angry Man of the environmental movement in the UK, an important role since every movement needs an Angry Man.
Heat is well worth reading, it is exhaustively researched, highly opinionated and occasionally funny. I admire anyone who can write intelligently about climate change and still be funny. There are too many environmentalists who are more mental than environmental and generally lack the necessary self awareness to be funny.
Among many issues related to achieving a 90% carbon emission reduction by 2030 Monbiot discusses the wonderfully named Khazzoom-Brookes Postulate which says that as energy efficiency increases other services move into the ‘efficiency’ space this created and use up the energy. Similar to the ‘rebound’ effect at a domestic level where we compensate ourselves for being efficient by going on a foreign holiday for a weekend. The result of these two effects is that energy efficiency measures can increase energy use.
I disagree with some of the suggestions he makes on how to achieve the required reductions. For housing he suggests that all new housing should be south facing for solar gain. This is a fundamental misunderstanding of how housing design does and should work. Places that are designed in this way make poor places to live and work, and there are many examples in South East China to illustrate to us why we should not pursue this course of action. A place where we live should engender a sustainable community first and be energy efficient second. We must be careful not to sacrifice design to energy efficiency.
On the subject of energy meters Monbiot is already out of date as the UK govt has mandated their introduction since this book was published.
His conclusion that housing can only produce a 30% cut in emissions by 2030 is probably accurate and that major efforts will be required in this period to reduce the carbon emissions of the national grid.
Overall this is a thought provoking and informative book, it should be required Reading for every energy consultant, politician and local authority policy officer in the UK.
The book comes with a forty page list of references that will fill your bedside table for years.


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