This extremely provocative, controversial and almost incendiary compilation of essays provide the reader a glimpse into the incontrovertible views and beliefs of the author with respect to nature, armed conflicts, divinity, monetary factors, power and culture. Each essay is in the form of an argument that tears into various propagated beliefs nursed, nurtured and popularized over a period of time. This celebrated eco-activist and a Visiting Professor of Planning at Oxford Brookes University neither minces words not holds back criticism. Some of the essays in particular are vitriolic, acerbic and caustic, in fact at times more volatile than necessary.
As the title suggests the compilation is compartmentalized into six categories of arguments, namely those with God, Nature, War, Power, Money and Culture. The language is trenchant and pessimistic and the opinions expressed are powerful and precise. Titles such as, “Is the Pope Gay?”; “The Antisocial Bastards in our Midst”; and “Britain’s Most Selfish People” prepare an unsuspecting reader in advance with respect to the content embedded within the essays. The author, in fact has rankled so many of his fellow human beings with his attitude of outspokenness that Martin Broughton, of the British Airways once famously remarked during his speech to the Aviation Club that, the primary challenge for the industry was to “isolate the George Monbiots of this world”
Irrespective of the tone or tenor of the writing, Monbiot’s research is meticulous and his mastery over the subjects dealt with, absolute. The 38 pages of end notes that succeed the essays highlight this fact in no uncertain terms. For instance in an essay titled “Junk Science”, he proceeds to demolish with great vigour, a claim made by the famous botanist David Bellamy that “555 of all the 625 glaciers under observation by The World Glacier Monitoring Service in Zurich, Switzerland, have been growing since 1980”. Doggedly pursuing all the various sources that Bellamy quoted as the basis for his conclusion (and contacting Bellamy himself to part with his sources); Monbiot finds one of the sources to be the latest issue of “21st Century Science and Technology”. The publisher of this journal comes in for the following castigating attack: “Lyndon Larouche (the publisher) is the American demagogue, who in 1989 received a15 year sentence for conspiracy, mail fraud & tax code violations. He has claimed that the British Royal family is running an international drugs syndicate, that Henry Kissinger is a communist agent, that the British Government is controlled by Jewish Bankers, and that modern science is a conspiracy against human potential”.
The book also bears ample testimony to the power and advancement of investigative journalism and is also a quest on the part of the author to unearth the absolute truth behind any claim of importance, whether spiritual, scientific or cultural. It is of no wonder that Naomi Klien says of Monbiot as possessing a “dazzling command of science and a relentless faith in people”. The pages of the book abound with lashing criticisms of organisations and individuals. For example, the author vehemently argues that the so called “skeptics” of climate change denial are “PR loyalists of Exxon Mobil, commissioned to begin with a conclusion and then devise arguments to justify it”. The United States of America is also accused of ‘sabotaging’ the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change. The topics covered span a whole range of diverse issues including the perils of overemployment of biofuels in the place of fossil fuels, the reprehensible flouting of fishing bans with respect to endangered species of sharks such as angel sharks, tiger and hammer head sharks, which has almost led to their deplorable extinction, excessive libertarianism leading to shameful acts such as road rage, which according to the author is a result of blatant and excessive propagation of speed in motor vehicles by experts such as the redoubtable Jeremy Clarkson of the Television fame etc. Monbiot also mulls over the flight of blue as well as white collar jobs from the developed countries to India and offers an interesting rationale behind such ‘outsourcing’. In 1700, the British Government imposed a ban on import of cotton cloth from India. Throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, India was forced to supply raw materials to Britain’s manufacturers, but forbidden to produce competing finished products. The jobs which the colonists stole 300 years back are now returning to the very country from where they were subject to such a ‘theft’. The author is also extremely critical about the war on terror and the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan. With specific reference to the invasion of Iraq, the author alleges that in spite of the Saddam Hussein regime agreeing to open up its territories to the weapons inspector and also agreeing to host a general election within a span of 2 years, the pleas fell on deaf ears of the high, mighty and the influential in the Pentagon who had decided in earnest to wage a war against the Gulf nation due to the possible ‘strategic advantages’ such a move could confer upon the invaders.
The book also is a veritable treasure trove of facts that are least known, but which have the potential to create a lasting impact. I for one was never aware of the fact that ‘Columbitetantalite’, a mineral about whose very existence very few people in the world might be aware of, but upon which much of the post industrial growth is dependent, has been one of the leading causes of conflict resulting in some 4 million deaths in the Democratic Republic of Congo! Also the story regarding Taliban soldiers being subject to dastardly acts of torture at the hands of their American captives makes for some unsettling reading. Equally revelatory is the fact of the employment of chemical weapons by the US forces against the Iraqis in Fallujah in the form of White Phosphorous, an element that is fat soluble and burns spontaneously on contact with the air. Equally revelatory is the alleged atrocities in the form of British State policy administered when an El Nino drought destituted the farmers of the Deccan Plateau in 1876. At the height of the famine, as per the orders provided by Lord Lytton, grain merchants supposedly exported a record 6.4 million hundredweight of wheat when the peasants in their own country were starving to death.
However some of the views postulated in the book seem to say the least, far-fetched and unbelievable. For example, the theory that the Iraqi invasion of USA has been to a certain extent instigated by religious zealots and followers of the “Rapture” cult is a proposition that defies sane thinking. Monbiot also quotes in this regard as follows: “You can negotiate with politicians; you cannot negotiate with priests. The Presidency is turning into priesthood”
Although one might flinch at the extreme views expressed by George Monbiot in these essays and also to an extent disagree with his prophesies and propositions, there is absolutely no doubt that these are issues which mankind as a concerted whole cannot afford to ignore or neglect by any stretch of imagination. They represent tangible problems and intangible concerns which need to be addressed. Whilst the immediacy of such an action could be a matter of great deliberation and discussion, solutions MUST be proffered and plans implemented if there needs to be heralded into an already chaotic and overheated world a semblance of social order, environmental stability and co-operative civility. A quote borrowed by the author in a stirring introduction summarizes in a profound albeit succinct detail the crying need for reforms in this world – “Every society is four missed meals away from anarchy”
Bring on the Apocalypse – A necessary debate!