Carbon Choices

By Neil Kitching

Published by the author, 2020, £9.99 at Bookbusters

Review by Tim Barton

In a BBC interview last month, Greta Thunberg stated ‘I think that we can safely say that there are no countries at least in the global north that are doing even close to what would be needed’ to tackle the climate crisis. The paraphrased mass media takeaway was that Scotland, the host for a fortnight-long UN-sponsored Climate Change conference (COP26) this coming November, is ‘not a world leader on climate change’. Fair’s fair, it is a reasonable version of her actual sentiments; nonetheless it would be nice to see more substance and less spin.

Neil Kitching is an energy specialist and a Scot, and has self-published an excellent introduction to the issues around greenhouse gas emissions, remediation, and alternatives. Reading his book will certainly help you place Scotland near the top of the ‘world leaders on climate change’, at least in the ‘global north’. He itemises a number of ways in which the country is addressing emissions issues, especially around its growing wind turbine infrastructure, although the current globalised resourcing model for such farms is far from ‘green’, as made painfully clear in the excellent, if frightening, essay ‘Who holds the welding rod?’ by James Meek (London Review of Books, July 15th). Yet, too, it will be clear that no nation, anywhere – and certainly not countries where the abstracted ‘value’ of money and profit trumps lives, environment, and long-term planning – are doing enough.

One of the virtues of this book, one that sets it apart from the majority of others out there, is that the author does not give the majority of space to mansplaining what you, the individual, can do. Even in aggregate, it is not enough to swap out light-bulbs and recycle a bit. Kitching gives at least equal weight to global, national, corporate and community action as to you and I. This is refreshing, and clearly a necessity. Additionally, he places the global crisis for wildlife at centre. He does not underestimate the scale of the problems facing us, nor does he underestimate the degree to which ‘our economic growth has depended on access to cheap fossil fuels’, or how much vested interests control and spin the narrative. He is, though, insistent that with the political will they can be tackled.

In the first section of the book, he addresses the basic nature of the greenhouse gas emissions crisis, explaining how the complexity of the factors involved make straightforward predictions difficult, as non-technically as is possible and looking at the impact of our average global heating on humans and wildlife.

The second part is divided into ten chapters, presented as ten ‘building blocks to make better carbon choices’. Here, I will simply list them, in the hope that readers will want to investigate his arguments for themselves: think long-term; look to pricing and economics as a weapon; pass and enforce sensible regulations; put good design centre-stage; ensure well-targeted innovation; investment; education, training, and jobs; acknowledge the magnitude of necessary behavioural change; involve, don’t steam-roller, communities; and work towards a much more efficient management of resources.

Kitching is aware of the risk of putting ends above means, and keeps a close eye on socially equitable solutions. Thus, in the third section, ‘Solutions – applying the building blocks to our lives’, he proposes five common-sense principles, headed by fairness ‘across current and future generations’. A fundamental positive goal has long been to ensure our technological culture not out-evolve our ethical culture. Our current mode of living is, as Ed Abbey put it, that of the cancer cell effectively eating our ‘host’, the biosphere itself. But, we have the potential to, instead, be stewards of the Earth, and that is reflected in Kitching’s fifth principle, that we must ‘nurture nature’.

He concludes with a green action plan for governments, businesses and individuals, and, unsurprising after reading his views on livestock as a major source of greenhouse gasses, a selection of vegan recipes.

Presenting real ‘common-sense solutions to our climate and nature crisis’ (his book’s subtitle) as requiring significant action from all parties, and putting his book out there ahead of, and with one eye on, this November’s ‘COP26’ conference, puts Carbon Choices right at the top of my ‘must read’ books of the year.

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