However, I would argue that the priority for everyone is simply to stop using fossil fuels asap. Imagine the same argument if we already had 100% clean energy: Monbiot would be saying that this pointless conumerism causes 0% of CO2 production. So, it would still be pointless, extractivist, and abusive, but it won't fundamentally be raising global temperatures for thousands of years.
The key thing to remember is that it's the total amount of CO2 emissions since the industrial revolution that matters, not the rate we emit. So, Reduce/ Re-use / Recycle (RRR) by itself won't fix global warming if we still use fossil fuel energy at all: it's simply like a bath that's trickling instead of gushing - it'll still overflow eventually.
But eliminating our fossil fuel usage and employing RRR makes it easier and quicker to get to 0 emissions. This still means the priority is clean energy now.
It's possible for most of us to cut out around 66+% of our domestic CO2 production by making just a few big decisions that keep paying both us and the world back. Listed in order of lowest to highest investment:
- Switch over to a 100% renewable energy supplier, like Ecotricity, or Good Energy. Pick a big supplier that actually owns Wind turbines, solar power and is starting to invest in baseload energy storage. This will cut out 30% of your emissions.
- Radically switch over any gas appliances to electricity. This will probably take a few years, but will include your gas fire and cooker / oven. This will probably address another 15% of your emissions (up to 45% now).
- Buy solar power for your house or invest in an Energy4All renewable cooperative. This will make other people's decisions for them, by removing some of the market for the existing fossil fuel industry and placing energy production power in your hands rather than theirs.
- Switch to an electric vehicle as soon as you can afford it. This will cut out another 30% of CO2 emissions. Even if you cut down on car driving and cycle or walk instead (a good thing), it's a false economy to believe that it's less polluting to keep an old fossil fuel car going as long as possible, because all it does is delay the time when you go clean: because the emissions involved in the new car will be a fixed cost. Every year we delay on this is a year the fossil fuel car industry has less incentive to switch: vote with your bank account.
The total here amounts to about 75% of your CO2 production and up to 30% of other's CO2 production. I cover this in a bit more detail in this post.
By contrast, difficulty with putting Monbiot's argument into practice is that to address it, we have to change our lifestyles in hundreds of small ways and a few big ways:
- To eliminate the consumerism we generate (though it's hard to predict when we'll stop using new things and there are also multiple ways of addressing consumerism, e.g. sharing as many consumables as possible).
- To eliminate the consumerism others generate for us (e.g gifts) without appearing to be kill-joys.
- To campaign for governments and world organisations to address the root causes, like conflict minerals. This is needed, because time and time again we're going to be suckered by cheaper products that we think we do need, and we don't have the time or knowledge to fully (or even partially) analyse the supply chains and ethics involved. Regulations are needed to shift the playing field in favour. Consider the effort involved by the company Fairphone (I have a fairphone 1) in tracing mineral sources.
So, the probability is that we'll try to do these things for a while, but slowly get overwhelmed by the market forces pushing us in the opposite direction.
This is really just an application of Every Big Helps from Sustainability Without the Hot Air.