George Joshua Richard Monbiot|
27 January 1963
Paddington, London, England
|Education||MA Oxon (BA in Zoology)|
|Alma mater||Brasenose College, Oxford|
|Occupation||Writer, political activist|
|Parent(s)||Raymond Geoffrey Monbiot and Rosalie Cooke|
|Awards||United Nations Global 500 Award (1995)|
George Joshua Richard Monbiot ( MON-bee-oh; born 27 January 1963) is a British writer known for his environmental, political activism. He writes a weekly column for The Guardian, and is the author of a number of books, including Captive State: The Corporate Takeover of Britain (2000) and Feral: Searching for Enchantment on the Frontiers of Rewilding (2013). He is the founder of The Land is Ours, a peaceful campaign for the right of access to the countryside and its resources in the United Kingdom.
George Monbiot grew up in Henley-on-Thames in South Oxfordshire, England, in a house next to Peppard Common. Politics was at the heart of family life--his father, Raymond Geoffrey Monbiot, is a businessman who headed the Conservative Party's trade and industry forum, while his mother, Rosalie--the elder daughter of Conservative MP Roger Gresham Cooke--was a Conservative councillor who led South Oxfordshire District Council for a decade. His uncle, Canon Hereward Cooke, was the Liberal Democrat deputy leader of Norwich City Council between 2002 and 2006.
Monbiot was educated at Stowe School in Buckinghamshire, an independent school, and won an open scholarship to Brasenose College, Oxford. He stated that his "political awakening" was prompted by reading Bettina Ehrlich's book, Paolo and Panetto, while at his prep school (Elstree, in Essex), and that he regretted attending Oxford, stating that his time there was unhappy and he did not fit in with Brasenose's culture.
After graduating with a degree in zoology, Monbiot joined the BBC Natural History Unit as a radio producer, making natural history and environmental programmes. He transferred to the BBC's World Service, where he worked briefly as a current affairs producer and presenter, before leaving to research and write his first book.
Working as an investigative journalist, he travelled in Indonesia, Brazil, and East Africa. His activities led to his being made persona non grata in seven countries and being sentenced to life imprisonment in absentia in Indonesia. In these places, he was also shot at, beaten up by military police, shipwrecked and stung into a poisoned coma by hornets. He came back to work in Britain after being pronounced clinically dead in Lodwar General Hospital in north-western Kenya, having contracted cerebral malaria.
In Britain, he joined the roads protest movement and was often called to give press interviews; as a result he was denounced as a "media tart" by groups such as Green Anarchist and Class War. He was attacked by security guards, who allegedly drove a metal spike through his foot, smashing the middle metatarsal bone. His injuries left him in hospital. Sir Crispin Tickell, a former British diplomat at the United Nations, who was then Warden at Green College, Oxford, made the young protester a Visiting Fellow. He was an active member of the Pure Genius!! campaign and co-founded The Land is Ours, which has occupied land at several locations in Britain. Its first high-profile success was in 1997, when it occupied thirteen acres (five hectares) of prime real estate on the river in London on which its owner, beverages multinational Diageo, intended to build a superstore. The protesters defeated Diageo in court, built an "eco-village," and held on to the land for six months.
Among his best-known articles are his critique of David Bellamy's climate science, his description of an encounter with a police torturer in Brazil, his explanation of why dangerous floods occur, his column on the devastating impacts of loneliness, his argument that the loss of soil is perhaps the greatest environmental crisis of all, his explanation of neoliberalism, and his description of the dark money networks in the Trump administration.
In January 2011, Monbiot published an account of his assets on his website, and urged other journalists to follow suit. In the interests of transparency, Monbiot explained that he earned £77,400 a year, gross, from publishing contracts and rents. He continues to publish his financial accounts on his website.
In November 2012, he apologised to Lord McAlpine for his "stupidity and thoughtlessness" in implying, in a tweet, that the Tory peer was a paedophile. In March 2013, Monbiot announced on his blog the details of a settlement reached with Lord McAlpine's representatives. Monbiot agreed "to carry out, over the next three years, work on behalf of three charities of my choice whose value amounts to £25,000", which he described as an "unprecedented settlement".
In 2014, Monbiot wrote an article on the theme of loneliness. This led to a collaboration with musician Ewan McLennan. Together they released an Album "Breaking the Spell of Loneliness" in October 2016 followed by a tour of the UK. Folk Radio described it as "an enthralling album" where "Each song is a short, eloquent and thought provoking essay on the destruction of our humanity and how it can be regained".
Monbiot narrated the video How Wolves Change Rivers which was based on his TED talk of 2013 on the restoration of ecosystems and landscape when wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone Park.
Monbiot believes that drastic action coupled with strong political will is needed to combat global warming. Monbiot has written that climate change is the "moral question of the 21st century" and that there is an urgent need for a number of emergency actions he believes will stop climate change, including: setting targets on greenhouse emissions using the latest science; issuing every citizen with a "personal carbon ration"; new building regulations with houses built to German passivhaus standards; banning incandescent light bulbs, patio heaters, garden floodlights, and other inefficient technologies and wasteful applications; constructing large offshore wind farms; replacing the national gas grid with a hydrogen pipe network; a new national coach network to make journeys using public transport faster than using a car; all petrol stations to supply leasable electric car batteries with stations equipped with a crane service to replace depleted batteries; scrap road-building and road-widening programmes, redirecting their budgets to tackle climate change; reduce UK airport capacity by 90 percent; closing down all out-of-town superstores and replacing them with warehouses and a delivery system.
Monbiot says the campaign against climate change is "unlike almost all the public protests" that came before it. "It is a campaign not for abundance but for austerity. It is a campaign not for more freedom but for less. Strangest of all, it is a campaign not just against other people, but against ourselves."
Monbiot also thinks that economic recession can be a good thing for the planet: "Is it not time to recognise that we have reached the promised land, and should seek to stay there? Why would we want to leave this place in order to explore the blackened waste of consumer frenzy followed by ecological collapse? Surely the rational policy for the governments of the rich world is now to keep growth rates as close to zero as possible?" While he does recognize that recession can cause hardship, he points out that economic growth can cause hardship as well. For example, the increase in sales of jet skis would count as economic growth, but they would also cause hardships such as water pollution and noise pollution.
Monbiot purchased a used diesel Renault Clio after moving to Machynlleth in 2007. He has travelled through Canada and the United States, campaigning on climate change and promoting his book. He contends that this travel was justifiable as it sought to boost the case for much greater carbon cuts there. Monbiot has stated that he limits his flying to once every three years.
He is the patron of the UK student campaign network People & Planet and appears in the film The Age of Stupid in animated form, in which he says "The very fact that the crisis is taking place within our generation, it's happening right now, means that we are tremendously powerful people. So this position of despair and 'I can't do anything' and 'there's no point' is completely illogical, it's exactly the opposite".
Monbiot once expressed deep antipathy to the nuclear industry. He finally rejected his later neutral position regarding nuclear power in March 2011. Although he "still loathe[s] the liars who run the nuclear industry", Monbiot now advocates its use, having been convinced of its relative safety by what he considers the limited effects of the 2011 Japan tsunami on nuclear reactors in the region. Subsequently, he has harshly condemned the anti-nuclear movement, writing that it "has misled the world about the impacts of radiation on human health...made [claims] ungrounded in science, unsupportable when challenged and wildly wrong." He singled out Helen Caldicott for, he wrote, making unsourced and inaccurate claims, dismissing contrary evidence as part of a cover-up, and overstating the death toll from the Chernobyl disaster by a factor of more than 140. In October 2013 Monbiot criticized the selection of a generation III reactor design for the Hinkley Point C nuclear power station due to cost as well as for a half century requirement of uranium mining and transuranic waste production. He contrasted this with two generation IV reactor concepts: "if integral fast reactors were deployed, the UK's stockpile of nuclear waste could be used to generate enough low-carbon energy to meet all UK demand for 500 years. These reactors would keep recycling the waste until hardly any remained: solving three huge problems--energy supply, nuclear waste and climate change--at once. Thorium reactors use an element that's already extracted in large quantities as an unwanted byproduct of other mining industries. They recycle their own waste, leaving almost nothing behind." (cf. similar comments by James Hansen)
Monbiot harshly criticised the book Heaven and Earth by climate change sceptic Ian Plimer, saying that "Since its publication in Australia it has been ridiculed for a hilarious series of schoolboy errors, and its fudging and manipulation of the data". Plimer challenged Monbiot to a public debate on the issues covered in the book. Monbiot agreed on the condition that Plimer first answer a series of written questions for publication on the website of The Guardian, so there would be a factual basis to the discussion. Plimer refused and Monbiot labeled Plimer a "grandstander" with a "broad yellow streak" who has nowhere answered the accusations of serious errors in his Heaven and Earth book, and accused him of trying to "drown out the precise refutations published by his book's reviewers". Plimer then reversed his decision, and agreed to answer written questions in return for a live debate. Monbiot's response on receiving Plimer's contribution was one of disappointment, on the grounds that Plimer's response "so far consists not of answers, but of questions addressed to me." Monbiot told Plimer that he is not qualified to answer Plimer's questions (although Gavin Schmidt of NASA did answer them). On 2 September 2009, Monbiot published another column in The Guardian asking: "Is Ian Plimer ever going to answer my questions?" and suggested that Plimer was evading the questions by using the Chewbacca defence. A debate was subsequently held on 15 December, while Monbiot was in Copenhagen, on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's Lateline programme, moderated by Tony Jones.
Monbiot made an unsuccessful attempt to carry out a citizen's arrest of John Bolton, a former US ambassador to the United Nations, when the latter attended the Hay Festival to give a talk on international relations in May 2008. Monbiot argued that Bolton was one of the instigators of the Iraq War, of which Monbiot was an opponent.
In January 2004, Monbiot and Salma Yaqoob co-founded the Respect - The Unity Coalition (later formally the Respect Party) which grew out of the Stop the War Coalition. He resigned from the group the following February when Respect failed to reach agreement with the Green Party not to stand candidates in the same constituencies in the forthcoming 2004 European Parliamentary election.
In an interview with the British political blog Third Estate in September 2009, Monbiot expressed his support for the policies of Plaid Cymru, saying "I have finally found the party that I feel very comfortable with. That's not to say I feel uncomfortable with the Green Party, on the whole I support it, but I feel even more comfortable with Plaid."
In April 2010, he was a signatory to an open letter of support for the Liberal Democrats, published in The Guardian. Prior to the 2015 UK general election, he was one of several public figures who endorsed the parliamentary candidacy of the Green Party's Caroline Lucas.
In August 2015, Monbiot endorsed Jeremy Corbyn's campaign in the Labour Party leadership election. He wrote in The Guardian describing Corbyn as the "only one candidate" who proposes "to breathe life back into politics, to recharge democracy with choice, to ignite the hope that will make Labour electable again." In April 2017, he announced his intention to vote for the Labour Party in the 2017 general election for a "kinder, more equal, more inclusive nation" and added "I've never voted with hope before" in June.
Monbiot has been associated with the cause of indigenous rights, and has sought to denounce threats to tribal people, at the face of corporate interests. He contributed to the 2009 book We Are One: A Celebration of Tribal Peoples, which explores the culture of peoples around the world, portraying both its diversity and the threats it faces.
George Monbiot claims that the Grenfell Tower fire highlighted the need for fire safety regulations. He maintains that both Conservatives and New Labour have given in to corporate lobbying and deregulated to the point where public safety is compromised. Cutting corners can cut costs for less responsible businesses, which gives them an edge over more responsible rivals. Monbiot proposes that "pollution paradox" firms, with practices that most offend voters, must spend most money on political influence, therefore the demands of the most offensive firms come to dominate politics. Governments that court big donors progressively dismantle citizens' protection.
Monbiot's first book was Poisoned Arrows (1989), a work of investigative travel journalism exposing what he called the "devastating effects" of the partially World Bank-funded transmigration program on the peoples and tribes of West Papua, a nation annexed by Indonesia. It was followed by Amazon Watershed (1991) which documented expulsions of Brazilian peasant farmers from their land and followed them thousands of miles across the forest to the territory of the Yanomami Indians, and showed how timber sold in Britain was being stolen from indigenous and biological reserves in Brazil. His third book, No Man's Land: An Investigative Journey Through Kenya and Tanzania (1994), documented the seizure of land and cattle from nomadic people in Kenya and the Tanzania, by--among other forces--game parks and safari tourism.
In 2000, he published Captive State: The Corporate Takeover of Britain. The book examines the role of corporate power in the United Kingdom, on both local and national levels, and argues that corporate involvement in politics is a serious threat to democracy. Subjects discussed in the book include the building of the Skye Bridge, corporate involvement in the National Health Service, the role of business in university research, and the conditions which influence the granting of planning permission.
His fifth book, The Age of Consent: A Manifesto for a New World Order, was published in 2003. The book is an attempt to set out a positive manifesto for change for the global justice movement. Monbiot criticises anarchism and Marxism, arguing that any possible solution to the world's inequalities must be rooted in a democratic parliamentary system. The four main changes to global governance which Monbiot argues for are a democratically elected world parliament which would pass resolutions on international issues; a democratised United Nations General Assembly to replace the unelected UN Security Council; the proposed International Clearing Union which would automatically discharge trade deficits and prevent the accumulation of debt; and a fair trade organisation which would regulate world trade in a way that protects the economies of poorer countries.
The book also discusses ways in which these ideas may be put into practice. He posits that the United States and Western European states are heavily dependent on the existence of this debt, and that when faced with a choice between releasing the developing world from debt and the collapse of the global economy, their internal economic interests will dictate that they opt for the "soft landing" option. However, Monbiot emphasises that he does not present the manifesto as a "final or definitive" answer to global inequalities but intends that it should open debate and stresses that those who reject it must offer their own solutions. He argues that ultimately the global justice movement "must seek...to provide a coherent programme of alternatives to the concentrated power of the dictatorship of vested interests."
Monbiot's next book, Heat: How to Stop the Planet Burning, published in 2006, focuses on the issue of climate change. He points out that the public opinion campaign to cast doubt on the reality of climate change is funded by fossil-fuel companies (primarily Exxon-Mobil), and traces the "network of fake citizens' groups and bogus scientific bodies" campaigning to discredit climate science to origins in a campaign by tobacco companies to create a facade of science to cast doubt on the link between cigarette smoking and disease. He argues that a 90 percent reduction in carbon emissions is necessary in developed countries in order to prevent disastrous changes to the climate. He then sets out to demonstrate how such a reduction could be achieved within the United Kingdom, without a significant fall in living standards, through changes in housing, power supply, and transport.
Feral: Searching for Enchantment on the Frontiers of Rewilding was published in 2013, and focuses on the concept of rewilding the planet. Monbiot states "rewilding offers a positive environmentalism. Environmentalists have long known what they are against; now we can explain what we are for."
In the book, Monbiot attacks sheep farming as "a slow-burning ecological disaster, which has done more damage to the living systems of this country than either climate change or industrial pollution. Yet scarcely anyone seems to have noticed." He particularly looks at sheep farming in Wales.
The book received favourable reviews, including in publications normally hostile to his work, such as The Spectator and The Daily Telegraph. It won the Society of Biology Book Award for general biology in 2014.
Monbiot has lived in Oxford for many years, but for a few years from 2007, lived in a low emissions house in the mid-Wales market town of Machynlleth, originally with his then-wife, writer and campaigner Angharad Penrhyn Jones, and their daughter. Because his new partner lives in Oxford, Monbiot returned by 2012. The couple's daughter, Monbiot's second, was born in early 2012. In December 2017, Monbiot was diagnosed with prostate cancer; he had surgery in March 2018.
He has honorary doctorates from the University of St Andrews and the University of Essex, and an honorary fellowship from Cardiff University.
In 1995, Nelson Mandela presented him with a United Nations Global 500 Award for outstanding environmental achievement. He was a finalist in the Lloyds National Screenwriting Prize with his screenplay The Norwegian, and won a Sony Award for radio production, the Sir Peter Kent Award and the OneWorld National Press Award. In November 2007, his book Heat was awarded the Premio Mazotti, an Italian book prize, but he was denied the money given with the prize because he chose not to travel to Venice to collect it in person, arguing that it was not a good enough reason to justify flying. In 2017, he was a recipient of the SEAL Environmental Journalism Award for his work at The Guardian.
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