David J C MacKay, 'Sustainable Energy - Without the Hot Air'; Kate Evans, 'The Carbon Supermarket'; Turbulence Collective, 'Turbulence Issue #5: And now for something completely different'

IssueApril 2010
Review by Patrick Nicholson

I enjoyed David MacKay’s book unpicking energy issues and exploring the realities of the tough choices we face.

It’s had favourable reviews from influential quarters, including those in political power here in the UK. MacKay, a Cambridge physicist, has essentially made a book out of lots of back-of-an-envelope calculations, pulling them together to see, for example, whether potential UK renewable energy sources stack up against our energy consumption.

He’s done almost everything possibly to make it accessible, from great graphics to separating the trickier stuff into optional technical chapters.

What I didn’t like was the lack of vision. MacKay pretty much takes our current energy profligacy for granted and tries to find some way to meet our addiction. It wouldn’t have taken much to have added inspirational material showing the fantastic lives that can be lived on a fraction of the UK average carbon footprint. But it’s still a fascinating read.

Kate Evans’ latest comic also tries to make technical issues accessible, but in this case the topic at hand is carbon trading.

Kate’s lively and engaging style communicates the essentials of the issue very effectively, explaining the key conceptual drawbacks of carbon trading.

We find out about the abject failure of the European Trading Scheme, and harmful effects like promoting spurious “green” developments in the majority world and spawning carbon derivatives markets and new classes of parasites profiting from global ruin.

A new insight for me was that the recession has created huge windfall profits for corporations, since their lower activity means lower carbon emissions, hence they have lots of unwanted carbon emission permits to sell. Whatever way you look at it, carbon trading is a grand con trick to facilitate business as usual.

Finally we come to Turbulence, an altogether different kettle of fish. It’s the publishing project of a small group who met in the counter-globalisation movement, and aims to create space for debate on this “movement of movements”. I first picked up a copy late last year, and found myself drawn to slowly working through the long and thoughtful articles.

Issue 5 includes pieces by names I know (Rebecca Solnit, Tadzio Mueller) and names I don’t (Walter Mignolo, Rodrigo Nunes), and covers topics from the “Green New Deal” to reassessing the Seattle protests. Whilst not an explicit focus, climate change is a common thread linking most if not all of the articles.

The most interesting piece is the opening article, which explores the zombie-like state of neoliberalism, stumbling on after its death, intellectually and literally bankrupt.

The article argues that realisation of this void prompts a stepping back and creates the potential for new common ground amongst the movements and ideas for alternatives. Turbulence is a difficult, dense but valuable read for anyone grasping to make sense of our political future.

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