Ian Roberts & Phil Edwards, The Energy Glut: The Politics of Fatness in an Overheating World

IssueMay 2011
Review by Patrick Nicholson

This book argues that global warming and bulging human waistlines are products of the same global problems. In Western societies, the car and the television have curtailed human physical activity to unprecedented levels, while a rampant food industry pushes more and more energy-dense foods. The developing world follows our oil-addicted lead, whether it wants to or not.

Fatness is not a personal problem: it is a political problem, as is climate change. Effective, essential action on climate change is essential action for public health is essential action for global economic justice.

This is a book I am sorely tempted to rave about, but I will try and keep my enthusiasm within appropriate limits, not least because the book itself is a masterpiece of measured, rational, commonsense argument and hence I feel the review should do likewise. Forgive me if I am unable to contain myself.

This is an amazing work of synthesis. If you are interested in climate change, food, health and obesity, corporations, transportation, consumer society, bicycles, capitalism, energy, oil, and war (I think this should include almost every PN reader) then this is a book for you. I’m interested in all of them, so it presses all my buttons, in a big way. Roberts seamlessly and effortlessly pulls together these threads and weaves a story that manifestly and elegantly makes sense.

Over the years with groups like Bicycology, we’ve struggled to find ways of making issues like climate change, food, transport and alternatives to capitalism relevant to ordinary people, and to see how to highlight the connections between different struggles and campaigns without being patronising or preaching.

Roberts, a professor of public health, seems to have the natural knack of doing this. You might anticipate arid, academic prose, but the reality is far different. He writes splendidly combining informal, personal insights with a deftness in handling complex issues and presenting them clearly and simply.

I particularly valued his account of the interplay between the rise of car use and decreasing physical activity, highlighting the many subtle and not-so-subtle ways that cars dominate our physical environment, keep us off the streets, dictate our life choices, and bring vast profits to the few. Roberts quotes from the case study of “an ordinary pedestrian death”, a 10-year-old girl knocked down on her way home from school, powerfully bringing home the reality behind the figures and graphs.

It’s not too far off the truth to say that every page turned was a revelation and a joy. It had me practically jumping up and down with ideas, inspiration, and a new-found clarity of purpose to take into my life and activism: a veritable Energy Glut of my own, but of a more productive nature, I trust.

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