George Monbiot, This Can't Be Happening

ISBN: 978-0-241-51463-4. UK: £4.99. Can: $10.95

This Can’t Be Happening comprises a collection of speeches and essays by George Monbiot, a world- renowned investigative journalist with a deep concern for the state of the Earth and its future. Monbiot states at the beginning of his collection that there is a very real prospect of planetary collapse. The ‘why’ and the ‘how’ are addressed in nine chapters: ‘The Unseen World’; ‘In Memoriam’; ‘Deathly Silence’; ‘A Good Start’; ‘Hopeless Realism’; ‘Intergenerational Theft’; ‘The Problem is Capitalism’; ‘The New Political Story that Could Change Everything’, and ‘Embarrassment of Riches’. The texts were written between 2017 and 2019.

In order to face the looming threat of planetary collapse, Monbiot stresses that we need moral imagination. We must wake our friends from ‘the stupor of consumption’, he argues, and ‘break through the barrier of disbelief’ (5).

Counteracting such efforts is our tendency to see only the most significant aspects of our surroundings and forget or ignore everything else. We must appreciate the value of what we have while it still exists and be aware of the beauty of nature before it vanishes – beauties with which we were once familiar but which are now becoming scarce or have already become extinct.

We must learn to talk about the greatest predicament humankind has ever faced, Monbiot stresses. And we must create a story, a new restoration story, that ‘tells us why we’re in this mess and tells us how to get out of that mess’ (62). The story must incorporate a system:

A system that functions within planetary limits. A system that sits within Earth’s systems, rather than bursting through them. A system on a human scale and a natural scale that respects both humanity and the rest of the living world’ (73).

The result will be the preservation of the richness and beauty of the Earth. Our children will be the benefactors.

This Can’t Be Happening is a personal manifesto which, while focussing primarily on the UK, is applicable across the planet. It is not only Monbiot’s story but also ours. Elegantly written, clear but not alarmist, This Can’t Be Happening is the work of someone who cares deeply for the Earth. His message is ‘Global warming is happening’ – but it is not too late.

Monbiot’s manifesto is part of a series of works on the Earth. All published by Penguin, these are written by such major authors as Amitav Ghosh, Bill McKibben, Naomi Klein, Timothy Morton and Arne Naess. In the coming weeks, I shall review several of the works in the series and post them on my website.

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