'Bono and Geldof should be ashamed'
Live 8 was a disaster, according to Guardian columnist George Monbiot. But that's not all he's angry about. He talks to Emma Browne about poverty, global warming and Bertiegate
George Monbiot has been shot at in Brazil, beaten up by military police, stung into a poisoned coma by hornets, been pronounced clinically dead in Africa after contracting cerebral malaria, forged his visa into Indonesia after stealing headed notepaper and a stamp from the chief of immigration and nearly died of starvation... Oh, and he has written three books. And that was before he was 30.
Now 43 years old, George is better known for his weekly Guardian column, a popular website and two books on globalisation – The Age of Consent: A manifesto for a new world order and Captive State: The Corporate Takeover of Britain. And more recently, his attack on Bono and Geldof and their Live 8/G8 campaign in a column entitled 'Bards of the Powerful received attention'. So what was the problem with their campaign?
"I think that Live 8 was a complete disaster and I think Bono and Geldof were staggeringly naïve... I think their role was disgraceful and they should both – Bono and Bob Geldof – be deeply ashamed of the complete mess they made of that campaign. They depicted G8 leaders as potential saviours of the world and completely glossed over their role in causing many of the problems they were talking about. They glossed over the fact that these people control the IMF and the World Bank, which are a very large part responsible for the problems faced by Africa and poor nations. They glossed over the fact that Blair's politics are entirely contradictory as far as development is concerned: he was claiming to be helping to provide basic services for poor people while at the same time deliberately and very brutally pushing poor nations into privatising their water supplies, which has a really negative effect on people's access to fresh water.
"[Bono and Geldof] completely recast the campaign for global justice as a campaign for philanthropy and they both said, 'We are for justice not charity,' but what they were actually campaigning for was charity...
"I cannot describe to you the anger felt amongst some of us who had been campaigning for many, many years on global-justice issues, those of us who had been demanding that the G8 does not run the world; that countries have an equal voice and the poor have as much voice as the rich. To see that all swept away and replaced by a campaign for the rich to stoop from their mighty position and distribute some crumbs from their table to the poor of the world is like being sent back to Victorian times and the age of missionaries and the whites man's burden... They created a brilliant opportunity and then proceeded to squander it."
Monbiot started off his career studying zoology and then worked for the BBC's natural history unit and travelled to Brazil, Indonesia and east Africa writing investigative travel books. After contracting cerebral malaria and being pronounced clinically dead, which he is "quite proud of", he returned to Britain and began working on the anti-roads campaign. This campaign was very successful and forced the British conservative government to cut their road-building programme from £23bn pounds to £4.5bn pounds. However, this success came with a personal price. He was manhandled at a demonstration by a security guard and thrown onto a spiked fence. A spike went through his neck, just missing his jugular, and he shattered his foot – he was told he would never walk again, but he did.
Monbiot was in Dublin to promote his new book – Heat: How to Stop the Planet Burning – in which more public figures come under attack. The Tory leader David Cameron and Chris Martin, lead singer of Coldplay, are both criticised for their supposed "green" credentials, or lack of. Monbiot says Martin, who claims to be eco-friendly, owns one of the least eco-friendly SUVs on the market, a BMW X5, and regularly flies on a private Learjet. "His own carbon emissions have to be seen to be believed." Although he praises Cameron for "squeezing the government on environmental issues" and trying to create an "environmental version of the arms race", he says: "In some other respects his other policies are just as bad if not worse than the other parties. He has accepted a two-million donation from a group called International Motors and he is also very good at the publicity stunt [referring to images of Cameron cycling to work]. We later find out he was being followed by his chauffeur-driven car carrying his papers in his car."
The car manufacturer Toyota, which has the most eco-friendly car on the market, also come in for a bashing. "It is true that they have the most fuel-efficient car on the road [the Toyota Prius], but the mileage per gallon they claim doesn't seem to bear much comparison to reality. Which? magazine found that the car was doing far less to the litre or the gallon then they claimed to be.
"But above all this is the extraordinary fact that our cars are not more efficient than they were 20 years ago, in fact they are less efficient. I mention in the book an advert someone sent me from 1983 for a Peugeot 205 which did 72 miles to the gallon. The Toyota Prius, even to their own figures, does 51, so if you could do that in 1983 why can't you do it today?"
What does he think of Ireland's environmental record? "In Ireland and England there is a great big roads-building programme which inevitably increases the amount of traffic... It's been known since 1938... that traffic expands to fill the road space available. You build new roads, you get more traffic – it's as simple as that.
"I hear that there is a great deal of pressure to keep expanding Dublin Airport... people complaining that people don't have sufficient routes taking them to their new holiday homes in southern Europe... It's a disaster. Aviation is already the fastest growing source of greenhouse-gas emissions."
In Heat: How to Stop the Planet Burning, Monbiot says the world needs to cut carbon emissions by 90 per cent to tackle the global-warming problem seriously and this means cutting out flying almost completely. He has developed a carbon-rationing system where the government will cap the amount of carbon used by a country in a year and this will be divided equally among the population. If you use up your quota of carbon emissions, you buy more. He says this will bring emissions down 90 per cent by 2030.
Although our environmental record cannot be praised, he says he was impressed by our Green Party.
"I did speak to one of your Green TDs, Eamon Ryan, and I thought he was excellent. He was very well briefed and extremely well-appraised of the issue. At home in the UK, they are all sizzle and no sausage. It seems to me that on both sides of the Irish seas the Green Party has so far been the party of integrity."
But the week Monbiot was in town it was political loans and not carbon emissions on the agenda. What did he think of Bertiegate?
"I have to say – and perhaps this is a false impression – this is the third time I have come to Ireland in the last few years and every time I've come there has been a scandal like this. I heard someone say on television last night that this is not a regular way of conducting your affairs in politics and I was thinking, well, from what I heard it is a regular way, it seems to be the routine way."p