I’m sure no thinking person ever seriously believed that those who preach about the benefits of austerity ever actually planned to follow their own advice. After all, a low carbon lifestyle is for the little people.
But the latest example of global warming hypocrisy by George Monbiot is especially breath-taking in its sheer scale and audacity.
In a recent article (“Home Rule” Jan 3rd 2011), Monbiot launched an attack on what he identified as “under-used” homes in the UK. These are houses which are larger than required to house the number of inhabitants living there (e.g. a 3 bedroom house which may only have 2 people living in it). This, he claims, is an unacceptable inequality, which is a result of the capitalist system:
While most houses are privately owned, the total housing stock is a common resource. Either we ensure that it is used wisely and fairly, or we allow its distribution to become the starkest expression of inequality. The UK appears to have chosen the second option. We have allowed the market and the market alone to decide who gets what, which means that families in desperate need of bigger homes are crammed together in squalid conditions, while those who have more space than they know what to do with face neither economic nor social pressure to downsize. (1)
Not only is this practice of the rich having more room than they need leading to greater inequality in society, but it is also a threat to the environment and incredibly selfish in a world of diminishing resources. But Monbiot has a suggestion:
I suggest a new concept: housing footprints. Your housing footprint is the number of bedrooms divided by the number of people in the household. Like ecological footprints, it reminds us that the resource is finite, and that if some people take more than they need, others are left with less than they need. (1)
All of this would just be fairly standard eco-nonsense if Monbiot was scribbling all of this from a yurt somewhere in Cornwall or something. But it’s a different thing when it comes from the desk of someone who lives in an exclusive four-bedroomed ex-farmhouse.
In an interview with the Times in 2006, the environmental activist chatted about leaving his four-bedroomed Oxford home, for a rambling farmhouse in half and acre of unspoilt Welsh countryside. As the article reported:
Monbiot is planning to move to deepest Wales, appropriately enough, to a “place that has very little pollution”, though he worries that leaving behind his “ecological disaster” of a home means “someone else will be wrecking the planet”. He and Angharad, 29, his television producer wife, have spent £280,000 on a four-bedroom wreck, with half an acre of land in Machynlleth in mid-Wales. Their aim is to spend a year and £100,000 making it incomparably green. (2)
Let’s skip the sarcastic comments about the evils of a “marketplace” that have allowed him to accumulate a spare one hundred thousand pounds for home improvements and get back to his recent article.
Monbiot goes on to attack the iniquity of the British tax system which means that the majority who live in normal homes subsidize the wealthy. These capitalist parasites, he demands, should be taxed until they are reduced to downsizing or taking in lodgers to make ends meet:
If you live by yourself, regardless of the size of your property, you get a 25% council tax discount(20). The rest of us, in other words, subsidise wealthy single people who want to keep their spare rooms empty. Those who use more than their fair share should pay for the privilege, with a big tax penalty for under-occupation. If it prompts them either to take on a lodger or to move into a smaller home in a lower tax band, so much the better. (1)
But quite how this squares with the fact that, following his divorce, he now occupies the four-bedroomed farmhouse on his own, he doesn’t say. (3)
In fairness, Monbiot has other matters on his mind. Apart from climate change, there is the threat of renewable energy installations being built in his own back yard, which might detract from the view. As the BBC reported back in 2007, Monbiot condemned plans to build wind farms and tidal power generators in his new home country of Wales:
Welsh energy policy has been strongly criticised by leading environmental campaigner George Monbiot.
Monbiot said he was not singling out Wales, as the UK as a whole was behind in the fight against global warming.
But at the Hay Festival he urged an end to windfarms on land and said a Severn Barrage would cause too much damage. (4)
All of this double-talk is perfectly standard for the upper classes from which Monbiot comes:
George Monbiot grew up in Henley-on-Thames in South Oxfordshire, in a large country house that backed onto Peppard Common.  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 Roger Gresham Cooke —is a Conservative councillor who led South Oxford district council for a decade.  Monbiot was educated at Stowe School in Buckinghamshire, an independent school, and won an Open Scholarship to Brasenose College, Oxford. (5)
But of course, their prescription for the rest of us is different, as Monbiot’s definition of the campaign against climate change in his book Heat demonstrates:
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 (6)
But not for him, obviously. Just you and me and the rest of the little people. As Monbiot himself writes in the same book:
“How many of us can claim to live as we urge others to live? Most environmentalists — myself included — are hypocrites.” (6)
So next time you read a piece by some paragon of the establishment scolding you for pursuing that destructive, consumerist lifestyle, remember – they have no intention of them giving it up, only you.
6) Heat, London, Allen Lane, 2006, p. 215 & 287.
According the “An Englishman’s Castle” blog (how apt) this is Monbiot’s roomy residence: