The myriad of topics covered in George Monbiot’s How Did We Get Into This Mess? (Verso) are, as the title might suggest, enough to make one feel rather gloomy – growing economic inequality, the exploitation of the poor and the environment, the privatisation of public space, the privatisation of public assets that benefits only corporations not the public, the greed of bankers and how they got away with the GFC, the way that neoliberalism has so pervaded our thinking that alternatives are hard to argue for, our disconnect from the non-human world, the way large-scale farming is wrecking the landscape. He also takes some interesting angles, such as arguing that talk about over-population tends to be exaggerated by Westerners with a slightly racist tendency, and that it is about consumption not population. (I am not sure environmental issues can be so disconnected from population growth, but the point is valid perhaps.)Monbiot would probably agree with Terry Eagleton (in Eagleton’s book Hope Without Optimism) that there is not much to be optimistic about, but that there is a big need for hope. And he makes the case that writers have a vital role in telling it like it is, against the voices of vested interest, not because they can change the world by themselves, but because they can encourage the kind of re-thinking that leads to mobilisation and effective change.
In a timely message for this time of year, Monbiot also states what should be obvious, but is obviously not so obvious to the majority of shoppers this time of year, and is actively encouraged by those who benefit from it, that is, that Christmas should be less about buying junk. He writes, ‘Bake them a cake, write them a poem, give them a kiss, tell them a joke, but for god’s sake stop trashing the planet to tell someone you care.’