George Monbiot’s collection How Did We Get Into This Mess? covers a wide range of topics, including re-wilding, land-ownership, abortion, population control and even whale poo. Though these subjects are diverse, the actors that feature in them remain constant. They are the institutions such as governments and corporations whose systems continue to degrade our society. According to Monbiot, we live in the ‘Age of Loneliness’: an age in which connections to each other and to nature are being severed.
Monbiot’s frustrations are evident in each chapter and these frustrations are keenly felt by his readers. Throughout the book he challenges certain popular beliefs such as the notion that population growth is linked to environmental degradation. Eminent personalities such as Sir David Attenborough, Barack Obama, Charles Darwin and even the author himself cannot escape scrutiny. Indeed, Monbiot invites his readers to criticise his own actions when he discusses collecting, butchering and eating roadkill in front of a group of children, or his contentious support for nuclear energy as an alternative to fossil fuels.
Monbiot’s book is simple to read and understand. His language and writing becomes more emotive in chapters where he talks about nature and wildlife. In these chapters, he also introduces words such as ‘landscape pornography’, ‘sheepwrecked’ and ‘kleptorenumeration’ to convey the level of environmental destruction he is experiencing around him. Overall though, some readers will find the book a little jarring because he jumps from one topic to another which prevents continuity and rhythm.
This book is not for everyone. Simply put, it is a collection of fifty short articles that have already been published as opinion pieces in The Guardian. By and large, the chapters focus on the UK which may not resonate with the wider audience. If you are new to Monbiot, then I would recommend that you start with some of his other work such as Feral. However, if you are already familiar with his writings then feel free to add this to your library, particularly if you live in the UK.