By Jeremy Williams
Assaad Razzouk is a Lebanese-British entrepreneur based in Singapore, a board member at Client Earth, and commentator on clean energy. He runs a refreshingly outspoken podcast called The Angry Clean Energy Guy, and he’s taken a similar approach with this new book, Saving the Planet Without the Bullshit: What they don’t tell you about the climate crisis.
In short and punchy chapters, Razzouk addresses misconceptions, distractions and dead ends, calling readers’ attention back to what matters most. “This book is an attempt to clear a path through all the clutter surrounding our daily efforts to do the right thing,” he writes in the introduction. With our green lifestyle choices, “we are scraping together mere pennies reducing reusing and recycling (for example), while oil companies burn hundred dollar bills.”
What matter most is ending fossil fuels, and breaking the power of the corporations that keep us addicted to them. “When fighting climate change, we need to be courageous enough to acknowledge that we are fighting for system change, which is about addressing the root causes of the problem, instead of shifting responsibility to powerless citizens.”
Over the course of the book, Razzouk takes on plastic, flying, nuclear power, offsets, green finance, and a variety of other solutions and non-solutions. He champions renewable energy, hydrogen, and bikes, with lots of nice examples from around the world, and vents about corporate sustainability and cruise liners. Never shy of an unpopular opinion, the book dismisses a whole host of pet ideas and argues for a laser-like focus on fossil fuels and corporate power. “We don’t have time to overthrow capitalism” is the name of one chapter. “Never buy carbon offsets for anything, especially your car gasoline” is another. Or “Don’t worry (at all) about Bitcoin’s energy use.” Oh, and “Your cat doesn’t need to eat fish.”
There’s sound reasoning behind this and conventional thinking is repeatedly and successfully challenged. Unfortunately, the baby goes out with the bathwater on several occasions, in my view. He’ll have no truck with plant-based diets, for example, because it’s a distraction from the oil companies. But that overlooks the role of the meat industry in deforestation. Fossil fuels are the primary cause of climate change, but not the only one.
Sometimes this leads to a contradiction. “Yes, of course flying in jets powered by petroleum-based aviation fuel is terrible for the climate,” he writes in a chapter on aviation. But “we shouldn’t have to stop flying, nor feel guilty when we have to fly because they lied for 40 years.” I agree that nobody should be shamed for flying – but again, the oil companies are not the only powers in play here. The airlines and the airport operators are happy to blame the oil companies too. (More on Easyjet and this point later this week)
The one that most annoyed me is a chapter called “Please don’t plant trees”, which looks at how corporations are greenwashing their reputations with tree-planting schemes. Yes, that happens. But we still need to plant trees, billions of them, everywhere we can. The fact that it’s done badly and for disingenuous reasons doesn’t mean that tree planting can’t be done well and that it isn’t worth doing. Razzouk knows this. “I can’t deny that we need more trees,” he writes. But why call the chapter “Please don’t plant trees”? It feels like the case is being overstated for effect, and that undermines the book’s ambitions to cut through the noise with clarity and objectivity.
In short, I have mixed feelings about the book. I found it frustratingly black and white on issues where I see more grey, and it goes too far in places. I also rather enjoyed the book, its global scope, and its take-no-prisoners tone. Razzouk is entirely right that the green movement obsesses over small things. Western individualism pervades our response to the climate crisis, keeping us talking about our personal actions and missing the wood for the trees. With that in mind, Saving the Planet Without the Bullshit is a provocation, a challenge to received wisdom and a call to focus our attention on systemic change. And that absolutely deserves its place on the climate bookshelf.
First published in The Earthbound Report.