Stuck Monkey: The Deadly Planetary Cost of the Things We Love by James Hamilton-Paterson - review by Christopher Hart

Christopher Hart

Save the Planet, Eat Your Pug

Stuck Monkey: The Deadly Planetary Cost of the Things We Love


Head of Zeus 304pp £20

Stuck Monkey is a highly original and lucid portrayal of the eco-catastrophe we face and a magnificently jaundiced and grumpy overview of the human race in its last days – or its last semi-civilised days.

The title derives from the comical African story about catching a monkey. You leave a banana in a jar in the forest. The monkey reaches in and grasps the banana, and then can’t get his bunched fist out again. But he can’t bear to let go of the banana either, and the jar is far too heavy for him to drag away, so he just sits there fuming until you come along and scoop him up for the pot. It’s a metaphor, says Hamilton-Paterson, for our current situation, with that tempting ripe banana standing for oil.

Actually, it’s a rather optimistic metaphor. In theory, the monkey could let go of the banana and scamper away, a little frustrated but nothing worse. Our relationship to oil is somewhat trickier. Talk to any farmer and you quickly learn that if we were to Just Stop Oil, we would all starve to death within weeks. But if we don’t Just Stop Oil, our ecosystems will continue to fail at an ever-accelerating rate, delivering lower and lower yields, and we’ll all starve to death anyway.

Hamilton-Paterson confirms our dependence upon this high-energy planetary toxin in an appendix, where he lists ‘a tiny fraction’ of all the things in modern life that derive from oil: fertilisers, surfboards, paints, motorbike helmets, vitamin capsules, umbrellas, shampoo, guitar strings, refrigerators, shoes, antihistamines, life jackets, golf balls, bicycle and car

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