by JEFF MASTERS
The New Climate War: the fight to take back our planet is the latest must-read book by leading climate change scientist and communicator Michael Mann of Penn State University.
Published January 12, 2021, The New Climate War describes how outright denial of the physical evidence of human-caused climate change simply is no longer credible. It describes in explicit detail how forces of denial and delay – fossil fuel companies, right-wing partisans, media and talking heads, and oil-funded governments – continue to profit from our dependence on fossil fuels. It explores how they have shifted to new tactics, using “an array of powerful Ds: disinformation, deceit, divisiveness, deflection, delay, despair-mongering, and doomism.”
In better understanding how prospects for climate action still are threatened, readers will learn fascinating climate history and science, and will be uplifted by Mann’s take on how close society may be to a tipping point on solving the climate crisis. “A clean energy revolution and climate stabilization are achievable with current technology,” Mann writes. “All we require are policies to incentivize the needed shift.”
The new Mann book consists of nine sections:
The first two chapters, “The Architects of Misinformation and Misdirection” and “The Climate Wars,” outline the history of climate science denial over the years.
The Crying Indian’ and the Birth of the Deflection Campaign details how vested interests use deflection campaigns to defeat policies they dislike. A classic example is the iconic “Crying Indian” commercial of the 1970s, which alerted viewers to accumulating glass bottle and can waste litter. The commercial was part of a successful deflection campaign by the beverage industry to blame the public rather than corporations, emphasizing individual responsibility over collective action and regulations.
It’s YOUR Fault describes how fossil fuel interests, using deflection campaigns, “are actually all too happy to talk about the environment. They just want to keep the conversation around individual responsibility, not systemic change or corporate culpability.” Mann also details how deflection campaigns criticize individuals for their air travel to attend conferences.
Internet bots and trolls from oil-rich Russia are also involved in deflection campaigns, Mann writes. He writes that barbs aimed at 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton “appeared to come from the environmental left, criticizing her climate policies (for example, her position on fracking). We now know that many of those attacks were actually Russian trolls and bots seeking to convince younger, greener progressives that there was no difference between the two candidates (so they might as well stay home).” Mann writes also that Russia is believed to have helped instigate the 2018 ‘Yellow Vest’ revolts that undercut French governmental efforts to introduce a carbon tax.
Mann describes a number of “wedge” campaigns run to divide climate advocates. He points to a 2020 news story in the Guardian reporting that “the social media conversation over the climate crisis is being reshaped by an army of automated Twitter bots.” That article estimated that “a quarter of all tweets about climate on an average day are produced by bots,” with a goal of “distorting the online discourse to include far more climate science denialism than it would otherwise.”
Scientist Mike Mann: ‘All we require are policies to incentivize the needed shift’ to renewable energy sources.
Put a Price on It. Or Not. This chapter begins with Mann’s concerns that “the fuel industry has been granted the greatest market subsidy ever: the privilege to dump its waste products into the atmosphere at no charge.” When implicit subsidies are included like the health costs and environmental pollution damage, including the damage done by climate change, Mann writes, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimated subsidies of over $5 trillion were paid in the year 2015 alone. These subsidies need to end, Mann argues, preferring a price on carbon emissions to force polluters to pay for the climate damage done by their product, fossil fuels, and a tilt giving an advantage to clean and renewable energy forms.
Mann rejects flat-out concerns over a potential carbon tax. For instance, he writes that “whether a carbon tax is progressive or regressive depends on how it is designed. A fee-and-dividend method, for example, returns any revenue raised back to the people.”
Mann also expresses support for supply-side measures like “blocking pipeline construction, banning fracking, stopping mountain-top-removal coal mining, divesting in fossil fuel companies, and putting a halt to most new fossil fuel infrastructure.”
In Sinking the Competition, Mann backs explicit incentives for renewable energy and elimination of incentives for fossil fuels. He says fossil fuel interests and their backers have “put their thumbs on the scale by promoting programs that favor fossil fuel energy while sabotaging those that incentivize renewables, and engaging in propaganda campaigns to discredit renewable energy as a viable alternative to fossil fuels.”
The Non-Solution Solution chapter details Mann’s concerns that those opposing climate action promote “solutions” (natural gas, carbon capture, geo-engineering) that Mann argues aren’t real solutions at all. “Part of their strategy is using soothing words and terms – ‘bridge fuels,’ ‘clean coal,’ ‘adaptation,’ ‘resilience’ – that convey the illusion of action but, in context, are empty promises,” he writes. Mann’s preferred “viable path forward on climate involves a combination of energy efficiency, electrification, and decarbonization of the grid through an array of complementary renewable energy sources. The problem is that fossil fuel interests lose out in that scenario, and so they have used their immense wealth and influence to stymie any efforts to move in that direction.”
The Truth Is Bad Enough decries obsessive pessimism and “doomism” as unhelpful to tackling the climate crisis. “Exaggeration of the climate threat by purveyors of doom – we’ll call them ‘doomists’ – is unhelpful at best,” he writes. “Indeed, doomism today arguably poses a greater threat to climate action than outright denial. For if catastrophic warming of the planet were truly inevitable and there were no agency on our part in averting it, why should we do anything?”
Meeting the Challenge presents a summary of Dr. Mann’s four-point battle plan, which he outlines in the introduction to the book:
Disregard the Doomsayers: The misguided belief that “it’s too late” to act has been co-opted by fossil fuel interests and those advocating for them, Mann argues. It’s just another way of legitimizing business-as-usual and a continued reliance on fossil fuels. Overt doom and gloom arguments should be ignored.
A Child Shall Lead Them: Youths are fighting to save their planet, and there is a moral authority and clarity in their message that only the most jaded can disregard. Youths are the game-changers climate advocates have been waiting for, and their actions, methods, and idealism are models for all.
Educate, Educate, Educate: Most hard-core climate-change deniers are unmovable, with an ideology impervious to facts. Don’t waste time and effort trying to convince them. Instead, work with and help inform victims of climate change disinformation campaigns so they can join efforts to combat the climate challenge.
Changing the System Requires Systemic Change: Those responsible for fossil fuel disinformation engage in either-or arguments rather than address larger systemic issues and consider incentives. Policies need to incentivize shifts away from fossil fuel burning toward a clean, green global economy, and those policies warrant the support of elected leaders.
The bottom line on The New Climate War: The book could benefit from more graphics and cartoons as complements to its 267 pages of text. Overall, though, the book still is a must-read for every climate-savvy and climate-dependent. (Only air breathers need apply!)
Jeff Masters, Ph.D., worked as a hurricane scientist with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990. After a near-fatal flight into category 5 Hurricane Hugo, he left the Hurricane Hunters to pursue a safer passion – earning a 1997 Ph.D. in air pollution meteorology from the University of Michigan. Between 2005-2019, his Category 6 blog was one of the Internet’s most popular and widely quoted sources of extreme weather and climate change information.
Originally published on Yale Climate Connections. Republished under the Creative Commons: Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works licence.
Top illustration: Screengrab from Public Affairs books.