Review by Roger Lohr
The book The New Climate War: The Fight to Take Back Our Planet by Michael E. Mann was released during the early months of the pandemic in 2020 by PublicAffairs books. In a story about efforts by what the author refers to as “inactivists” (previously known as climate-change deniers) to thwart any significant change, there are many references to the pandemic and to analogies in other segments of the political action spectrum.
Mann is a professor of atmospheric science at Penn State and author of five books, with joint appointments in the Department of Geosciences and the Earth and Environmental Systems Institute. In 2019 he received the Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement, often called the Nobel Prize for the Environment.
The Climate War has a historical review of the strategies used to defer and prevent addressing climate change. This type of “undertaking” started with the internal Exxon documents in which a scientist admitted the measurable and nonreversible outcomes associated with fossil fuels, and resulted in robust public relations campaigns incorporating science deniers-for-hire, and more.
The culprits in the war are the fossil fuel companies, right-wing plutocrats, and oil-funded governments who have shifted from outright science denial to softer strategies based on deception and distraction. Free-market fundamentalists (individuals and corporations) obscure public understanding with misinformation and misdirection. They discredit the scientific message, attack the messengers, undermine facts, deflect blame, divide the public, delay action, promote alternative solutions that don’t actually solve problems, and insist that we simply accept our fate. Mann attaches names and dates to an avalanche of inactivists and their activities – both on the right and left of the political spectrum from claims of denial to warnings of the Earth’s extinction.
Mann presents examples of the techniques used outside of climate change such as the battle against the DDT ban, the Crying Indian TV ad that was created by Keep America Beautiful (Coke, Pepsi, Anne Heuser Busch, etc. with the Sierra Club and Audubon Society as original program partners) as a way to defeat bottle-return legislation, and the cigarette industry’s joint campaign with the chemical industry that blamed flammable furniture for cigarette-induced house fires. The fire-retardant campaign even bought off firefighting organizations for support! And speaking about fire, last year President Trump deceptively insisted the California forest fires were promulgated by poor forest management rather than climate change and drought.
Techniques to combat meaningful action on the climate crisis attack and divide individual action, responsibility, and broader government policy for systematic change. Mann feels that the needed tipping point will only happen when there is active participation of citizens everywhere aiding in the collective push forward, but he realizes that individual action (from turning off lights to installing solar panels on your roof) while necessary, can only get us so far to tackle the climate crisis. The reduction in travel and commerce during the pandemic shutdown reduced global emissions by only 4%. Systemic changes are far more critical to carbon emission reduction. According to Mann, applying broad-based technology is required. High-speed railways, research and development for renewables and battery storage, and developing programs to reduce CO2 must be done on the macro level. Inter-governmental agreements with enforcement of domestic energy and climate policies that incentivize the shift are necessary.
There is also division among and against the community that wants to address climate change as the politics of identity, behavior shaming, and virtue signaling are used. Some of this action is instigated by inactivists using social media similar to the Russian intervention in the 2016 U.S. election. Personal carbon footprints are a regular weapon that are used, whereby individuals are pegged as hypocrites if they eat meat, fly in airplanes, or have children. The threat of mandated personal sacrifice is an easy way to mobilize people to oppose change. These techniques are to prevent climate advocates from effectively speaking with a united voice and erode support for systematic solutions to the climate crisis.
Currently there are progressives in favor of societal transformation and opposed to carbon pricing schemes because the plans seem politically unattainable, unworkable, and unjust to economically disadvantaged people. Progressive leader Naomi Klein’s view is that environmental sustainability is not compatible with a neoliberal political framework built on market economics. Can the government that spends $30 million to develop a healthcare website that does not work, takes months to mail stimulus checks, or struggles to coordinate a vaccination program be expected to develop and maintain a carbon pricing tax redistribution program?
Mann feels that we have to disregard the doomsayers (those who state that it is too late to fix climate change), look to the young leadership; educate the populace and engage in systematic change (remove the politicians who oppose changes needed), and consider corporate culpability to bring about momentum to address climate change. Can it be done in your lifetime?
Roger Lohr of Lebanon, NH, who owns and edits XCSkiResorts.com, has published articles and promotional topics on snow sports, sustainability, and trails in regional and national media. He is also the Recreational Editor for Green Energy Times.