The tactics exercised by the fossil fuel industry and its allies of outright climate denialism are no longer effective, and have been replaced by a much more subtle and insidious battle plan. This is according to Dr. Michael E Mann in his recently released book, The New Climate War, a fascinating untangling of the intricate web of misinformation, misdirection and deflection perpetuated by the fossil fuel industry since climate change became an incontrovertible reality.
In a book that simultaneously functions as a historical account of intentional climate change misinformation campaigns as well as a cautiously optimistic look towards the future, Dr Michael Mann argues that the fundamental challenges we still face today are not tied to a technological or intellectual inability to achieve systemic change, but in the lack of political will required to do so.
When the impacts of climate change became as pervasive and tangible as they are today, the climate denialists did not disappear, they only changed their messaging. That is the central theme running through The New Climate War, which catalogues the subversive tactics of the current obstructionists, or inactivists, as Dr. Mann terms this group. These inactivists do everything in their power to publicly discredit the scientific evidence and deflect blame from themselves, empowered by deep pockets and close ties with powerful decision-makers in political and industrial circles.
By refuting the scientific evidence and constructing their own version of the facts, the climate inactivists aim to shift the burden of blame for global emissions from corporations and industries to individuals. Of course, adjusting individual behaviour to live more sustainably is important, but it will amount to little if governments do not enact wider policy changes that adequately penalise emitters for the damages they cause. “Neither you nor I can put a price on carbon or provide subsidies for the renewable energy industry. We can’t do those things- we need our politicians to do that,” Dr. Mann told Earth.Org in a recent interview.
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Dr. Mann confidently walks readers through the exact steps that governments need to take to win the climate war once and for all. These include acts such as redirecting government incentives to support expanding renewable energy infrastructure and putting a price on carbon that accurately reflects its social cost. But the most impactful policy measure will be to discredit and eradicate the false narratives that are favoured by inactivists, such as certain forms of geoengineering and expanding the use of natural gas, and that are perpetuated by right-wing political figures.
All these solutions and policy measures are possible- and we even have the technological capabilities to implement them- but the political will to implement them is lacking. Despite this, Dr. Mann remains optimistic in his outlook; while the window of opportunity to achieve the substantive change needed is becoming smaller, he believes that we still have time to do so if we act now.
Dr. Mann believes that the winds of change are coming, ultimately for the better. He expresses his admiration for today’s youth movements for climate action, the rapid rate of technological growth experienced by the renewable energy sector and an increased willingness of the public to listen to science, especially in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic. “We’ve learned the dangers of anti-science, science denial and ideologically driven science denial,” Dr. Mann remarked as he predicted that people had learned from the botched early political responses to the pandemic.
Dr. Michael Mann ’s cautious optimism seeps through in his book, especially its second half, where he points out that all these factors may soon combine to change the course of how the public perceives and internalises climate change as a crisis. “We are approaching a point where we can raise public awareness of the climate crisis,” he said, adding that current trends are “recentering the conversation on climate change, away from being about science, economics and politics, and instead focusing on ethics, and on our moral obligation not to ruin this planet for future generations.”
We can’t be distracted at this crucial juncture, and The New Climate War describes how readers can resist and combat the psychological warfare perpetrated by climate inactivists. Dr. Mann insists that it is not too late; that individual actions can pressure governments towards change and collective action can solve our systemic problems.
For more, watch Dr. Mann speak with Earth.Org founder Constant Tedder in a fascinating hourlong conversation here.
The New Climate War: The Fight to Take Back our Planet
2021, PublicAffairs Books, 368pp