Michael Mann, the noted Penn State climate scientist who first created the famous “hockey stick” graph that correlates higher carbon dioxide levels with higher average global temperatures, has a new book out entitled “The New Climate War: The Fight to Take Back Our Planet.” In the past few days, he has given interviews to Rolling Stone, GeekWire, and Scientific American about it. He says that after the compendium of cataclysmic climate events in 2020, the scientific consensus on anthropgenic climate change is now on a par with the consensus on gravity.
That means climate denial is no longer the “in” thing. Instead, the forces that advocate for doing nothing have pivoted to the strategies honed to perfection by the tobacco lobby and gun groups. The deniers have not given up; they have simply changed their tactics. “The plutocrats who are tied to the fossil fuel industry are engaging in a new climate war — this time to prevent meaningful action. Over the past few years, you’ve seen a lot of conservative groups pulling their money out of the climate change denial industry and putting it instead into efforts by [the American Legislative Exchange Council], for example, to fund legislative efforts blocking clean-energy policies.” Mann tells Scientific American.
“I use a whole bunch of ‘D’ words to describe this — deflection, delay, division, despair mongering, doomism. To start with, there is an effort to deflect attention away from systemic solutions. They are trying to convince people that climate change is not the result of their corporate policies but of our own individual actions. I mean BP was instrumental in the whole idea of a carbon footprint. They introduced the carbon footprint calculator to help get people to think of this as an individual responsibility issue. One of the best examples of this sort of deflection campaign is the gun lobby’s motto ‘Guns don’t kill people, people do,'” Mann adds.
“If you can get people arguing over these individual lifestyle choices, then you are creating division over questions such as ‘Are you vegan or not?’ ‘Do you fly?” So it’s a two-fer — you deflect attention away from the need for real policy change and you get infighting within the climate movement so that climate advocates are not speaking with one coherent voice.”
Mann is not suggesting that we as individuals should not do our best to be good stewards of the Earth. “Voluntary efforts alone are not going to achieve the kind of reductions we need. We need powerful financial incentives, policies such as subsidies for renewables and effective carbon pricing schemes.” But he gives this example of how conservatives funded by fossil fuel interests seek to divide Americans into warring camps. “An e-mail sent to journalists in 2020 by CRC Advisors [a PR firm that represents fossil fuel industry companies] contained talking points that appeared to attempt to sow racial division within the climate movement. The e-mail suggested that the Green New Deal — supported by white environmentalists — would hurt minority communities.”
On that subject, he tells GeekWire, “Ironically, some of the opposition in recent years to market mechanisms has actually come from the environmental left — because it’s been framed as inconsistent with social justice, that the cost will somehow fall on disadvantaged front line communities, those with the least resources. That definitely does not have to be the case.” The key, he says, is to tweak market based pricing systems so that the revenue goes to support the communities that need help and supports the spread of renewable energy technologies.
Advice For Bill Gates And Jeff Bezos
Both Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos are prepared to spend piles of money on technological solutions to a warming planet. Mann has some suggestions for both of them. Gates in particular is exploring the idea of modular nuclear power plants — a path Mann thinks is fraught with danger. “It comes with obvious potential liabilities, whether it’s proliferation issues, weapons issues, or environmental threats,” he says. He is even less thrilled with the solar geoengineering strategies Gates is backing. “That’s going down a very dangerous road. When we start interfering with this system [that] we don’t understand perfectly, the law of unintended consequences reigns supreme.”
As for Bezos, Mann says he has already had some conversations with the Amazon CEO’s team about climate initiatives such as the $10 billion Earth Fund. “It’s a start,” he says. “Would I like to see him spend less on some of these wackier [ideas like] establishing space colonies and more on saving the one planet in the universe that we know does support life? Yeah.” Although he begs to differ on the details, Mann is happy to have Gates and Bezos are on the right side in the new climate war. “I’ll gently criticize these folks where I feel it’s appropriate, but I do welcome these voices at the table, because we need everyone on board,” he said. “It’s all hands on deck.”
Climate Doom Porn
Recently, Mann has taken such environmental advocacy groups as the Sierra Club to task for promoting what he calls “climate doom porn.” He tells Rolling Stone, “Yeah, that’s right. I do. I call it as I see it and most of my targets have been on the right side of the political spectrum and continue to be, because that’s really where the primary obstacles have been found. But we are encountering some obstacles on the left side of the spectrum. And here, it is important to make a distinction.
“They’re well-intentioned…[and]…are sort of the victims of this disinformation campaign. There are progressives, for example, who have become opposed to certain measures, critical measures for combating climate change like carbon pricing. And it’s not because they’re working for the fossil fuel industry or sympathetic to the fossil fuel industry. It’s because the fossil fuel industry, their advocates, the think tanks that promote their messaging, the news networks that promote their agenda, have been so effective at manipulating public opinion, and ironically, actually weaponizing certain enclaves within the left to do their job for them.
“If you can lead people to despair, if you can convince people that it’s too late to do anything, then they’re no longer advocates for the action that’s needed. And some of these bad actors have been very effective on social media, using bots and trolls to manipulate online discourse, getting us fighting over our individual choices.”
There’s A Battle Outside And It’s Raging
The title of Mann’s book posits that there is now a war taking place over global heating and what to do about it. “This is not a war that we choose to be in,” he tells Scientific American. “But powerful interests have engineered the most well funded and elaborate public relations campaign in the history of Earth to block progress on climate. We need to recognize that these are not actors who are going to play nice with us. They are not engaged in a good faith conversation based on facts and logical arguments.”
If there is hope, it is because of young activists like Greta Thunberg and the members of the Sunrise Movement. “The young have really moved the needle. For too long, we have allowed this issue to be framed entirely as one of science or economics or policy and politics. But more than anything else, it’s about ethics, our obligation not to destroy this planet for future generations. People of good will are finally demanding action. I think it’s because our children have come out and demanded it of the adults of the world.”
Mann has been fighting the good fight for almost 30 years. He has been vilified, spied upon, and defamed constantly over that time, but he won’t give up. The thing that is most amazing is that the Earth is a tiny, insignificant speck in an enormous universe. It isn’t even in the center of things; it is out at the edge of the Milky Way with no hope of rescue if humans succeed in rendering it uninhabitable. It is like we are all in a small dinghy in the middle of a storm tossed ocean. No one is coming to rescue us but some of the people in the boat insist on rocking it side to side just to see what happens.
It’s not about gender, or race, or religion or who’s right and who’s wrong. It’s about survival and unless we all start pulling in the same direction and agree that a sustainable Earth is the highest priority, the odds of continuing as a species are low and getting lower. We need to listen to people like Michael Mann if we want to have any hope of finding a solution to our climate dilemma.