Book review – The New Climate War

April 22, 2021

The New Climate War by Michael E Mann

If you are engaged in, or reporting on, climate activism, you need to read this book.

Have you been more relaxed in the morning recently, not to find climate deniers on the news?  Prof Mann will explain why, and explain what else they have been up to, to keep the coal fires burning (metaphorically).

Denial now comes in a new range of “D”s: Disinformation, Deceit, Divisiveness, Deflection, Delay, Despair Mongering and Doomerism (including Deep Adaptation).  These are the tools that those wishing to stop, slow or delay climate action are pushing through social media.  A more subtle and devious approach.  Of course, like all fashions, these have been worn before: by the tobacco industry, for example.

Examples that we are particularly susceptible to include some very familiar themes.

One deflection and division technique is to put the blame on inadequate individual action, so beware the Carbon Footprint Calculator.   Over-stating individual action can lead to division through pressure to prove your green credentials – don’t go there.   How often do we hear activists being labelled as hypocrites because they emit carbon from some activity or other?

Personal action will only scratch the surface, but it is important.  Personal action gives agency and it gives hope.  It demonstrates that we are willing to change, so it can support campaigns, apply pressure and leverage to policy and decision makers – through the vote as well as all other campaign tools.  It can also demonstrate the traction that climate friendly policies have – yet more political leverage.  Let’s see personal action not as an end in itself, but as the gateway to political action to demand systemic change.

What about despair mongering and doomerism?  How many friends do you have who have all but given up the fight, because it “all feels so hopeless”?  This is what some of the spreaders of despair and doom want.  An activist sidelined in a trough of despondency is no longer an activist.  How many activists then unwittingly spread this despondency?  Before you know it, the movement is weakened.

So when we see people declaring “it is too late”, “it’s not worth doing” and “we are all heading for extinction anyway” – call the doom-mongers out, but give them hope!

When we see people pushing solutions that aim for a form of business as usual – mass EV ownership, fossil fuel derived hydrogen, CCS, geo-engineering – call them out and put them right.  We don’t solve the problem with untried, unproven, dubious technology with highly predictable unintended consequences.  We have the solutions – they are not business as usual!

When we see people driving a wedge into the climate movement, act as a bridge to pull the movement back together – we don’t need to fall into that trap and we are stronger together.

When our friends and colleagues despair, give them hope.  We have agency, we have made significant progress already and we have a secret weapon – we have the youth on our side.

All of this is in Michael Mann’s book.  It can help us spot these new tactics on social media, in the press, and even whole books and films of them!  And to have a climate scientist restate the science for us is really helpful.  Prof Mann explains why we are not doomed, not headed for extinction and not heading for a domino effect of imminent tipping points that undermine our call for systemic change.  That reminder can give us the hope that we need when we are faced with a barrage of news stories about how bad things are.  

This is why we need to read this book.

Finally, let’s extrapolate to current politics: Neoliberalism, Capitalism and Climate Change.  

It may be true that capitalism created climate change and neoliberalism turned it into a crisis.  But let’s not refuse effective actions because they are not politically pure enough.  Climate action is a process, the road to zero carbon is a transition not a switch.  We cannot start with the end, we must start at today.  

If capitalist measures fit the current policy climate, let’s get them moving to start reducing our emissions.  As policies gain traction, as they gain acceptance, who knows what further policies will be proposed by actual governments in the future?  But we know we can’t wait until a general election at the end of 2024 before we start effective action.  Pragmatism says every reduction is a reduction.

So if starting now means carbon pricing, carbon taxes, fine.  Let’s continue to push for fossil fuel divestment to ensure that every oil well is a stranded asset.  Let’s continue to push for a level playing field for renewables and remove the fossil fuel and nuclear subsidies.  Let’s divert investment into green steel, green glass and green concrete & cement.  Let’s push green transport – efficient bus services, mass transit, rail, active transport including bikes and e-bikes, community car ownership.  Let’s push those willing Tories and everyone else towards community owned, decentralised electricity – for the UK, but also for the global south.  All of these can gain cross-party support and can therefore actually be implemented quickly.  Let’s get the movement started.  

If there is one message from this book – the situation requires urgency and agency.  We get urgency from the science and agency from our actions.

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