Michael Mann and book cover
(Credit: Michael Mann photo inset by Joshua Yospyn)

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!)

Topics: Climate Science, Policy & Politics
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Kevin
Kevin
4 months ago

I’m in fundamental agreement with some of what Dr Masters has presented as the position of this book (I have not yet read the book myself), especially most of the tabulation of pirate tactics. My lifetime of working on hunger, led me to economics as the solution:

Our consumer-driven marketplace rewards ducking the costs of good stewardship to compete to offer the low prices that consumers prioritize, and thus we need a fundamental upgrade to counter that bad incentive through rewarding good stewardship.

In practice, producers seldom have the option of good stewardship because that prices them into marketplace failure, and there is scarce ability for policymakers to counter that by creating global policy with teeth. Saying, “All we require are policies to incentivize the needed shift,” is thus a catch22 because the first needed global shift is the policy to permit the policies that incentivie the first needed global shift.

Put another way: the authors conclusion is circular and stems from a common error. This reason is why Ted Turner abandoned his contest to award half-million-dollar fellowships continuously to stories that present global solutions. The first and only winner had a talking gorilla tell us it was too late so don’t repeat the same greed when we rebuild after the fall. I asked the winning author how defeatism was a solution, and he told me that the judges told him that everybody else wrote about what they would do if they were in charge of the world, but nobody is. He told me that the local empowerment I argued then in ’93 is a solution was the only solution he had ever heard. Fifteen years later, E. Ostrom won the Nobel for proving it. And now, 15 year years after her win, we know what is going wrong in practice and how any community can fix it for themselves.

The necessary world power is too decentralized except in one overpowering way: global money empowers anyone and everyone to act as invasive species. And global money isn’t going away. The task before is restoring the Earth now, and the power to do that comes from having the money to pay people to restore it in a system in which the money stays on task instead of flowing into pirate pockets, which task is local restoration everywhere, which means local money everywhere to empower communities to incentivize the hundreds of millions of persons seeking employment to engage in work caring for each other and the world around them.

We now have funding for pilots. And we have the plan. But meanwhile, the Arctic began a runaway meltdown, accelerating climate change, so having the time to restore the Earth with reforestation and agroforestry may require quickly restoring the Arctic Ice Cap. We know how to do that too.

And education plays a role. That’s why we share the solutions. But will policy leaders step up? They might, but betting the world on “might” is not well-informed.

Last edited 4 months ago by Kevin
Skyepony
4 months ago

Haha.. Nearly destroyed this blog trying to share this global sea level graph.. https://www.climate.gov/news-features/understanding-climate/climate-change-global-sea-level

cloudy2
cloudy2
4 months ago

Watch Michael Mann discussing his new book on Sunday, Jan.31.
It’s on C-SPAN2 @6:40pm ET. For those of you who no longer have a TV,
it’s on the internet.

barry
barry
4 months ago

I’m always more skeptical when a writer uses feel-good phrases such as “clean energy” when, considering manufacture, siting, transmission, maintenance, disposal… there is no such thing. The other feel-good thing here is avoidance of the contributing factor of our continued high population growth – another billion in only about 12 years, then another billion, then another…. no possible sustainability without addressing that

Stephen Snell
Stephen Snell
4 months ago
Reply to  barry

I totally agree with your comment on population. To ignore its rampant growth would undermine any effort to mitigate the climate crisis. In my lay opinion, the climate crisis and population are inseparable, and we need to be cognizant of that. It makes it harder to tackle the climate problem, but if you fail to include the surging population in any calculation you’re wasting time.

Skyepony
4 months ago
Reply to  barry

People in different countries average vastly different energy uses. Some countries don’t have so many people but are using up far more electricity & wastefully per person. Yeah using a green energy label to describe things like fracking has been a joke. Some wells they are just venting to the atmosphere & enough water wells have been polluted to do way with the green label. Good to see biomass electricity starting to move toward crops easier to grow with more energy to offer than corn. That has been regulation to decide who makes money, not what is cheapest or best for everyone’s health. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_electricity_consumption

J Doug Swallow
J Doug Swallow
4 months ago
Reply to  Skyepony

Skyepony says; “Good to see biomass electricity starting to move toward crops easier to grow with more energy to offer than corn” for whatever all of that means. 
I’m sure that “green energy” people want to believe that ethanol is the salvation of the planet when it is as much of a waste of resources as windmills and solar.
“Science News
… from universities, journals, and other research organizations
Study: Ethanol Production Consumes Six Units Of Energy To Produce Just One”
 http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/03/050329132436.htm
 
 
Ethanol fuel from corn faulted as ‘unsustainable subsidized food burning’ in analysis by Cornell scientist subsidies http://www.news.cornell.edu/stories/2001/08/ethanol-corn-faulted-energy-waster-scientist-says 

Skyepony
4 months ago
Reply to  J Doug Swallow

Yeah burning food for energy is a really dumb idea..worse than burning crops that are easier to grow or even “waste products” like manure.. None of these are green energy. Since I don’t really get to choose the level of stupid, I can at least cheer on when some lawmakers gets how dumb ethanol from corn is.

J Doug Swallow
J Doug Swallow
4 months ago
Reply to  Skyepony

Skyepony says; “Good to see biomass electricity starting to move toward…” Here are some FACTS about “Green” Biomass Electricity.
New Report: “Green” Biomass Electricity More Polluting Than Coal
Renewable energy biomass plants are avoiding regulation, burning contaminated fuels, and threatening air quality Pelham, MA. – Biomass electricity generation, a heavily subsidized form of “green” energy that relies primarily on the burning of wood, is more polluting and worse for the climate than coal, according to a new analysis of 88 pollution permits for biomass power plants in 25 states. Trees, Trash, and Toxics: How Biomass Energy Has Become the New Coal, released today and delivered to the EPA by the Partnership for Policy Integrity (PFPI), concludes that biomass power plants across the country are permitted to emit more pollution than comparable coal plants or commercial waste incinerators, even as they are subsidized by state and federal renewable energy dollars. It contains detailed emissions and fuel specifications for a number of facilities, including plants in California, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, Virginia, and Washington. “The biomass power industry portrays their facilities as ‘clean,’ said Mary Booth, Director of PFPI and author of the report. “But we found that even the newest biomass plants are allowed to pollute more than modern coal- and gas-fired plants, and that pollution from bioenergy is increasingly unregulated.”
The report found that biomass power is given special treatment and held to lax pollution control standards, compared to fossil-fueled power plants.  Biomass plants are dirty because they are markedly inefficient. The report found that per megawatt-hour, a biomass power plant employing “best available control technology” (BACT) emits more nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds, particulate matter, and carbon monoxide than a modern coal plant of the same size. 
 http://www.pfpi.net/trees-trash-and-toxics-how-biomass-energy-has-become-the-new-coal 

Skyepony
4 months ago
Reply to  J Doug Swallow

I don’t think of ethanol as a green energy or any kind of real bridge to a clean renewable source of energy.

Art
Art
4 months ago

URGENT – WEATHER MESSAGE
National Weather Service Jacksonville FL
136 PM EST Thu Jan 28 2021

FLZ024-025-031-032-037-136-140-236-240-340-291400-
/O.NEW.KJAX.FR.Y.0004.210129T0800Z-210129T1400Z/
Inland Nassau-Inland Duval-Bradford-Clay-Putnam-Eastern Alachua-
Eastern Marion-Western Alachua-Central Marion-Western Marion-
Including the cities of Ratliff, Hilliard, Kings Ferry,
Bryceville, Normandy, Ortega, Riverside, San Marco, Starke,
New River, Doctors Inlet, Lakeside, Bellair, Middleburg,
Orange Park, Bostwick, Carraway, Palatka, Gainesville,
Gainesville Airport, Newnans Lake, Lynne, Moss Bluff,
High Springs, Newberry, Archer, Anthony, Burbank, Ocala,
Weirsdale, and Ocala Airport
136 PM EST Thu Jan 28 2021

…FROST ADVISORY IN EFFECT FROM 3 AM TO 9 AM EST FRIDAY…

* WHAT…Temperatures in the lower to middle 30s will result in
frost formation.

* WHERE…Inland Nassau, Inland Duval, Bradford, Clay, Putnam,
Eastern Alachua, Eastern Marion, Western Alachua, Central
Marion and Western Marion Counties.

* WHEN…From 3 AM to 9 AM EST Friday.

* IMPACTS…Frost could kill sensitive outdoor vegetation if
left uncovered.

PRECAUTIONARY/PREPAREDNESS ACTIONS…

Take steps now to protect tender plants from the cold.

&&

$$

cloudy2
cloudy2
4 months ago

I am a “doomist”. Unless the whole world helps India and China go completely nuclear in 9 years, mankind will have reached a tipping point.
Watch https://www.c-span.org/video/?457382-1/a-bright-future

If you don’t have time read the amazon reviews https://www.amazon.com/Bright-Future-Countries-Solved-Climate/dp/1541724100

If you don’t have time for that, you can join me—I no longer care about #ClimateChange. There’s always covid and The Bomb.Funny, how the one means of saving us, is also the one means of annihilation.

Art
Art
4 months ago
Reply to  cloudy2

I quite imagine mankind’s time is slowly coming to an end,Nature has a way of doing that over the centuries to animals etc

cloudy2
cloudy2
4 months ago
Reply to  cloudy2

Negative!
That’s the reply I get.

Did you look at the video?
Read what it said about the book?

Skyepony
4 months ago
Reply to  cloudy2

It’s not all on you to try and save us from these things. Everything you do to prevent climate change personally in your life will most likely save you money and improve your health. If it doesn’t work out a few generations down the road, at least your life was better. China is ahead of us in developing like bus batteries and other solutions. There is so much new tech that is making healthier alternatives less expensive than far dirtier sources. Nuclear isn’t the winner economically or environmentally.

Last edited 4 months ago by Skyepony (mod)
Adam Sacks
4 months ago

I have great respect for Dr. Mann as a climate pioneer and determined activist who has courageously fought denialism despite ongoing assaults from the ignorant. As a physical scientist, he understandably focuses on energy and greenhouse gases. And of course his critique of the fossil fuel industry is on target.

But the Earth is an extraordinarily complex system, and reducing it to a handful of small heat-trapping molecules critically omits some of the most important elements of the systemic problems we face. Climate is not an isolated issue, it is intimately connected to general destruction of the biosphere, and we won’t solve climate separately from repairing the damage humans have inadvertently wrought since the last ice age.

In fact, living systems are the most powerful force on Earth, going back almost four billion years. Life has created an oxygen atmosphere, changed the nature and function of land- and waterscapes, and has evolved into marvels of existence seen nowhere outside of living systems.

I haven’t read the book but based on Jeff Masters’ summary, leaving biology out of the equation is a sin of omission. The most hopeful developments at this stage of the game are in managing the biosphere to bring twelve billion or so degraded and desertified acres back to life. This is how photosynthesis and massive growth of biomass cool the biosphere, provide nourishment for the creatures on this planet (including humans), help tame the weather, reduce floods and droughts and bring back a livable planet – and along the way draw down many gigatons of carbon dioxide.

Clean energy may well contribute to addressing climate, but it is nowhere near sufficient. We desperately need healthy, fully functioning natural systems to do that.