Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Michael Mann's New Climate War

It's not all that new. There are tons of books on this topic now, so it would be hard to find a completely new angle. But the public still needs to learn the basics, and Mann does a good enough job of explaining it all in a very conversational writing style that's approachable for casual readers of science. His big argument, however, is with most of those other books and anyone who errs on the side of worst case predictions of the future because the doomers might provoke us to give up the fight, and this war has just barely started. 

I still know some people who think e-cars are evil because they use cobalt, and fast fashion is the main cause of climate change and are against any carbon tax because it will harm poor people (despite my explanation of the rebate system). They're convinced that vegetarianism is more important than decreasing fossil fuels use, but also that persuading others towards vegetarianism is elitist and privileged because it's cheaper to eat beef, despite my attempts to show them, with grocery store prices, that it's cheaper to buy bulk beans and lentils and cook from scratch; it's only more expensive if you buy 'near-meat' products. Although it takes more time than going through a drive-through, it doesn't have to if you cook a pot full of rice and lentils once/week. I used to live well below the poverty line, and dried beans kept me and my kids afloat. But somehow beef is the road to equity?? 

When I ask for sources, it's all Tiktok videos, so that's where climate scientists and activists have to head next! It's clearly still necessary to explain all this over and over in short soundbites with intense visuals that people will take away with them and share endlessly. These types of books need to be promoted by influencers

Mann has written a different type of climate change book in that it feels sort of personal, and he names lots of names of individuals, corporations, and countries. He seems a little snarky at times, which can be fun, but it's definitely different that the usual dry facts and data. He comes down hard on some of the people and ideas I've supported in the past, which has given me pause, but I don't fully support his take-downs. He wants to mend the rift between various factions of environmental movements, but he's doing so by arguing that they're all wrong. That might not be the best way to build bridges.

The gist: denial isn't the biggest problem anymore; now it's "other breeds of deceivers and dissemblers, namely downpayers, deflectors, dividers, delayers, and doomers" (45). We have to do both individual actions and corporate /political actions, and ignore any fight about which is better or faster. We have to do ALL THE THINGS! (I argued the same last year.) "At the center of the acrimonious debate over individual action versus systemic change is a false dilemma. Both are important and necessary" (68). 

"The solution is already here. We just need to deploy it rapidly and at a massive scale. It all comes down to political will and economic incentives. . . . A renewable energy transition would create millions of new jobs, stabilize energy prices in the absence of fuel costs, reduce power disruption, and increase access to energy by decentralizing power generation" (143-4). 

The solution: ignore doomsayers that remove a sense of agency (it's-too-late messages), follow the fierce methods of people like Greta Thunberg, educate people, and demand policies that incentivize the shift away from fossil fuels. And keep in mind that "the surest way to lose a war is to refuse to recognize you're in one in the first place" (7).  He discusses Ibsen's Enemy of the People, a fantastic play which I used to teach to my grade 10s, and which is perfect to understand the psychology of inaction, and also Bless the Beasts and the Children, which must put Mann at pretty much exactly my age. Few else will have heard of that one, which makes for a curious beginning. With the ongoing alliterations and repetition of key ideas, mixed with personal touches like these two tales and a slightly larger font than would be expected, it fits a new breed of non-fiction that used to be found only on self-help shelves. But this one's a tell-all! 

The climate details are largely the same as others in the genre: ExxonMobil knew about problems fossil fuels way back in the 1970s (which he claims is new information, but Nathaniel Rich pegs it at 1957 in Losing Earth), and it was government policy that was able to shrink the ozone hole after banning the production of CFCs. "Environmental policy actually works" (16), so it's possible to do it again. 

"Any real solution must involve both individual action and systemic change. . . . Studies suggests that a solitary focus on voluntary action may actually undermine support for governmental polices to hold carbon polluters accountable. So there is a delicate middle ground--which we must seek out--that encourages personal responsibility and individual action while continuing to use all of the lever arms of democracy (including voting!) to pressure politicians to support climate-friendly governmental policies" (61). "Of course, a truly comprehensive strategy for levelling the playing field involves more than simply forcing corporate polluters to pay for the damage they're causing. That's the stick. But we need the carrot, too. That means incentives for energy providers to replace fossil fuels with cleaner, safer, carbon-free energy (and, conversely, eliminating the perverse existing subsidies that are provided to fossil fuel energy producers)" (122). 

We've got this! Right?


We're not acting because of the people deflecting blame for this mess: oil companies taking their inspiration from the gun lobby, tobacco industry, and beverage companies, who dug in their heels to stick around. Focussing on littering and recycling, though worthwhile, "takes the pressure off of the push for governmental policies to hold corporate polluters accountable" (3). They've created a wedge between activists to get them fighting among themselves. Hate campaigns have been employed against activists back to Rachel Carson. Mann lists many other names of scientists and activists formerly or currently targeted. 

The Bad Guys: Free-market fundamentalists: Frederick Seitz (helped tobacco industry in war on science), Robert Jastrow (astrophysicist) and William Neirenberg (oceanographer). None are environmental sciences, and all are opposed to limits on freedom of individuals or corporations. Add in the cap-and-trade, which was a brainchild of William K. Reilly under Bush, and S. Fred Singer, an acid rain denialist and current "denier-for-hire" (27), along with "denier-for-hire Patrick Moore . . . most famous for saying that the Monsanto-produced weed killer glyphosate was safe enough that 'you can drink a whole quart of it and it won't hurt you'" (91). And of course there's the Koch empire.

Then there's Russia. They not only tampered with the US election, but Climategate used the same players,  i.e. WikiLeaks and Julian Assange: 

"Putin had an interest in Hillary Clinton's defeat in the 2016 election not just for geopolitical reasons, but because fossil fuels are Russia's primary asset, with much of the Russian economy dependent on fossil fuel exports" (39). "Once in office, Trump appointed ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson as his secretary of state . . . a half-trillion dollar oil deal was the primary impetus. . . . Climategate was, in fact, an early test run for the larger assault on climate action by a small coalition of petrostates that is underway today" (40).  US, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait are all opposed to climate action, and took "efforts of rogue state actors to block international climate policy progress" (41). "Two petrostates--Russia and Saudi Arabia--are known to have played an important role in the spread of Climategate propaganda. Indeed, Saudi Arabia attempted to sabotage the entire Copenhagen Summit based on the false Climategate claims" (105). "Based on recent behavior, the coalition of the unwilling now includes Brazil under Jair Bolsinaro and Australia under Scott Morrison. Russia, by far, though, remains the most active member of the coalition of inactivist states" (106). 

He names many front groups acting like green companies, like the Koch brother's Americans for Prosperity (formerly Citizens for a Sound Economy and then Freedomworks).

He points out the problems with the push for individual action that has people focussing on eating meat more that burning oil, and takes people to task by scrutinizing for an ounce of oil burning in the background of their lives. "The concept of a 'personal carbon footprint' was something that the oil company BP promoted in the mid-2000s" (63). At the opposite extreme, others deflect by saying it's all the fault of big business instead of society as a whole (66). These guys use "professional trolls to amplify a particular meme on social media, and send in an army of bots to amplify it further, baiting genuine individuals to join in the fray . . . and thereby generate polarization and conflict" (71). 

There used to be a perception that environmentalists were all peace-and-love hippies, but that's changed; now the target is "inactivists who want to portray climate champions as freedom-hating totalitarians" (90). "The premise that climate action demands sacrifice is itself deeply flawed. . . . The real sacrifice would be if we fail to act, and subject ourselves to ever more dangerous and damaging climate-change impacts. That's the appropriate frame to be using here" (92). 

GREEN NEW DEAL (and Canada's Leap Manifesto)

He takes a hit at Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for promoting a policy that is too stringent to ever be passed. She "served as the perfect foil when she became the principal proponent of the Green New Deal (GND). . . . Though I broadly support the GND's goals, I have some concerns about the ambitious scope of this specific proposal . . . 'Saddling a climate movement with a laundry list of other worthy social programmes risks alienating needed supporters who are apprehensive about a broader agenda of progressive social change'" (93-4). 

Mann wants to take out any anti-free market talk from any climate change work. The same goes for Naomi Klein: 

"Klein's thesis is that neoliberalism--the prevailing global policy model, predicated on privatization and free-market capitalism--must be overthrown through mass resistance and that climate change can't be separated from other pressing social problems, each a symptom of neoliberalism: income inequality, corporate surveillance, misogyny and white supremacy. Such framing fans the flames of the conservative fever swamps, reinforcing the right-wing trope that environmentalists are 'watermelons' (green on the outside, red on the inside) who secretly want to use environmental sustainability as an excuse for overthrowing capitalism and ending economic growth" (95).

"We should all engage in climate-friendly individual actions. They make us feel better and they set a good example for others. But don't become complacent, thinking that your duty is done when you recycle your bottles or ride your bicycle to work. We cannot solve this problem without deep systemic change, and that necessitates governmental action. In turn, that requires using our voices, demanding change, supporting climate-focused organizations, and voting for and supporting politicians who will back climate-friendly policies--which includes putting a price on pollution" (97).

His concern is that overly restrictive language against market-based mechanism kept some environmental groups from signing the GND, including Sierra Club, The Audubon Society and the Environmental Defense Fund (153), and that the extremism is creating a rift between climate progressives (AOC) and climate moderates (Mann). But to me, it feels like his implication is that if we just focus on climate and ignore the effect policies have on marginalized groups, then the policies will be more acceptable to Republicans, and something will get done. So, cycle and recycle and change the system, but not so much that it helps the poor, women, or BIPOC, because that might put off the elites in charge. It's an unsavoury take, for sure. Is it the better way to go? 

He explains further on: "They argue that any plan to address climate change must address societal injustice, too. But I would argue that social justice is intrinsic to climate action. . . . So simply acting on the climate crisis is acting to alleviate social injustice. . . . It is all of the things we have talked about--behavioral change, incentivized by appropriate government policy, intergovernmental agreements, and technological innovation--that will lead us forward on climate. It is not any one of these things, but all of them working together, at this unique moment in history, that provides true reason for hope" (266).

I'm not convinced by his arguments on this one. He's trying to use the master's tools to dismantle the master's house!. ETA: Martin Empson has similar concerns with Mann's take on capitalism.


Mann's in favour of carbon taxing and trading, but the idea has been thwarted by oil companies, Russia, and those well-meaning leftists above who don't understand the overriding importance of slowing climate change.

Oil companies are powerful and have worked hard to stop any disruption to their income. Beyond merely lobbying to save their investments, the Koch brothers, 

"served notice to any Republican legislators who might think about supporting climate legislation by making an example of Congressman Bob Inglis (R-SC), who, as noted earlier, had supported a carbon tax bill. Christopher Leonard, Author of Kochland, described what happened during Inglis's reelection bid in 2010: 'Koch Industries stopped funding his campaign, donated heavily to a primary opponent named Trey Gowdy and helped organize teams of Tea Party activists who traveled to town hall meanings to protest against Mr. Inglis" (102). 

Russia interfered with the election, helped UKIP to pass Brexit, and instigated the 2018 'Yellow Vest' revolts in France all to sabotage efforts to introduce a carbon tax. "To make a price on carbon toxic, all they have to do is associate it with social unrest, disruption, and economic pain" (107). Sierra Club also "argued that the carbon tax would violate principles of social justice" which Mann refers to as "the ironic alienation of environmental progressives from pricing carbon" (107). AOC's GND also "advocates against a price on carbon" (110) because it is a market-based mechanism, and "the denunciation of neoliberalism in Naomi Klein's This Changes Everything gave a manifesto to the new green left" (112). There is an effort underway to "turn support for the GND in its current form (including opposition to carbon pricing) into a purity test. Even questioning it can lead to massive, mob-like online assaults and ugly accusation that somehow become framed in identity politics an tinged with issues of race, gender, and ageism" (113). 

Mann explains that there are two approaches to reducing fossil fuel use: controlling supply through divestment campaigns and opposition to pipelines or bans on fracking or controlling demand by pricing carbon or providing incentives for renewables (107) "so that climate-friendly energy, transportation, and agricultural practices outcompete fossil fuels in the marketplace. Carbon pricing is one of the most powerful tools we have to do that" (121). Obviously, it's easier to get activists to protest pipelines, but harder to promote carbon pricing. 

One concern is that it will hurt low-income workers, but, "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. . . . Under Canada' carbon tax-and-rebate system, most households actually save money" (108-9). There are also "efforts today to use the legal system to bring polluters to justice for hiding the dangers of their product--fossil fuels--to the entire planet. A number of lawsuits against fossil fuel companies are currently working their way through the legal system" (109). He's hopeful for the activists "willing to push back against needlessly divisive rhetoric. That will remain critical if we are to find some degree of common ground, as a society, when it comes to climate action--including carbon pricing" (113). Carbon pricing used to be supported across party lines, but only recently support been eroded. 

Mann pinpoints the hatred on the right to one of his own tweets: "11,000 scientists have declared we are in a climate emergency. Among other things, we need to move away from capitalism." It cost him some important backers. From a Republican position, "If this was a real emergency, the scientists would be in favor of mobilizing the power of capitalism, not government control" (115). They're "suspicious that the declaration of a climate emergency is just a tool for overthrowing capitalism" (115-6). These are the traditional conservatives:

 "that includes Reagan conservatives, like George Shultz, who, as we have seen, not only supported but actually gave us market-based approaches to reducing pollutants--and the current-day Republican Party, which has indeed been cowed into complicity with the Koch brothers, the Murdoch media, and the fossil fuel industry. These old-school conservatives--George Shultz, Hank Paulson, Bob Inglis, Arnold Schwarzenegger, or, in the United Kingdom, former prime minister David Cameron--not only support climate action, but are passionate about it. Nevertheless, they are apprehensive about what they perceive to be heavy-handed governmental regulatory approaches including the GND in its current form . . . 'don't leave this to the left or you'll get an anti-business, anti-enterprise, anti-technology response'" . . .  Rather than alienating them through partisan rhetoric, we need to create space for them and welcome them into the fold. . . . The most viable path forward toward comprehensive climate legislation in the United States involves market mechanisms, including carbon pricing. It would be sadly ironic--and indeed tragic--if progressives, rather than conservatives, became the greatest obstacle to climate progress by refusing to engage in compromise, cooperation, and consensus building" (117). 

Mann argues that it's better to create a bad agreement with everyone than have in-fighting. The fossil fuel industry "received about half a trillion dollars globally in explicit subsidies" (123). And there's a list of names involved: Heartland Institute is Koch funded and attacking renewable energy. The Daily Caller is a Koch brothers front group. Breakthrough Institute (BTI) is a nuclear industry front group. Bjorn Lomborg indiscriminately rejects well-established science (125-133). And then he gets to that horrible Michael Moore film Planet of the Humans, which is welcome because that is one weird movie!! I was hoping for some insights into what got into Moore, but his focus was on correcting the errors, but he did reveal this: "An anti-renewables Koch brothers front group known as the American Energy Alliance spent thousands of dollars promoting the film" (141).  He also calls out Moore for supporting Julian Assange: "The WikiLeaks leader has collaborated closely with Russia in its efforts to attack climate science and undermine action on climate. There's a footnote for Moore's support of Assange, but no footnote showing evidence that Assange attempted to help attack climate science. Curious.


X Meat production and consumption isn't as big a deal as many think: 

"Though beef consumption is responsible for only 6 percent of total carbon emissions, it often seems to fill close to 100 percent of my Twitter feed. The meat melee was fed by a highly successful and influential 2014 documentary, Cowspiracy, which promoted the false notion that meat-eating is the primary contributor to human-caused climate change.  . . . But that thesis isn't the product of incisive research and investigative journalism: it's a product of dubious non-peer-reviewed claims built on bad math, amplified by a polemic film" (77-8). Policing others doesn't work as well as "Gentle encouragement, and, most importantly, incentives for lifestyle change" (78). 

I'm with him on Cowspiracy, but in Before the Flood, Professor Gidon Eshel, PhD in environmental physics at Bard College, said the easiest and most important thing we can do to save the planet is to change our diet. According to Eshel, the foremost reason for deforestation is beef, which is an inefficient form of food. 70% of agricultural land in the US is for cattle feed. It's great if you can go vegan, but it helps even to change from beef to chicken. And that's something we can all do immediately. If it's all about agency, this is an easy one to tap into. To be fair, though, Mann doesn't say not to reduce meat intake, but only that it's not nearly as important as we think it is. It shouldn't take over as a focus.

X Air travel also isn't a big deal: Mann wonders why air travel is attacked so much despite causing only 3% of GHG emissions. I think it might have started back in 2006, when George Monbiot published a dense and heavily footnoted book, Heat, in which he said that nobody should fly except for a family emergency. There's no such thing as eco-tourism: "If you fly, you destroy other people's lives." It's only 3% of GHG emissions globally, but, for anyone who does fly (less than 20% of people), it's likely to be their single biggest contribution to GHG emissions. Nothing we can do, individually, matches the GHG load of a flight. France added air travel restrictions to its climate bill, recognizing the effect it has from wealthy countries. Mann seems to lump this in with deflecting and thinks it may be from a hatred for jet-setting celebrities: "Flight-shaming is a good fit with those who see capitalism itself as the enemy" (80), and he points out Monbiot specifically as a problem. He discusses Eric Holthaus in the same paragraph although he's not nearly in the same league as Monbiot. Holthaus was the editor of a weather blog who wrote a very odd book after having a breakdown about the climate. Then Mann further praises Greta Thunberg. I wonder if it makes him jealous that she made a video with Monbiot! 

Natural gas has to be stopped: It's mainly methane and somehow has got a pass, but it really needs to go the way of coal and oil. Keep it all in the ground.

"Natural gas has often been characterized as a bridge fuel, a way to slowly wean us off more carbon-intensive fuels like coal and gently nudge us toward a renewable energy future. . . . It's also a greenhouse gas. In fact, methane is nearly one hundred times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. . . . The spike in atmospheric methane levels in recent decades is coming from natural gas extraction (as opposed to farming and livestock, or natural sources such as peat bogs and melting permafrost). Moreover, the rise in methane is responsible for as much as 25 percent of the warming. . . . Increased use of natural gas for power generation is likely to crowd out investment in a true, zero-carbon solution in the power sector: renewable energy" (149-50).

I have solar panels covering my roof, and they generate enough electricity for all my needs in a house of four people, but my home is heated with natural gas. I'm not sure what should be heating my house. I looked into geo-thermal, but was told - by the company - that I would use as much electricity to run it as installing baseboard heaters. I don't have a big enough roof to for the solar power to do that, so what's the solution?


√ Renewables is Mann's number one solution. We need more solar, wind, and tidal energy captured with Tesla's batteries to store energy when it's not being produced. Many other solutions are too little or too late. "We are currently generating the equivalent of roughly 55 billion tons per year of carbon dioxide through fossil fuel burning and other human activities" (165). No solution will be enough without plans to keep fossil fuels in the ground: "At present, it is far easier and cheaper to prevent the buildup of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere in the first place, by limiting fossil fuel burning" (158). Monbiot's Heat has some very similar arguments. Imaging if we had listened 15 years ago!  

X Carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) won't work. In CCS, "carbon dioxide released during the burning of coal is scrubbed from emissions and captured, compressed, and liquefied. It is then pumped deep into the Earth" (151). 51 facilities are being developed to capture 100 million tons of carbon dioxide each year, but "It simply isn't feasible to buy the billions of tons per year of carbon pollution currently produced" (152). He quotes Michael Barnard, chief strategist for TFIE Strategy Inc - "we're in a hole that we've created by shovelling carbon out of the ground and into the sky. The first thing to do is stop shovelling. All CCS does is take teaspoons out of massive scoops of carbon and puts them back in the hole" (153). 

X Geoengineering is a bad idea. Shooting reflective particulates into the atmosphere is feasible, but there are seriously adverse side effects:

"First of all, we would get a very different climate from the one we're used to. . . . On average, the globe may not warm under the sulfate aerosol plan, but some regions would cool while others warmed. Indeed, some regions would likely end up warming even faster than they would have without the geoengineering. . . . As with any 'cover-up- approach to climate change that doesn't deal with the root cause of the problem . .  carbon dioxide would continue to build up in both the atmosphere and the ocean . . . it would likely render less viable one of the most important and safest of climate solutions: solar power" (155-6). "Geoengineering also appeals to free-market conservatives, as it plays to the notion that market-driven technological innovation can solve any problem. . . . Perhaps more eye-opening, though , is the fact that business magnates like former Microsoft CEO Bill Gates have embraced the concept. . . . Gates gave millions of dollars to two climate scientists, David Keith of Harvard University and Ken Caldeira of Stanford University . . . Keith is affiliated with the Breakthrough Institute and a signatory of the 'Ecomodernist Manifesto,' a techno-optimist, pseudo-environmentalist polemic that Guardian columnist George Monbiot characterized as 'generalisations, . . . ignorance of history, . .  unexplored prejudices . . . an astonishing lack of depth" (160-1). "The fundamental problem with geoengineering, in the end, is that tinkering with a complex system we don't fully understand entails monumental risk. Geoengineering expert Alan Robock of Rutgers University believes that geoengineering is too risky to ever try" (164).

X Ocean iron fertilization is a fast nope: "the scheme doesn't really work" (157).

X Synthetic trees are "difficult and expensive . . . it could remove, at the very most, only about two billion tons of carbon dioxide per year, a veritable drop in the bucket compared with current carbon emission" (158). 

Direct air capture (DAC) gets part marks. It's "safest and most efficacious. Unlike CCS, which continues our reliance on fossil fuels, this form of carbon burial could, along with natural reforestations, be an important component of broader efforts to 'draw down' carbon from the atmosphere. . . . But since we're only talking about 10 percent, at most, of current carbon emissions, it is obvious this cannot be a primary strategy for mitigation" (159). 

Reforesting is a win, if we can get the land. DAC mimics what trees do naturally. We could just plant a massive number of trees: "it's a 'no regrets' path forward" (165). BUT the growing population might get in the way of that plan: "We cannot ignore the massive demands on available land of 7.7 billion (and growing) people competing for space for settlement, agriculture, and livestock. When real-world economic constraints are taken into account, the actual land area available for reforestation may be only about 30 percent of the technically available land area assumed" (166).

X Nuclear energy isn't necessary with increased renewable energy production, and there's always the challenge of safe long-term disposal of radioactive waste (169). 

"Electrification of the various energy sectors in conjunction with decarbonization of the grid can already be achieved using renewables such as residential rooftop solar and solar plants, onshore and offshore wind farms, wave energy, geothermal energy, and hydroelectric and tidal energy. Researchers have shown how these existing renewable energy technologies could be scales up to meet 80 percent of global energy demand by 2030 and 100 percent by 2050. To those who argue that nuclear is a cheaper option, the numbers indicate otherwise" (171).


Mann takes issue with any climate report that leans slightly towards provoking fear instead of concern, but that's a tricky line to draw. Monbiot raised the alarm decades ago, but, according to Mann, the focus on personal lifestyle changes provoked a blind eye. Yet, is it because of fear that people didn't listen, that Monbiot just didn't make it sound pleasant enough to change even though he gave us the fact necessary to have agency and make change, or, perhaps, isn't it possible that it was all those other forces mentioned above, like the power of the Koch brothers to destroy or handsomely reward political players, and all that Russia stuff, and that oil interests are closely aligned with media, so people just weren't getting the message enough

Mann argues that currently we're not doing enough. Absolutely. Democrats are "still promoting inaction, only this time dressed up in the language of 'innovation,' 'conservation,' and 'adaptation' (174). Republicans promote "carbon capture and nuclear power. And where they mentioned renewable energy, they emphasized research and innovation with regard to clean energy technologies, batteries, and storage. There was no discussion about actual deployment of renewable energy or market mechanisms--such as incentives for renewables or a price on carbon--that might level the playing field and enable the rapid transition away from fossil fuels necessary to avoid a crisis" (175). This discussion of developing resilience for the future is just another way to avoid action; it's a deflection to tell us to "adapt to the 'new normal' (177).  And he's concerned that "the false prophets have been successful, at least in part, in convincing some climate activists that desperate measures--like geoengineering--might be called for" (178). 

"It's fair to say that dangerous climate change has already arrived and it's simply a matter, at this point, of how bad we're wiling to let it get. While climate-change deniers, delayers, and deflectors love to point to scientific uncertainty as justification for inaction, uncertainty is not our friend here. . . . Every bit of additional carbon we burn makes things worse. But conversely, every bit of carbon we avoid burning prevents additional damage. There is both urgency and agency" (181). "Doomism, it seems, now trumps denialism as a cause for inaction" (184). 

So, since fear doesn't motivate people, don't scare them, but instead tell them it IS bad, but there IS hope. Sure. What works best is when he clarifies that some things aren't as bad as others have made it seem: there's no support for runaway warming scenario; fewer than 2% of species will undergo collapse if we keep warming under 2 degrees (which is entirely possible) (185). And there's no evidence that methane will run out of control and initiate any sudden, catastrophic effects" (196). Stop listening to Rupert Read of Extinction Rebellion or Jem Bendell of Deep Adaptation because they make it seem worse than it is and encourage us to rebel or get used to how bad it will be.

And I recognize I totally get sucked into the doom from time to time: A year ago I commented on Will Steffen's Hothouse Earth, which Mann says "helped lay the groundwork for other doomist and soft doomist accounts" (203), and I added to the doom and gloom: 

"If we can't get people to wear masks in public places, then I have little hope that we'll get them to ditch their cars and bar fridges or turn off the A/C or stop buying every little thing they think they need or convince the government to re-regulate corporations despite the cash flow from lobbyists. Grown adults are pitching fits in public places when asked to do something as minor as cover their face when indoors. We are truly too stupid to live."

So Mann's got a point there! 

He also takes down David Wallace-Wells's The Uninhabitable Earth, (which I summarized here). Mann says the original article that preempted the book "was to climate doom porn what Shakespeare is to modern literature" (205). He's concerned that the book "exaggerates, for example, the near-term threat of climate 'feedbacks' involving the release of currently trapped methane" (206). The website, Climate Feedback, gave the article a low scientific credibility score as it mischaracterizes the progress we've made. 

"People should be angry at anyone engaged in self-righteous and self-serving (yeah--doom porn sells!) propagandizing at the expense of our children and grandchildren's future. . . . Our demise is only assured if we follow [doomers'] lead and surrender. If your midlife crisis has caused you to give up on the future, then step aside. Get out of the way. But please don't obstruct others stepping forward to do battle" (191). Doomers are photo-negatives of denialists, "But in the doomist version, the scientists aren't conspiring to promote a massive hoax. Instead, they are engaged in a massive cover-up to hide how bad climate change really is" (194). "Lots of people are using this kind of catastrophism to argue that there's no point in reducing emissions" (199).

Like Monbiot said in Heat, we have the potential to have the will to get this going, and a war analogy helps: 

"Think World War II mobilization or the Apollo project. Had we decided a priori that winning the war or landing on the moon was impossible, these seemingly insurmountable challenges would never have been met. We have encountered compelling evidence that a clean energy revolution and climate stabilization are achievable with current technology. All we require are policies to incentivize the needed shift" (203). "Many experts have pointed out a viable path to 2C. . . . There are no physical obstacles to 2C stabilization. Only political ones--at this point. . . . Some analyses suggest that the U.S. is very much on target to do so . . . and China, the world's largest emitter is on course to exceed its targets" (210). "It is important that we hold our policymakers accountable for taking concerted action on climate, as activists like Greta Thunberg have done. But it's not constructive to dismiss the real progress that its being made. . . [Saying nothing has been done] is dismissive of the actions that countries, states, cities, companies, and individuals are taking every day to hep move us off fossil fuels, and it is dispiriting to the individuals who have worked so hard to improve the situation" (216).

So, we can definitely do this, provided we can override the power of the money that comes with the Kochs and others who are desperate to protect their fortunes. But Fossil Fuel Divestment will happen 'naturally' as people try to save their own skins. Renewable energy amounts to 20% of power generation and Tesla's batteries are outperforming fossil fuel generators (238). It does feel like things are shifting for the better!

Other signs of hope: 

"The active engagement of many cities, states, and corporations, and the commitments of virtually every nation are very hopeful signs. The rapid movement in the global energy market toward cleaner options is another sign of hope. Experts are laying out pathways to avoid disastrous levels of climate change, and clearly expressing the urgency of action. There is still time to avoid the worst outcomes if--to repeat myself--we act boldly now, not out of fear, but out of confidence that the future is largely in our hands" (223). "In 2018, the cities of San Francisco and Oakland sued the oil companies BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, and Shell for the damages (due to sea-level rise) that they've caused, indirectly, through the extraction and sale of planet-warming fossil fuels" (229). "That numerous Republican politicians and conservative opinion leaders would support climate action if they felt they were granted the license to do so by party power brokers adds to the notion that a climate-action tipping point could be looming in our near future" (231). "According to a Pew Research poll in 2019, 67% of the public thinks we're doing too little to reduce the effects of climate change" (232). "The opposing forces in this case--which include the world's most powerful industrial sector, fossil fuels--are considerably stronger and better funded than those that opposed marriage equality (the religious rights). That means that the forward push to get us past the tipping point has to be all that much harder. . . . One group of climate experts has in fact published a set of 'concrete interventions to induce positive social tipping dynamics.' They propose, as key ingredients, 'removing fossil-fuel subsidies and incentivizing decentralized energy generation, building carbon-neutral cities, divesting from assets linked to fossil fuels, revealing the moral implications of fossil fuels, strengthening climate education and engagement, and disclosing greenhouse gas emissions information.' A lot of these basic ingredients indeed seem to be in place, or close to being in place. . . . Natural gas is increasingly being recognized not as a 'bridge to the future,' but as a liability to local communities. And now, the banking and finance industry is rethinking its role in funding new fossil fuel infrastructure. The primary reason is what is known as transition risk. As we choose to decarbonize our economy, demand for fossil fuels will wane" (233). 

And he comments on the similarities to the reaction to Covid -19:

"remarkable parallel with climate-change inactivism: the transition over time from denial to false solutions, and then, eventually, to 'it's actually good for us.' This transition took more than a decade with climate inactivists; with the coronavirus deniers it happened in a matter of weeks" (245). "Human being have agency. We can choose to behave like a virus that plagues our planet, or we can choose a different path. . . . Climate change may seem slower than coronavirus and farther away, but it is very much here, and it requires many of the same behavioral changes. In this case our commitment must be sustained rather than fleeting. We must flatten the curve--of carbon emissions--to get off the climate pandemic path. . .. We were already seeing the decoupling of our global economy from fossil fuels before the pandemic. . . . In July 2020, two of the world's largest oil companies, Shell and BP, were lowering their outlooks for demand for their products and slashing the value of their assets by billions, saying the coronavirus pandemic could accelerate a shift to clean energy" (251). 

The take home is to use the rebuttals at to argue any denier or doomer talking points.

"When you encounter such doomist and nihilistic framing of the climate crisis, whether online or in conversations with friends, coworkers, or fellow churchgoers, call it out. . . . Attacks on child climate activists most surely constitute a metaphorical violation of the Geneva Conventions . . . our children represent unacceptable collateral damage. That is why we must fight back--with knowledge, passion, and an unyielding demand for change" (258-9). 

And don't forget to do it all: change your lifestyle AND petition the government and corporations: 

"Make no mistake. Individual action is part of the solution. There are countless things we can do and ought to do to limit our personal carbon footprint--and indeed our total environmental impact. And there are many reasons for doing them: they make us healthier, save us money, make us feel better about ourselves, and set a good example for others to follow. But individual action can only get us so far. . . . The commitments of individual nations to such global agreements can only, of course, be met when their governments are in a position to enforce them through domestic energy and climate policies that incentivize the needed shift away from fossil fuel burning and other sources of carbon pollution. We won't get those policies without politicians in office who are willing to do our bidding over the bidding of powerful polluters. . . . Herein we have encountered a new challenge. Opposition to key policy measures is now coming not just from the right, as a traditionally expected, from from the left, too" (263-4). 

I'll end with a little from Chris Hedges who rejects the concept of hope. He says, instead of holding out hope, which is a passive emotion, we really need to individually make sure we're doing the right thing at ever turn, which includes fighting to provoke governments to craft sustainable policies through "acts of human solidarity."

If we're all concerned about being good people and helping one another, then it's all a no brainer!

ETA: The Newsroom S03E03 has a great example of doomerism around climate change.

ETA: This older, excellent Sierra Club article about the importance of individual action.


The Disaffected Lib said...

Mann posits this as a fight we're going to win. I think he raises expectations that can't be met and will leave his followers disillusioned and cynical.

He shares a fundamental flaw with many other climate types. They set up climate change as a standalone existential threat. It's not, far from it. The climate emergency is one part of a greater problem that are all linked to one failure - mankind's inability or unwillingness to live in harmony with nature, our one and only biosphere, Earth.

We either have to find ways and the will to transform humanity's relationship with our all too finite planet or nature will see to that for us. There are too many of us. We live too long. We have learned to consume far more than our planet can sustainably provide. In the result we create too much pollution and degradation, not just in terms of greenhouse gases but soils degradation, biodiversity loss, ocean acidification, depletion of essential wilderness, on and on and, yes, on.

We could go carbon neutral tomorrow and these other existential threats would still take us down. We refuse to look at the predicament holistically.

Alternative clean energy is an engineering challenge. Overpopulation and overconsumption are of a more complex dimension. There are solutions but they raise a variety of issues that our global governments are not constituted to tackle. We have to grow smaller in our numbers and our ecological footprint. There are reproductive solutions but they won't be popular especially when the people of the overpopulated nations see those of the affluent nations unwilling to bend to equitable measures addressing consumption. Sharing is not in our DNA. It is not how the G7 was forged. Try telling the average Canadian they'll have to live "smaller," reduce their consumption by 15 to 25 per cent - for starters - so that little brown people on the far side of the planet can have at least something. There's your problem.

The climate problem is Michael Mann's life work. I get that. However it isn't a standalone threat. The climate fix will not avert a mass extinction. We either respect the finite limits of our ecology or we don't live.

We may be heading for our Fermi's Paradox moment.

Marie Snyder said...

I agree with everything except that sharing isn't in our DNA. I think it is, but has been teased out of us with lots of challenges to be the best and rise to the top and cautions that people who don't get ahead are lazy. A mindset was invented that knowingly destroyed solidarity. So it's possible to go there again, to re-establish our compassion and recognize our interdependence, but it's a long shot. I do think it has to happen at once, the shift in the public and the elites, and there are signs of cracks in the current edifice, but things could go in a variety of directions from here. And we can't broach that stance of solidarity if we're kowtowing to Republicans for scraps.

Anonymous said...

" it would be hard to find a completely new angel." I think there is a typo, I think it should be " it would be hard to find a completely new angle."

Marie Snyder said...

Thanks, Anon! There's always one in every post!