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“The New Climate War” exposes tactics of “inactivists” of climate change


The new climate war
Michael E. Mann
Public Affairs, $ 29

Sometime around the 5th century BC, Chinese general and military strategist Sun Tzu wrote in his highly quoted treatise The Art of War: "If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the outcome of a hundred battles."

In the new climate war, climate scientist Michael Mann channels Sun Tzu to demystify the myriad of "enemy" tactics – in this case, "fossil fuel companies, right-wing plutocrats and oil-funded governments" and other forces large-scale mode of action to combat climate change. “Any plan for victory requires recognizing and defeating the tactics that the inactivists are now employing as they continue to wage war,” he writes.

Mann is a veteran of the climate wars of the 1990s and early 2000s, when scientific evidence that the climate is changing due to human emissions of greenhouse gases was under attack. Now, with the effects of climate change around us (SN: 21/12/20), we are in a new phase of those wars, he argues. Direct denial turned into "deception, distraction, and backwardness."

Such tactics, he said, are direct descendants of previous public relations battles over whether producers or consumers should have the ultimate responsibility for, for example, smoking-related deaths. When it comes to climate, Mann warns, an overemphasis on individual actions could overshadow efforts to achieve the real prize: industrial-scale emission reductions.

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He doesn’t punch, calling out sources of “friendly fire” from climate advocates who say they divide the climate community and play into the hands of the “enemy”. Advocates include climate purists who licked scientists for flying or eating meat; scientific communicators who drive fatalistic visions of catastrophic futures; and idealistic technocrats who advocate risky geoengineering ideas. Everything, says Mann, is distracting from what we can do here and now: regulate emissions and invest in renewable energy.

The main focus of the New Climate War is to fight psychological warfare, and on this front, the book is fascinating and often funny. It’s a fascinating mix of footnote history, acerbic political comments, and personal anecdotes. As for what readers can do to help in battle, Mann advocates four strategies: Ignore the condemned; get inspired by youth activists like Greta Thunberg; focus on educating the people who will listen; and don’t be fooled into thinking it’s too late to take action to change the political system.

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