Rising sea levels. Intense droughts. Extreme storms. Coral bleaching. Ecosystems in peril as risks to human health grow closer. Climate change is a very real and current threat, and yet the debate on whether you “believe” it exists or not still goes on. Even though more people widely accept that climate change is occurring, the battle on whether it’s man-made, who’s to blame, and how we proceed rages like a wildfire.
The information isn’t new. The greenhouse effect was being explored in the 1890s. By the late 1970s, the fossil fuel industry was well aware that climate change was occurring, and they knew they would bear much of the blame. So why didn’t we see the huge push toward change we see today? Climate scientist and – to his dismay – political commentator, Michael E. Mann, has the infuriating answers in his recently published book, The New Climate War: The Fight to Take Back Our Planet.
Locked in a greenhouse of emotion
Even as a science communicator, nothing I’ve written or read prepared me for the maddening rollercoaster this book delivers. The New Climate War isn’t as much about the proof of our changing climate as it is about the disinformation campaigns and the bad actors behind them.
Mann does a thorough job explaining how the early PR campaigns put forth by the fossil fuel industry were modeled on those of both the tobacco and beverage bottling industry. They were meant to deflect and dodge responsibility for the producers, while pushing the blame to consumers. That old commercial where the Native American sheds a tear over litter? It was an out for the beverage industry polluters by calling for personal action rather than systemic change.
The blame game continues today: “You aren’t recycling enough. You aren’t vegan. You shouldn’t fly. You don’t have an electric vehicle and didn’t take public transportation. You have children.” From this perspective, it’s on us as individuals to fix the planet, while humongous industries continue to shirk responsibility, lobbying against change and top-down regulation. But how do we know that that’s what’s happening? Mann essentially says, “follow the money.”
The New Climate War brings to light a lot of darkness that’s been ongoing in politics, too. The sheer amount of dark money groups that have operated within our political sphere is mindboggling. Mann calls out countries and names elected officials who have been working to promote fossil fuels and diminish the importance of renewable energy within our own halls of Congress and the White House itself, and he doesn’t stop there.
Politicians, lobbyists, and industry executives weren’t the only bad actors called out. Investment bankers, scientists for hire, media personalities promoting false narratives, scaremongers, and those wacky talking heads spewing outright lies were all in Mann’s sights. He even addressed those who accept man-made climate change but are unhelpful to the cause. In fact, the doomsayers, inactivists, and those who drive wedges that divide the climate change community receive the biggest brunt of his frustration.
But it’s not all infuriating and rage-inducing. The New Climate War provides a lot of hope for the future. Mann tells it plainly, that there’s still time to make things better. Ignore the doomsayers and scaremongers — the fossil fuel industry wants inaction and, by resigning ourselves to thinking it’s too late to change, there’s no path forward. The need to act quickly doesn’t mean it’s too late. “We must have urgency and agency,” Mann says.
Some of the most inspiring bits of this book come from a look at the energy, enthusiasm, and tenacity of the youth climate movement. Various young leaders on climate change around the world are highlighted, including Greta Thunberg, Alexandria Villasenor, and Jerome Foster. Much due to their push for action, generational politics are slowly shifting.
Is it good?
Mann is a phenomenal writer and The New Climate War is no exception. If you read nothing else for the rest of the year, make it this book. It’s eye-opening, both rage-inducing and immersive, but wonderfully all-encompassing and full of hope. Seriously, it’s a wild ride from start to finish. This book needs to be available in every library. There are a few uses of strong language, mainly in hateful quotes that have been hurled at Mann, but I wouldn’t prevent any strong teen reader from engaging with this book.
There are two extremely important points that stuck out to both my husband and me. The first takeaway is one that Mann explicitly, and repeatedly, states — it’s going to take a combination of both personal action and systemic change to combat climate change. One is not a substitute for the other, and doing one without the other won’t solve the issues we face.
Second, we were struck by the massive amount of money and effort spent by nefarious groups and individuals to deliberately deceive, divide, and deflect the general population away from understanding what drives climate change. It’s upsetting to realize how many times we’ve been duped by these tactics, but angering enough that you’ll be ready to fight against the industries that brought us here.
The New Climate War: The Fight to Take Back Our Planet by Michael E. Mann is not a book about the physics of climate change, but rather a useful resource in the plight to know exactly who we’re fighting and what we’re up against. It falls on us all to stay united and call out bad faith arguments. We owe it to our children to combat the disinformation machine at every opportunity.
Every February, to help celebrate Darwin Day, the Science section of AIPT cranks up the critical thinking for SKEPTICISM MONTH! Skepticism is an approach to evaluating claims that emphasizes evidence and applies the tools of science. Every day this month we’ll be highlighting skepticism in pop culture and skepticism of pop culture.
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