The New Climate War | Reflections & Notes

Michael E. Mann. The New Climate War: The Fight To Take Back Our Planet. Public Affairs / Hachette Book Group, 2021. (351 pages)


Urgency AND Agency

There is a principle in conflict management work that states, essentially, there is no reconciliation without truth. If we cannot speak honestly about the harms that are or were being done, we cannot move forward in peace. There is a cautionary principle in philanthropic work in which, tragically, the solutions are often worse than the ailment. Helping people may actually disempower those you are attempting to assist, infantilizing them through paternalistic aid. And, years ago, I read an inspirational sign that read, “Make love, not war,” underneath which someone wrote, “I’m married. I do both.” Regarding the current state of our public knowledge and discourse around climate, I find all three of these working at full capacity, and @MichaelEMann has provided a fantastic compilation of the various ways in which we can understand the climate discussion through these principles.

First, there truly are nefarious actors who are willfully and intentionally misleading and deceiving the public regarding the impact of the fossil fuel industry on our global ecology. It is unconscionable what they are doing, and the injustice of gaining profit at the expense of the suffering and death of others is about as close to the definition of evil as we can get. Reconciling ourselves to a healthier, livable, sustainable, and thriving ecology in the near future requires and demands that we speak the truth to the deception campaign these people have deployed so that they can be held accountable, and that we may learn our lessons as a global community to not repeat the same delinquency. Truth must exist for reconciliation to take place.

Second, there are communicators who care deeply about the subject, but their methods of public discourse lead to disengagement and despair rather than positive action. Here, there is perhaps good honest debate to be had regarding our tactics, human psychology, and the outcomes to which we aim. However, we would do well to concede that the subject of human influence has been robustly studied and we have convincing conclusions by now regarding effective strategies. We should be deploying these tactics that compel positive action more than outrage or abdication. If we don’t, we will continue to disempower and deflate others at a time when the empowerment of hope is critically necessary.

Third, in all of this, we are needing to embrace the paradox, that to win this war, we must love. We have to care, deeply care about this world and each other—including those who are perpetuating harm—while at the same time having the courage to push forward climate solutions that persistently feel like a battle. We have to make love and war at the same time.

I would offer one turn of definition, however, to Mann’s ideas. In the book, he clearly defines his understanding of “war” as a “war on science” and a “war on action.” In one respect this is an appropriate description. However, I also agree with some of Mann’s colleagues “who have expressed discomfort in framing our predicament as a ‘war’.” As linguists (e.g. George Lakoff) have taught us, metaphors matter, influencing the shape our mental frames for how we understand the world, and each other. My proposal is simply that we understand this “war” as not being “on” science, or “against,” one another, but rather for the truth, and for the salvation of humanity, the elimination of suffering and injustice. In the words of Paul, “our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places,” (Ephesians 6). By understanding “war” as being against the things that harm humanity, we can bring as many humans along with us, to fight with us for each other.

In the morass of media, clickbait, Russia, profits, shareholders, sabotaging shills, and compromised and counterproductive behaviors, I am deeply grateful to Mann for exposing all the various actors and nuances that are influencing (and damaging) our current discourse on the most important issue of our day. There is tremendous urgency, but all of us do have agency. Let’s get to work on deploying solutions that directly address the truth of the matter, as we make both love and war.



The enemy has masterfully executed a deflection campaign—inspired by those of the gun lobby, the tobacco industry, and beverage companies—aimed at shifting responsibility from corporations to individuals. (3)

Here’s the four point battle plan… (6)

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. It’s just another way of legitimizing business-as-usual and a continued reliance on fossil fuels. We must reject the overt doom and gloom that we increasingly encounter in today’s climate discourse. (6)

A Child Shall Lead Them: The youngest generation is fighting tooth and nail to save their planet, and there is a moral authority and clarity in their message that none but the most jaded ears can fail to hear. They are the game-changers that climate advocates have been waiting for. We should model our actions after theirs and learn from their methods and their idealism. (6)

Educate, Educate, Educate: Most hard-core climate-change deniers are unmovable. They view climate change through the prism of right-wing ideology and are impervious to facts. Don’t waste your time and effort trying to convince them. But there are many honest, confused folks out there who are caught in the crossfire, victims of the climate-change disinformation campaign. We must help them out. Then they will be in a position to join us in battle. (6)

Changing the System Requires Systemic Change: The fossil fuel disinformation machine wants to make it about the car you choose to drive, the food you choose to eat, and the lifestyle you choose to live rather than about the larger system and incentives. We need policies that will incentivize the needed shift away from fossil fuel burning toward a clean, green global economy. So-called leaders who resist the call for action must be removed from office. (6)

We must understand, though, that the forces of denial and delay are using our fear and anxiety against us so we remain like deer in the headlights. I have colleagues who have expressed discomfort in framing our predicament as a “war.” But, as I tell them, the surest way to lose a war is to refuse to recognize you’re in one in the first place. (7)

To continue to knowingly alter those conditions in a manner that threatens humanity and other life forms, simply so a few very large (7) corporations can continue to make record profits, is not just unacceptable, or unethical—it would be the most immoral act in the history of human civilization. (8)

The Architects of Misinformation and Misdirection

Doubt is our product, since it is the best means of competing with the “body of fact” that exists in the minds of the general public. —Unnamed tobacco executive, Brown and Williamson (1969)

cf. An Enemy of the People

(…misogyny, and racism as well, as we will see, have become inextricably linked to climate-change denialism). (11)

What [Rachel] Carson’s posthumous attackers don’t want you to know is that Carson never called for a ban on DDT, just an end to its indiscriminate use. It was ultimately phased out not because of the environmental damages that Carson exposed but because it had steadily lost its effectiveness as mosquitoes grew resistant to it. That (11) was something Carson, ironically, had wanted would happen as a result of overuse. (12)

His [Herbert Needleman] research identified a link between environmental lead contamination and childhood brain development. (12)

The Climate Wars

Predictions are hard. Especially about the future. —Niels Bohr

…the “Serengeti Strategy,” in which industry-funded attackers go after individual scientists just as predators on the Serengeti plain of Africa hunt their prey: attempting to pick off vulnerable individuals by isolating them from the rest of the herd. (30)

The good thing about science is that it possesses what the great Carl Sagan described as “self-correcting machinery.” The processes of peer review, replication, and consensus, mixed with a healthy dose of skepticism—real skepticism, not the fake kind that is passed off as such by climate-change deniers—keeps science eon a path (34) toward truth. If a scientific claim is wrong, other scientists will demonstrate it to be so. If it’s right, other scientists will reaffirm it, perhaps improve it and extend it. (35)

As a result of the denialist echo chamber, people tend to perceive that a far greater proportion of the public denies climate change than actually does. (42)

To the extent climate denial persists, it tends to be more in the form of downplaying the impacts rather than outright denial of the basic physical evidence. (42)

The “Crying Indian” and the Birth of the Deflection Campaign

Vested interests have often employed what’s known as deflection campaign in their efforts to defeat policies they perceive as disadvantageous to their cause. Deflection campaigns seek to divert attention from—and dampen enthusiasm for—calls for regulatory reforms to rein in bad behavior posing threats to consumers and the environment. The onus is instead placed on personal behavior and individual action. (47)

The slogan “Guns Don’t Kill People, People Kill People,” used by the National Rifle Association (NRA), provides a textbook example of deflection. Its intent is to divert attention away from the problem of easy access to assault weapons toward other purported contributors to mass shootings, such as mental illness or media depictions of violence. (48)

Another classic tool of deflection campaigns is the use of front groups masquerading as grassroots efforts. (50)

cf. Americans for Prosperity; Citizens for Fire Safety.

Any real solution must involve both individual action and systemic change. (61)

| We must beware of efforts to make it seem as if the former is a viable alternative to the latter. Studies suggest that a solitary focus on voluntary action may actually undermine support for governmental policies to hold carbon polluters accountable. (61)

Those who mount deflection campaigns are not truly interested in solving problems… (61)

When the climate discourse devolves into a shouting match over diet and travel choices, and becomes about personal purity, behavior-shaming, and virtue-signaling, we get a divided community unable to speak with a united voice. We lose. Fossil fuel interests win. (62)

It’s YOUR Fault

A house divided against itself cannot stand. —Abraham Lincoln

[via: Uh, Jesus? (Matthew 12:25) 😉]

…contrary to popular belief, fossil fuel companies 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. —Sami Grover []

…these companies aren’t planning for a future without oil and gas, at least not anytime soon, but they want the public to think of them as part of a climate solution. In reality, they’re a problem trying to avoid being solved. —Malcolm Harris []

…in the spring of 2020, the Times promoted one particular commentary (“The End of Meat Is Here”) with the tagline, “If you care about the working poor, about racial justice, and about climate change, you have to stop eating animals.” For those in the back, what the Times was trying to tell us, in not-so-subtle terms, is that we can’t really claim to care about climate change (or racial justice, or really, just about anything) if we choose to eat meat. That’s some weapons-grade psychological meat-shaming manipulation there, New York Times editors! (65)

If it looks like deflection, sounds like deflection, and smells like deflection, it’s probably deflection. (66)

Even professional ethicists are largely getting this wrong. I recently attended an international ethics conference, and the overwhelming take-away was the realization that philosophical ethics remains obsessed with individuals—trolley cases, what you should do, how you should act, who you should become. It is not appreciated that all the really serious moral issues of our time are collective action problems, and have nothing to do with you in the sense that they have nothing to do with individuals at all. The talks that did address collective action issues were keen on making them ultimately a matter of individual responsibility or blame. —Steven D. Hales, “The Futility of Guilt-Based Advocacy”

…a pervasive sense of inevitability that is promoted by a form of inactivity we will call doomism. (66)

For a lot of people, shaming is its own reward: that feeling of standing on the moral high ground is a hell of a drug. —John Schwartz

Is behavior-shaming the modern opiate of the climate-anxiety-stricken masses? And are the inactivists the pushers? (67)

cf. “the wedge strategy”

…driving a wedge into the scientific community by appropriating scientific terminology…and articulating an agenda that reasonable science educators might buy into. (68)

The principle is simple: divide climate advocates so they cannot speak with one voice, and use this internal division to distract, disable, preoccupy, and nullify. (69)

As an adviser to the Clinton campaign on energy and climate, I can attest that there was a world of difference between Trump and Clinton when it came to climate. (69)

Aggressive guilt-based engagement is known to be counteractive to progress, as a result of something known as the “boomerang effect.” (72)

Cowspiracy, which promoted the false notion that meat-eating is the primary contributor to human-caused climate change. Cowspiracy diverted—you might even say deflected—attention from the real conspiracy on the part of the fossil fuel interests to confuse the public about the role of fossil fuel burning. (77)

cf. “There’s No Conspiracy in Cowspiracy”

As a result, there is now a seemingly limitless and very animated community of vegan activists who are convinced that meat-shaming is the solution to climate change. (78)

Air travel only accounts for about 3 percent of global carbon emissions. It is dwarfed by emissions from the rest of the transportation sector, as well as the power sector and industry. (79)

cf. The Zero-Footprint Baby

we all face real-world challenges and tough choices that complicate the effort to completely decarbonize our (80) lives in a system that is still reliant on fossil fuel infrastructure. We must change that system. Individual efforts to reduce one’s carbon footprint are laudable. But without systemic change, we will not achieve the massive decarbonization of our economy that is necessary to avert catastrophic climate change. (81)

…I think a compelling argument can be made that advocates for change have the greatest reach, as measured by media accessibility, public speaking opportunities, and engagement with policymakers and stakeholders, working within the system that exists. (81)

…how wedge-generation seems to feed on itself, beginning with one form (e.g., behavior-shaming), and expanding to others (e.g., identity politics). (82)

Dividers have sought to target influential experts and public figures in the climate arena as “hypocrites” by accusing them of hedonistic lifestyles entailing huge carbon footprints. It’s a brilliant strategy, because it associates concern about climate with social elites, creating a class/culture wedge and discrediting critical thought leaders, which (82) in turn limits the effectiveness of their messaging efforts. All the while, it once again places the emphasis on the behavior of individuals, deflecting attention away from the need for systemic change and policy action. It’s a perfect storm of divide, discredit, and deflect. (83)

…there’s a hidden premise here…that personal emission reductions are an important part of the fight against climate change—if you take climate seriously, you take on an obligation to reduce your own emissions. —David Roberts

But, as we have already seen, personal action means little without systemic change. (83)

There is something about perceived hypocrisy—and (84) the sense that someone else is getting more than their fair share—that seems to tap directly into the reptilian part of our brains, bypassing the logic circuits and eliciting instinctive outrage and anger. The intent is to focus that outrage and anger on climate champions—and, ideally, the entire climate movement. (85)

One might think that scientists would push back fiercely against these cynical and exploitive charges of hypocrisy. Yet the response of many climate scientists and climate communicators has been to internalize the criticism. It’s an example of the aforementioned phenomenon of “seepage,” a kind of academic twist on the Stockholm syndrome. In short, scientists and communicators absorb the bad-faith criticisms of hypocrisy leveled against them by their adversaries and make dramatic changes in their lifestyle, unwittingly affirming the flawed and misleading premise that it’s all about personal action rather than policy. (88)

If climate advocates had to live off the grid, eat only what they could grow themselves, and wear only the clothes they’d knitted from scratch, there wouldn’t be much of a climate movement. That level of sacrifice is unacceptable to most. Climate communicators must operate within the system that exists to be effective while articulating the case for changing that system. (89)

…a growing body of research demonstrating that an inordinate focus on individual action can erode support for systemic solutions to the climate-change problem—that is, governmental climate policy. Given that effective policy is far more critical than individual behavior in actually achieving the necessary carbon emissions reductions to stave off catastrophic climate change, the case could easily—I would even say convincingly—be made that attempts to (89) redirect focus to communicators’ individual carbon footprints are antithetical to action on climate. (90)

Requiring climate activists to live ascetic lives gives the appearance that they expect everyone else to give up meat, or travel, or other pleasures. And that is politically dangerous: it plays right into the hands of the inactivists who want to portray climate champions as freedom-hating totalitarians. In other words, there is the danger that efforts appearing to place constraints on individual behavior unduly antagonize and energize the conservative opposition to climate action. (90)

With progressives, it’s typically about issues of perceived injustice. With conservatives, it often involves the perceived loss of personal liberty. (91)

The premise that climate action demands sacrifice is itself deeply flawed. If anything, the opposite is actually the case. The cost of inaction on climate, as measured in the damage done by devastating wildfires, heatwaves, wildfires, floods, and superstorms, is far greater than the cost of taking action. 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)

Put a Price on It. Or Not.

As my friend Bill McKibben likes to point out, the fossil fuel industry has been granted the greatest market subsidy ever: the privilege to dump its waste products into the atmosphere at no charge. (99)

… cap and trade … carbon tax … carbon credits

…some in the climate movement believe that passage of a carbon tax would shield fossil fuel companies from legal liability for their actions. This simply isn’t true. (109)

cf. Juliana v. U.S.

The takeaway message from this particular episode, however, is that there is a fairly aggressive effort underway by some on the en-(112)environmental left to turn support for the GND in its current form (including opposition to carbon pricing) into a purity test. (113)

Republican pollster Frank Luntz found that Republican voters under the age of forty favor a free-and-dividend carbon-pricing policy by a whopping six-to-one margin. The same generational trends that led to a tipping-point-like response on marriage equality during the Obama years will soon reach a tipping point on climate, too. But we don’t have a decade to wait, and 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)

…inactivists are working hard to generate conflict within the climate movement, literally infiltrating the environmental “left” in an effort to turn climate identity politics on their head. (120)

Sinking the Competition

According to the International Monetary Fund, the industry receives about half a trillion dollars globally in explicit subsidies, such as in the form of assistance to the poor for the purchase of fossil-fuel-generated electricity, tax breaks for capital investment, and public financing of fossil fuel infrastructure. (123)

Fossil fuel interests have also done everything possible to block subsidies and incentives for their competition—renewable energy… (124)

cf. ALEC; Heartland Institute

But facts be damned when there’s an opportunity to simultaneously both smear renewables and protect fossil fuel subsidies. (127)

The inactivists have even managed to invest an imaginary health affliction…”wind (128) turbine syndrome.” (129)

[via: Wow.]

…the inactivists…appealed to the logical fallacy known as “you can’t chew gum and walk at the same time,” or, to be more specific, the idea that promoting renewable energy over ostensibly cheaper fossil fuel energy will somehow divert essential resources from efforts to fight third-world poverty. Welcome to the contrived concept of “energy poverty.” (132)

…if you are concerned about the disadvantaged of the world, you should be promoting fossil fuels. It’s a truly brilliant, if cynical and manipulative, strategy by fossil-fuel-promoting inactivists to recruit political progressives and moderates to their cause. (132)

Technological transitions are never easy, and there are always winners and losers. But it is no more appropriate to blame the renewable energy industry for lost coal jobs than it is to blame the fossil fuel industry for destroying the whaling industry, which provided much of the lamp oil that was replaced by kerosene and then coal-powered electrical lighting. (135)

Cows do also belch methane, which is itself a potent greenhouse gas, but its lifetime in the atmosphere is much shorter than that of CO2.

[via: But, CH4 converts into CO2, yes?]

Biomass is therefore largely “carbon neutral”—far from perfect when we are trying to reduce the amount of carbon in the atmosphere, but still better than releasing CO2 from the Carboniferous era, as we do when we burn coal or gas. Burning biomass itself doesn’t increase carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere. … But the carbon emissions are tiny—about ten grams of carbon pollution (138) per kilowatt-hour. For comparison, natural gas yields about five hundred grams and coal nine hundred grams per kilowatt-hour! (139)

It’s important to get the facts right. The wood chips used in biomass are generally a by-product of already-existing forestry practices, not the result of cutting down trees for fuel as some imply. And biomass is a broad category. While we certainly shouldn’t be turning forests into wood chips for burning, it does make sense to burn some forms of organic waste, which can provide a near carbon-neutral source of energy, while we transition to cleaner renewable energy. (139)

Doomism and the loss of hope can lead people down the very same path of inaction as outright denial. (140)

…people in the developing world, where the main population growth is taking place, have a tiny carbon footprint in comparison with those in the industrial world. The world’s richest 10 percent produce half of global carbon emissions. The problem isn’t so much “too many people” as it is “too many people who burn a lot of carbon.” (141)

…Emily Atkin has referred to…a phenomenon of “first-time climate dudes.” It’s the tendency for members of a particular, privileged demographic group (primarily middle-aged, almost exclusively white men) to think they can just swoop in, surf the Internet, interview a few hand-selected “experts,” and solve the great problems that others have spent decades unable to crack. (142)

Yes, the wind isn’t always blowing, and the sun isn’t always shining. And batteries don’t have infinite storage capacity. But these challenges are, if you will forgive the pun, overblown. Smart grid technology that adaptively combines various renewable energy sources can overcome these limitations—not in the future, but right now. Utility-scale “big battery” systems like those produced now by Tesla are outperforming and outcompeting fossil fuel generators in providing grid stability to blackout-prone regions like South Australia. (143)

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. (144)

Greensburg, Kansas—the town that was leveled by an EF5 tornado and rebuilt 100 percent renewable by its conservative Republican mayor. (144)

Fight back. … WHen someone cites “energy poverty” or “lost jobs” as arguments against renewable energy, point out that the opposite is true: the safest and healthiest path to economic development in the third world is access to clean, decentralized, renewable energy, and the greatest (145) opportunity for job growth in the energy industry comes with renewables, not fossil fuels. (146)

The Non-Solution Solution

The inactivists have sought to hijack actual climate progress by promoting “solutions” (natural gas, carbon capture, geo-engineering) that 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. This gambit provides plausible deniability: inactivists can claim to have offered solutions. Just not good ones. … Alex Steffen [refers to this] as “predatory delay.” (147)

If we are to avert warming beyond the 1.5°C (2.7°F) danger limit, we’ve got one decade to decrease global carbon emissions by a factor of two. That’s a very short bridge. …the solution to a problem created by fossil fuels cannot be a fossil fuel. (150)

When it comes to a system we don’t understand perfectly, the prin-(154)ciple of unintended consequences reigns supreme. If we screw up this planet with botched geoengineering attempts, there is no “do over.” And, as they say, “there is no planet B.” (155)

The spatial pattern of the geoengineering-induced cooling isn’t the mirror image of the pattern of greenhouse gas warming. That’s because the physics is different. In the former case, we’re reducing the incident sunlight, while in the later case, we’re blocking the escape of heat energy from Earth’s surface. Those effects have very different spatial patterns. (155)

A fundamental problem with geoengineering is that it presents what is known as a moral hazard, namely, a scenario in which one party (e.g., the fossil fuel industry) promotes actions that are risky for another party (e.g., the rest of us), but seemingly advantageous to itself. Geoengineering provides a potential crutch for beneficiaries of our continued dependence on fossil fuels. Why threaten our economy with draconian regulations on carbon when we have a cheap alternative? The two main problems with that argument are that (1) climate change poses a far greater threat to our economy than (159) decarbonization, and (2) geoengineering is hardly cheap—it comes with great potential harm. (160)

cf. “The Fossil Fuel Industry’s Invisible Colonization of Academia”

…let’s discuss the role here of climate doomism,… Geoengineering advocates have increasingly found common cause with climate-change doomsayers—those who believe that the situation is now so dire that truly desperate action is required, or that we’re beyond the point where any effective action is possible. (163)

The fundamental problem with geoengineering, in the end, is that tinkering with a complex system we don’t fully understand entails monumental risk. (164)

Should we trust the only planet known to have intelligent life to this complicated technical system? … We don’t know what we don’t know. —Alan Robock

There is no way to engineer our way out of sea-level rise. If we continue to emit carbon, warm the oceans, and melt the ice sheets, the oceans will ultimately prevail in this battle between humans and nature. (174)

The onslaught of damaging extreme weather events in Australia and around the rest of the world reminds us that there are limits to adaptation and resilience in a rapidly warming world. There is no amount of resilience or adaptation that will be adequate if we fail to get off fossil fuels. (177)

The Truth Is Bad Enough

The only thing we have to fear is…fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. —Franklin Delano Roosevelt

An objective assessment of the scientific evidence is adequate to motivate immediate and concerted action on climate. There is no need to overstate it. …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? Doomism potentially leads us down the same path of inaction as outright denial of the threat. Exaggerated claims and hyperbole, moreover, play into efforts by deniers and delayers to discredit the science, posing further obstacles to action. (179)

Recognizing that dangerous climate change is here already is, in an odd way, empowering. For there is no “danger” target to worry about missing. It is too late to prevent harmful impacts—they’re already here. But how much additional danger we encounter is largely up to us. There is agency in the actions we take. (181)

Some seem to think that people need to be shocked and frightened to get them to engage with climate change. But research shows that the most motivating emotions are worry, interest, and hope. Importantly, fear does not motivate, and appealing to it is often counterproductive, as it tends to distance people from the problem, leading them to disengage from, doubt, or even dismiss it. (182)

Note once again the carefully calibrated balance of urgency (“it’s bad”) and agency (“there’s hope”). (182)

Doomism is a form of o”crypto-denialism,” or, if you like, “climate nihilism.” … Helplessness is the new message.” So it has been stoked by inactivists, primarily because it breeds disengagement. (183)

…the reporting can spin science findings into the negative, with headlines that disengage rather than engage. —Burce Boyes of the Australian KM Magazine

As a scientist who studies the projections and numbers, let me affirmatively state, for the record, that Scranton—and Roberts and Read and Franzen and other doomist men—are dead wrong. Our demise is only assured if we follow their 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)

Doomism sometimes masquerades under a nom de plume. Consider what has come to be known as “Deep Adaptation,”… (198)

cf. “The Climate Change Paper So Depressing It’s Sending People to Therapy.”

If you take the most environmentally aware progressives, lead them to despair, and convince them to dissociate from civilization, they’re not out there on the front lines participating in the political process, demonstrating and fighting for the needed systemic changes. Bendell’s paper is a more powerful tool for disengagement than any article every written by a climate-change denier. (200)

Soft doomism in a sense plays the same role among progressives that soft denial plays among conservatives. That is to say, it is a form of doomist rhetoric that is tolerated in polite company. (202)

The fallacy is conflating physics and politics. While the laws of physics are immutable, human behavior is not. And dismissiveness based on perceived political or psychological barriers to action can be self-reinforcing and self-defeating. (203)

cf. Scientists explain what New York Magazine article on ‘The Uninhabitable Earth’ gets wrong”

It’s one thing to be alarmed—and we should be given the evidence. It’s something else to be alarmist—a term that implies an unfounded, potentially harmful exaggeration of risk or danger. (208)

“there is urgency,…but there’s also agency”… (212)

The inactivists promote doomism for at least two different reasons. First, it leads to disengagement. … To the extent that it can be portrayed as alarmism, it feeds a basic anti-environmental trope that has been a staple of inactivists for decades. (217)

It is important to communicate both the threat and the opportunity in the climate challenge. (222)

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)

| What is the antidote to irrational, disabling, doom-and-gloom “futility messaging”? Motivating hope that is grounded in entirely legitimate and defensible reasons for cautious optimism that the worst can still be averted. (223)

…the surest path to catastrophic climate change is the false belief that it’s too late to act. (223)

It has become fashionable in the climate discourse to use terms like “catastrophe,” “emergency,” and even “extinction.” We must not allow the policing of language to be used as wedge to divide us. But we (223) cannot let words be used in a manner that robs us of agency. (224)

Meeting the Challenge

…deniers have essentially thrown in the towel. When it comes to the war on science—that is, the old climate war—the forces of denial have all but conceded defeat. But the new climate war—the war on action—is still actively being waged. (230)

…the stone age didn’t end for want of stones.

The most important question of all, though, is this one: Can an event like the coronavirus crisis become a turning point, an opportunity to bring needed focus to an even greater crisis—the climate crisis? The climate crisis is, after all, the greatest long-term health threat we face. (248)

Put forward by scientists Lynn Margulis and James Lovelock in the 1970s, the Gaia hypothesis assays that life interacts with Earth’s physical environment to form a synergistic and self-regulating system. In other words, the Earth system in some sense behaves like an organism, with “homeostatic” regulatory mechanisms that maintain conditions that are habitable for life. …it is really just a heuristic divide for describing a set of physical, chemical, and biological processes that yield stabilizing “feedback” mechanisms maintaining the planet within livable bounds. (249)

There is evidence that as the Sun has become brighter over Earth’s lifetime of the past 4.5 billion years, the carbon cycle has intensified, decreasing atmospheric CO2 levels and helping keep Earth from becoming inhospitably hot. A specific example is the famous Faint Young Sun Paradox—the surprising finding that Earth was habitable to basic lifeforms more than 3 billion years ago despite the face that the Sun was 30 percent dimmer… (249)

Unlike microbes, human beings have agency. We can choose to behave like a virus that plagues our planet, or we can choose a different path. (250)

It appears we may, indeed, be turning a corner. That’s just one reason to be optimistic. There are others. (251)

Disregarding the Doomsayers: …just as we must reject distortions of the science in service of denialism, so, too, must we reject misrepresentations of the science—including unsupported claims of runaway warming and unavoidable human extinction scenarios—that can be used to promote the putative inevitability of our demise. (256)

The truth is, if we took the disinformation campaign funded by the fossil fuel industry out of the equation, the climate problem would have been solved decades ago. The problem is not hopelessly complicated. (257)

…the battle to convince the public and policymakers of the reality and threat of climate change is largely over. The substantive remaining public debate is over how bad it will get and what we can do to mitigate it. So online, don’t waste time engaging directly with climate-change-denying trolls and bots. And where appropriate, report them. Those who seem to be victims of disinformation rather than promoters of it deserve special consideration. Try to inform them. (260)

cf.; @ClimateNexus; @TheDailyClimate; @InsideClimate; @GuardianEco; @MichaelEMann

The classic example is the shedding of crocodile tears over the use of the term “climate-change-denier” itself. In point of fact, it’s an appropriate, accepted term to describe those who reject the overwhelming evidence. The goal of the critics in this case is to coerce us into granting them the undeserved status of “skeptics,” which actually rewards their denialism. Legitimate skepticism is, as we know, a good thing in science. It’s how scientists are trained to think. Indiscriminate rejection of evidence based on flimsy, ideological arguments is not. (261)

My advice is to spend your time on those who are reachable, teachable, and movable. (262)

Some progressives feel that current policies don’t do enough to address basic societal injustices. At a time when we see the greatest income disparity in history, along with a rise in nativism and intolerance, surely they have a point. 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. Environmental crises, including climate change, disproportionately impact those with the least wealth, the fewest resources, and the least resilience. So simply acting on the climate crisis is acting to alleviate social injustice. It’s another compelling reason to institute the systemic changes necessary to avert the further warming of our planet. (266)

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. To repeat one of the epigraphs that began this final chapter, “Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things.” Alone it won’t solve this problem. But drawing upon it, we will. (267)

About VIA

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