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book review

This file photograph taken on November 8, 2015, shows an illustration made in Paris of figurines next to a deflated globe.JOEL SAGET/AFP/Getty Images

Donald Wright is an associate professor at the University of New Brunswick.

Michael Mann knows what he’s talking about. A Distinguished Professor of Atmospheric Science at Penn State, he has dedicated his career to understanding the science of climate change. But he’s no egg head. Despite the harassment, intimidation, and the occasional death threat – one nutjob sent him an envelope containing white powder which, thank God, turned out to be cornstarch, not anthrax – Mann is not afraid of Big Oil and its bidders, making him a hero to climate activists.

Climate podcaster Doug Parsons calls Mann a Climate Jedi. And in a blurb for his new book, The New Climate War, Greta Thunberg admires his willingness to call out fossil fuel companies for their relentless and misguided pursuit of profits and growth.

Mann starts from the premise that we can save the planet from the worst impacts of climate change if we move to net-zero carbon emissions. As a scientist, he dismisses most scenarios of an uninhabitable Earth because they’re based on a misunderstanding of methane feedback loops, and, as a citizen, he has no time for “climate doom porn” because it leads to political paralysis. But if Mann is “objectively hopeful,” he’s not naïve. The challenges are real and the vested interests of business as usual are powerful.

According to Mann, we are in a new climate war. The old climate war, the war against climate science, is over – the science is settled and the evidence of anthropogenic climate change is visible out our kitchen window – but the new climate war, the war against climate action, is far from over. A “shape-shifting Leviathan,” it features misinformation, deflection, and non-solution solutions, such as bridge fuels, clean coal, and geoengineering, for example, injecting sulfate aerosols into the stratosphere to mimic volcanoes or launching mirrors into space to cool the Earth.

Taking a page from the playbook of earlier anti-environmental movements, climate inactivists stress individual over collective action in an effort to deflect attention from the real problem. Indeed, it was British Petroleum that pioneered one of the first carbon footprint calculators that allowed individuals to calculate their personal carbon footprint. The problem, BP implied, is your carbon footprint, not ours, and the solution is energy efficient appliances, not carbon pricing and certainly not systemic change to a global economy predicated on infinite growth, fuelled by consumption, and made possible by carbon.

Mann doesn’t discount the importance of lifestyle changes – he doesn’t eat meat – but he rightly insists that real solutions “must involve both individual action and systemic change.”

It’s amazing just how many fronts Mann identifies in the new climate war(s), from Russian interference in American and British electoral politics on behalf of its oil and gas sector to trolls tweeting unprintable things about Catherine McKenna, Canada’s first minister of environment and climate change, and from corporate greenwashing to everyday meat shaming.

Michael Mann may or may not be a Climate Jedi, but he is a climate smart guy and The New Climate War is a must read.

The New Climate War: The Fight to Take Back Our Planet. Michael Mann. New York: Public Affairs, 2021.

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