By Michael E. Mann. PublicAffairs, 2021. 368 pages. $29/hardcover; $15.99/eBook.
All we require are policies to incentivize the needed shift. . . . Scratch beneath the surface and we find that most soft doomism is premised not in the physical impossibility of limiting warming, but in a cynical, pessimistic belief that we lack the willpower to act. It’s giving up before we have even tried. —Michael E. Mann in The New Climate War
I consider myself an informed climate activist. But this book was definitely an eye opener! Micheal E. Mann explains very clearly, with researched facts, that the focus on individual behaviors to slow climate chaos is the result of a marketing campaign that has succeeded in guilt tripping the individual and deflecting responsibility from the fossil fuel companies, where it belongs.
Mann clearly agrees that individual behavior is a partner to the work that major corporations must undertake to truly make a difference. But he also clearly lays the majority of the responsibility on the fossil fuel companies. We learn that in the 1970s and 1980s, when the threats of acid rain and ozone depletion were apparent, the industry groups whose bottom line might be impacted by environmental regulations began their attacks on the science that supported the concerns. They turned to those in the cigarette industry to learn their tactics in their war on science. He calls these businesses the architects of misinformation and misdirection.
In 2002, a leaked memo written for the Republican Party by Frank Luntz, a professional pollster, stated: “Should the public come to believe that the scientific issues [about fossil fuel emissions causing climate change] are settled, their views about global warming will change accordingly.” If politicians believed that it was important to protect the fossil fuel companies, they needed to debunk the scientific evidence. They responded to that need by claiming that global warming was not sufficiently proven. It raised enough doubts to put a halt to limiting emissions and supporting legislation that would insist on cleaning up emissions of oil processing plants.
One chapter is titled: “It’s YOUR Fault.” We’ve been encouraged to accept that we are to blame for the climate chaos that we are experiencing because of our over-consumption, eating meat, not switching to energy efficient light bulbs, and other individual behaviors. I’m one of those people. My husband and I live in a solar-electric home; have efficient lighting; eat local, organic food (though not strictly vegetarian); don’t fly domestically; purchase from thrift stores; and more. We feel good about being part of the solution and encourage others to consider ways they can lower their carbon footprint. But we also emphasize that the change needs to come from governmental regulation and changes in the fossil fuel industry, and that we are responsible for doing all we can to influence those actions.
The pandemic also crystallized the dual roles played by both individual action and government policy when it comes to dealing with a societal crisis. While containment required individuals to act responsibly . . . it also required government action in the form of policies . . . that would incentivize individual behavior.
Thankfully, he also focuses on what can be done. He outlines programs such as cap-and-trade, carbon credits, and carbon taxation. In a cap-and-trade policy, the government allocates or sells a limited number of permits to pollute, and the polluters can buy and sell these permits. It caps the overall pollution. Carbon taxation levies the taxes at the point of sale of fossil fuels or any other product that causes greenhouse emissions. The concern with the taxing approach is that the cost of the products would increase and unfairly hurt lower income users. To counter that, the taxes collected could be returned to the users. Carbon credits can be granted for activities that take carbon out of the atmosphere.
In the case of the United States, a global leader in carbon emissions, passing any one of the above regulations, or some other ones not mentioned, takes a Congress that is committed to reducing the effects of climate change. And it takes strong public support for such actions. It also takes a commitment to protect those who already struggle financially from suffering the brunt of the regulations.
I do recommend reading this book. Jesus told the twelve disciples to be “wise as serpents, and harmless as doves” (Matt. 10:16 KJV). Let’s make sure our eyes are wide open.
To leave you with some hope, here are some closing words from the author:
Don’t forget, once again, to emphasize that there is both urgency and agency. The climate crisis is very real. But it is not unsolvable. And it’s not too late to act. Every ounce of carbon we don’t burn makes things better. There is still time to create a better future, and the greatest obstacle now in our way is doomism and defeatism.
Ruah Swennerfelt is a member of Middlebury (Vt.) Meeting. She and her husband, Louis Cox, are homesteaders and try to live gently on this beautiful planet. They are both active in their meeting, with the Transition Movement, and with the local Grange.