The Eco-Worrier Reviews "The New Climate War: The Fight to Take Back Our Planet"
THE NEW CLIMATE WAR: The Fight to Take Back Our Planet. Michael E Mann.
Scribe UK. 2021. £16.99.
The announcement of the latest IPCC Report and the rapidly approaching COP26 Conference in Glasgow provides an opportunity to review the latest book from one of the world’s foremost climate scientists. Michael Mann is not only pre-eminent in his field, but is also a very brave man. He had a major part in creating the 1998 ‘Hockey Stick’ graph made famous by former US Vice-President Al Gore to illustrate the dramatic and unexpected increase in global temperatures during the 20th century. It had previously been assumed that under normal circumstances temperatures should be very slowly declining for at least another 4000 years.
Mann and other scientists initially used tree ring data before extending their research to lake sediments, ice cores and corals to provide increasingly solid proof of this sudden change following the thousands of years of stable climatic conditions which had enabled the development of every human civilisation. Its first major application was used in the 3rd report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) as primary evidence of global heating. By 2008 there was no arguing with the science but Mann continued to be the target of abuse and even threats of physical violence from political extremists, most of whom appear to have been backed by the oil industry.
Now, after two decades of unrelenting and well-financed attempts to undermine the science and demoralise and intimidate scientists like Mann by fossil-fuel interests and blinkered economic theorists, the truth is very clear. Governments everywhere, not to mention the overwhelming majority of humanity, accept the climatologists’ scientific findings and the urgency of the action needed.
Despite those malevolently wasted vital years, the initial ‘war’ has at last been won by science and logic against the deniers of reality. A rapidly rising number of people across all age-groups in every society are addressing their individual responsibilities in trying to save the planet upon which we, our offspring and every fragment of known life in the entire universe - this small planet - depends.
Mann sums up the widespread actions of responsible people aiming to ‘do their bit’ as ‘Recycle, Fly Less, Eat Less Meat.’ He commends these actions but says that much more drastic reductions in fossil-energy consumption are required beyond responsible personal behaviour by that proportion of humanity which is in the relatively fortunate position of being able to think and act long-term. It is impossible for these well-meaning efforts to compensate for the much larger numbers of people who continue to increase their carbon-footprint, whether their attention is focused entirely on trying to feed their families in rapidly developing countries like China and India or following the politically popular but physically impossible creed of unending economic growth in the developed economies. The uneven pace of this growth is typified by the expansion of food banks in the richest countries alongside the global rise of the private jet - the most carbon-intensive transport ever conceived - to 25,000 such aircraft today.
The contradictory means of addressing this social and ecological crisis appears to be the British Prime Minister’s claimed intention to ‘level-up’ our society through yet more economic growth. Unfortunately there will be many voters who equate his promises to owning yet more gas-guzzling vehicles and other ‘stuff’, flying more and perhaps some even wanting private jets themselves.
The other easy ‘get out of jail’ tactic used by politicians to skirt around the issue was very evident in the 2019 British General Election campaigns. This was the absurd competition between the main political parties to outdo each other in the number of trees each proposed to plant. Yes, trees are wonderful, but if their slow cycle of growth, decay, and occasional fire are counted, in the long-term forests are essentially carbon-neutral. The only possible advantage they have over the grassland where they are usually planted these days is that their equally carbon-neutral cycles are slower.
The last politician to have the courage to act responsibly without an eye on his popularity was President Jimmy Carter who imposed a 55mph national speed limit and asked voters to turn down the heating, wear a jumper and use less fuel during the 1970s energy crisis; sadly, things didn’t go well for him at the 1981 election.
Mann says that he is frequently accused of hypocrisy for criticising the use of fossil-fuels while being a meat-eater. He explains that he and his family in fact rarely eat meat, but he sees a huge danger in the vegan movement distorting the role of meat production, which can in fact vary from carbon-neutral traditional pastoral farming to the felling of the Amazon rainforest and diverting attention from the primary cause of Global Warming which is fossil fuels.
Yes, we eat far too much meat but, as Mann points out, greenhouse gas emissions from global agriculture, both livestock and crops, amount to 14% compared to the 85% caused by burning coal, oil and gas. Instead of attacking meat-eating per se, it must be remembered that humans have traditionally farmed pastoral livestock for millennia without raising global temperatures.
Towards the end of his book Mann emphasises the dangers of excessive pessimism, chastising the climate doom-mongers just as much as the now-vanquished deniers. He references the famous quotation of Franklin D Roosevelt: “The only thing we have to fear is….fear itself - nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyses needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.“ Rather than ‘catastrophe’, ‘emergency’ and even ‘extinction’, Mann prefers ‘crisis’ - a word which promotes positive action rather than futile, self-fulfilling despair.
Instead of panicking about potential ‘tipping points’ in Global Warming, whether from the collapse of the Polar ice caps or the sudden release of methane from the warming Arctic, Mann prefers to emphasise the growing number of ‘tipping points’ in public awareness of the crisis. He says that much more pressure must be brought to bear on the world’s political and industrial leaders.
In contrast with the damage wreaked by the malevolent rich old white men who who have spent three vital decades preventing action from being taken, Mann concludes by expressing his confidence that the positivity of the younger generation, typified by the remarkable Greta Thunberg, will save the day.