On the trail of doomsters
I have just finished reading climate scientist Michael Mann’s recently published book ‘The New Climate War: the fight to take back our planet.’ It is a good read, and for a climate scientist it is rather pugilistic—scientists don’t usually write in such combative terms. But Mann, as the book amply reveals, revels in his status as a climate change defender—against various breeds of deniers, deflectors and doomsters (many funded by the fossil fuels industry). He’s popping up everywhere debunking their arguments, and probably as a result has been personally attacked (not least in the infamous ‘Climategate’ ‘scandal’ of 2009). He does a lot of debunking in this book, so it is a useful corrective for some of the latest tactics employed to try to defend the energy industry status quo. It made me wonder whether I should be classified as a ‘doomster’ for having written a book on climate change called ‘Too Little Too Late: the politics of climate change,’ published in 2009. But here we are in 2021 and some of the same arguments are still being had. So far as Mann’s analysis goes, I have little to quibble with. One of his main proposals is the introduction of carbon pricing, and I’m all in favour of that (I did in effect introduce a bill on the subject back in the 2000’s.) I have wondered, too, whether climate change solutions could actually be found within our current capitalist system. Some think that’s unlikely, Mann names Naomi Klein as representing that view.
But the book is fairly light on two issues. Firstly, do we simply hope and pray that various technical solutions such as renewable energy and conservation will be rolled out sufficiently to do the trick—that is, sufficient to the task? Secondly, when it comes to investment and maybe societal change, how do we know what is sufficient in the rapidly diminishing timescale left to solve the problem? Just as with Covid, we may be told (e.g. here in the UK) that we are world beating and will get on top of Covid-19, but what about the rest of the world? Climate change is a much deeper problem than Covid, and requires greater, permanent societal change. Until that’s recognised, efforts to stem it will inevitably be stymied, not least by the vested interests Mann names, but also the natural conservatism of politicians faced with polling day.
Ahhh, politics! Mann’s book was completed before we saw the results of the US election last year. On climate change Biden is undoubtedly better than Trump (if he delivers). But the fact that Trump’s popular vote went up to the second highest ever in US history (second only to Biden) tells us we still have a lot to worry about politically. But Mann is, for all his insights, a scientist not a politician. Never once in the book did I see the phrase ‘cognitive dissonance’ deployed. Still, after reading this book, perhaps I’m just a little bit less of a doomster than I once was.
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