In his book, The New Climate War: the fight to take back our planet, climatologist Michael E. Mann reports how powerful fossil fuel interest groups are still pouring millions of dollars into covert operations targeted to boycott meaningful climate action. Only if we know what to look for can we avoid being disinformed, deceived and manipulated.
Ecocentrist Fred Hageneder completes his annotated summary of Mann’s all-important message.
Part 1 consists of a summary of the “old climate war”, and covers the current strategies of Disinformation and Deception.
Distraction and Deflection
Disinformation alone is not enough. Too many people would look deeper and see beyond the shallow lies. That’s where smoke and mirrors comes in. If Disinformation and Deception is the smoke that makes everything blurred and hazy, Distraction and Deflection represent the mirrors. And what is more distracting than suddenly seeing one’s own image distorted?
So when the new climate movement in 2019 put the limelights on Big Oil with the question “What are you finally going to do about pollution?!,” the industry dodged the question and pulled out the mirror: “Basically everything is the consumers’ fault! We’re just satisfying the demand.”
Thus began the story of the “personal carbon footprint.” Since 2019, the blame and shame game is the most succesful arm of the anti-climate campaign. Both activists and the general public who really want to help and live a better, “greener” life fall for it and tear each other to pieces: You still heat with oil, I can’t believe it! – You still have a car?!? – You’re not flying, are you? – How can you eat beef when the cattle were fed with soya from the Amazon?!?
To feed this endless quibble, it was none other than the oil giant BP that promoted the concept of the “personal carbon footprint” back in the mid-2000s. They even launched one of the first personal carbon footprint calculators. Anything to deflect from their own responsibility.
Disputes lead to divisions and this is in the interest of the industry. A divided public cannot speak with one voice. “Divide and rule,” as Julius Caesar advised.
It is undoubtedly true that personal lifestyle choices add up and have an impact on the global human footprint. But consumer choices are also very limited. This became very clear during the first corona lockdown in 2020: when personal lives stopped but factories and mines kept running, global greenhouse gas emissions fell by only 4.5 per cent. In truth, the biggest drivers of climate disruption are not aircraft and private cars, but industrial agriculture and the extraction economy (mining and processing of “raw materials”). Did you know that in a fossil fuel exporting country like Canada, fossil fuel extraction and processing alone accounts for 26 percent of national greenhouse gas emissions?
Therefore, we must not only lead by example ourselves, but also demand far-reaching systemic changes at the political and industrial level.
To stop people from doing just that, the blame and shame game has been taken to extremes: leading (climate) scientists and environmentalists are objected to what Mann calls “the cross hairs of the attack machine funded by the fossil fuel industry”: bashing, abuse and even character assassination.
A popular approach is to accuse the most famous and influential advocates of climate action of hypocrisy. Leonardo DiCaprio, for example, is a committed activist for conservation and climate action. But Fake News from the political right, especially from the Murdoch media empire, produce headlines like “Eco-warrior or hypocrite? Leonardo DiCaprio jets around the world partying… while preaching to us all on global warming” *(1) and “Leo DiCaprio isn’t the only climate change hypocrite” (also listing President Obama and even Pope Francis). *(2)
And everyone knows the massive smear attacks on young climate activist Greta Thunberg. To avoid air miles, she even sailed to the New York Climate Summit in Sept 2019, and was then attacked for the sailboat being partly made of “non-recyclable plastic” *(3). This denier continues to rant:
“She hasn’t even given up her mobile phone or plastic wrapped food, yet she wants us to starve and live without any technology, which includes solar panels and wind generators as they too use plastic seals and electronics. Vile greta and her get rich scam needs to stopped.” *(4)
Apart from the spelling mistakes and bad grammar, such blogs don’t hold up to reality. If Thunberg and her family were only in it for the money, why would she donate her one million euro humanitarian prize to charitable projects that fight “the climate and ecological crisis”? *(5)
The irony is that neither DiCaprio nor Thunberg have ever said that individuals should change their lifestyles. Both merely address the need for systemic change. So the charge of hypocrisy does not apply; no one can be a hypocrite for not doing things that they have not recommended to others in the first place.
But what is the bottom line of such an indictment? That anyone who dares to speak up about Earth matters should live one hundred percent product-free? No plastic, no fossil fuel consumption, no electricity whatsoever? The dystopian result would be that all activists would stay at home and never be heard from again! Exactly what right-wing “libertarian” industrialists dream of. And meanwhile they can intimidate and indoctrinate the public against nature and climate protection by shouting: “They (the activists) want to take away your burger! They want to take away your car! “
When US Congresswoman and insistent supporter of a Green New Deal, Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, was also called a hypocrite for using cars, she refused to play the blame and shame game, replying: “I also fly and use electricity. Living in the world as it is isn’t an argument against working towards a better future.” *(6)
That is exactly what we can take away. We all have to compromise and “make unsustainable choices in a system where true sustainability is impossibly hard,” as Sami Grover puts it. His blog “In Defence of Eco-Hypocrisy” is a brilliant training for all to guard against this kind of nonsense. *(7) None of us can be perfect, so let’s stop arguing about it and stand together instead.
But the war for the planet goes beyond lifestyle choices. We must always be aware of the ever-present danger of “divide and rule,” otherwise any conflict in identity politics – be it over gender, age, ability, race or social status – plays into the hands of the multinational “libertarian” agenda (more about this in Part 6).
Some fossil fuel companies even deliberately and unscrupulously exploit social issues. By aggrevating misunderstanding and tension between both sides of an argument, they help to divide the public. In 2020, for example, Chevron publicly positioned itself as an ally of Black Lives Matter, but at the same time undermined them by covertly supporting racist platforms. *(8) And as a Yale study shows, people of colour in the US are more supportive of climate action than white Americans, but Big Oil is constantly trying to turn social minorities against conservation (see Part 5). *(9)
And it works! The public is arguing more than ever about countless details in which people differ from each other. In this sense, the corona crisis and the vaccine disputes are another boon that falls to the fossil fuel industry, already spoiled by good fortune. The perfect distraction. People are plagued by deep fears for health and/or loss of freedoms. And deep differences of opinion – and opinion mongering – do not heal quickly. This may be favourable for Big Oil, but for humanity – and all life on this planet – it means more lost years of not focusing on the global ecological emergency.
Instead of fighting each other, let us unite for a simple, clear course: Let’s defend the Earth and all its inhabitants. Social justice for all people, climate justice for all living beings. There is no justice on a dead planet. Whoever is standing or walking next to me, of course I respect you as an equal, simply because you are a citizen of the Earth, regardless of your personal carbon footprint, your skin colour, your gender, your race, your age, your abilities or whether you are LGBTQ+. We are all in the same boat (Spaceship Earth). Let’s defend life together and use our upright backbone while we still can.
Big Oil’s strategy to delay the switch from fossil fuels to renewable energies is two-pronged. One approach is direct and primitive. The other is sophisticated and almost ingenious. Both are effective. Climatologist Michael E. Mann calls them “Sinking the Competion.” *(10)
The direct approach includes attacks, slander and fake news. Not surprisingly, renewable energy is easily attacked in every possible way. Since all “green” technologies have their weaknesses, especially when deployed on a large scale, there is ample opportunity for criticism. What is notable is that the accusations point to weaknesses and then dismiss the entire technology (perhaps even screaming “lies,” “hypocrisy” or “conspiracy”), throwing the baby out with the bathwater rather than making a concerted effort to improve essentially good ideas.
The other approach, the more elaborate one, is “to hijack actual climate progress by promoting ‘solutions’ … that aren’t real solutions at all” (Mann). These non-solutions are natural gas, “bridge fuels,” “clean coal” and carbon sequestration, nuclear power and geoengineering. However, as they continue to be seriously discussed in the media and higher up, they provide further distraction and delay to real climate action (more about this in Part 3).
For example, in the summer of 2019, at the height of the new climate movement, the US Department of Energy (DoE) actually announced natural gas as “freedom gas” (no joke!) and spoke of “molecules of freedom.” *(11) Such bold statements refer to the fact that natural gas produces only about half as much CO2 per watt of electricity generated as coal. That’s great news for the climate, isn’t it?
What Big Oil and the US Department of Energy don’t tell you is that natural gas consists mainly of methane. And methane emissions are about 86 times more damaging as a greenhouse gas than CO2. (See my article https://www.pressenza.com/2021/09/code-red-wake-up-and-initiate-real-climate-protection/ on the deliberate overstatement of the role of carbon in climate change and the neglect of methane). Apart from these catastrophic emissions, most natural gas today is extracted by hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”), which destroys landscapes, generates huge amounts of radioactive waste and contamination, and often chemically contaminates groundwater and thus drinking water (more about this in Part 4). Such “bridge fuels” are a bridge to nowhere. To divert attention from this would take nothing less than a Ukraine war and associated energy crisis (more about this in Part 5).
The genius of Big Oil’s promotion of non-solutions is that
- a) it suits the new greenwashed image well if the corporations can say: a) “We have offered solutions! “
- b) large sums of public money allocated to research into “green” energy can ultimately be siphoned off by the fossil industry for the development of pointless technologies. In this way, the multinational fossil giants receive even more public subsidies, while
- c) the state budgets for sensible research in the field of sustainable energies are being used up.
“Sinking the Competion.”
Doomism and Despair
When all other methods start to fail (therein lies the good news: apparently the manipulative strategies don’t work so well anymore!), the last front in the new climate war is the creation of doomism and despair. After decades of open denial of man-made climate disruption, the fossil front went straight to spreading doomism and claiming that there is nothing more we can do to stop the disintegration of the climate and the living world. “It’s too late anyway.” *(12)
Even if it sounds surprising at first, the message that the fate of the planet is already sealed plays well into Big Oil’s cards. Spreading messages of doomism and despair is so attractive to the elites of the old fossil world order because doomism creates disengagement. When there is no hope and no future, powerlessness and apathy set in. “Doomism is the new fossil fuel profit protectionism. Helplessness is the new message,” diagnoses freelance writer Ketan Joshi. *(13)
This strategy is particularly sarcastic because since the birth of modern conservation in the 1960s, the Earth’s defenders have been berated as “alarmists” by conservatives and the Far Right. In those decades, the sixth mass extinction began, Earth now has measurably lost 83 per cent of wild land mammals, 80 per cent of whales and dolphins, 75 per cent of insects, to name just a few of the frightening figures. Yet all the while, anyone who spoke up honestly and knowledgeably was accused of alarmism. However, as M.E. Mann points out, there is a difference between concern and alarmism.
And now that the facts of planetary degradation are becoming obvious and undeniable to the general public, the fossil fuel industry itself is promoting doomism. Because apocalyptic fear disempowers people and creates passive inertia. Again, the corona crisis is a stroke of luck for Big Oil, because the general level of fear in the population has skyrocketed since then. In the course of two pandemic years, a dystopian sense of the end times has crept into modern societies, and who worries about the predicted rise in sea levels by the end of the century when their own lives and lifelihoods already seem threatened.
At the same time, mind-boggingly, the right-wing still vividly accuses climate scientists and activists as being alarmist – and even “doomist”. A great strength of the ultra-conservative, “libertarian” far right, which is in charge here, is that they always know how to make constantly contradictory statements in their messaging. Like “It’s too early to act! ” and at the same time “It’s too late to act!” Because sowing confusion and doubt is a strategy that wears people down. “Doubt is our product,” as Big Tobacco told its lobbyists back in 1969. In the end, we give up because we no longer know what to believe.
Who are the organisations and people behind all this? The revelation can be found in Part 6.
Battle for the Earth:
Part 2: The fossil fuel industry’s mind-bending strategies (continued)
Part 3: An urgent warning about “Net Zero 2050”
Part 4: Dirty Oil: It’s not just about carbon!
Part 5: Fossil giants, free trade, and war
Part 6: How the Far Right network rules (not just) the climate debate
Part 7: The shocking extent of the Far Right influence network
Part 8: Climate crisis, corona and conspiracy theories
Part 9: How conspiracy theories only serve one master
Part 10: The “Great Reset” and totalitarianism vs the real green revolution
Michael E. Mann 2021. The New Climate War: the fight to take back our planet. Scribe.
10 Michael E. Mann, The New Climate War: the fight to take back our planet. Scribe 2021. Chapter 6.