Occasionally, I find it necessary to write a post about some things I clearly got wrong. It’s also been a while since I made a book recommendation. To pull these two threads together, I can happily recommend that any reader interested in an accessible, thorough, action-oriented primer on the history and current state of climate science, policy, and action pick up Michael Mann‘s new book, The New Climate War, from which I quote:
[The climate-denial complex] has promoted the narrative that climate-change impacts will be mild, innocuous, and easily adapted to, undermining any sense of urgency, while at the same time promoting the inevitability of climate change to dampen any sense of agency. This effort has been aided and abetted by individuals who are ostensible climate champions but have portrayed catastrophe as a fait accompli, either by overstating the damage to which we are already committed, by dismissing the possibility of mobilizing the action necessary to avert disaster, or by setting the standard so high (say, the very overthrow of market economics itself, that old chestnut) that any action seems doomed to failure. The enemy has been more than happy to amplify such notions.
While I don’t love Mann’s use of the language of war, contrary to the employment of militarized pandemic-response metaphors, in this instance, I at least feel there is sound justification for all the martial imagery, for there is, indeed, an enemy, in the form of the climate-denial complex. I pull this quote, in particular, from Mann’s book, though, because I myself have been guilty of at least two of these three mis-steps at different times in the past. In fact, my choice to start this blog, now almost three years ago (with an inaugural post title honoring the late Martin Luther King, Jr., no less) was predicated largely on my desire to shift away from the raw (and no doubt, at times, indulgent) anger that had often characterized my posts on Medium, in the direction of a more constructive and generous tone.
Incidentally, Mann has also been among the most outspoken popularizers of an important shift in climate science consensus – namely, to oversimplify, that: “If we stop burning carbon now, we stop the warming of the planet [within a few decades, rather than – as many of us had previously believed and stated – only after centuries of locked-in warming].”
As I’ve addressed elsewhere recently, the ~10% decrease in US GHG emissions in 2020 stands to have little to no lasting impact, alone, on the trajectory of global heating, but were the US and other heavily-polluting nations to move aggressively in the coming years and decades to reduce emissions and transform their economies, it could dramatically reduce the global mean temperature increase by 2050. Couple this with the revelation now being popularized by Mann, and there are real reasons for hope, that, not only is it possible to limit heating this century, but that the prospects for averting catastrophic long-term heating may be much better than had been previously understood.
This framing only redoubles my conviction that climate crisis is the defining issue of our time and that those of us who enjoy the luxury of agency in these matters have a moral imperative (an obligation, but also an opportunity) to commit ourselves to preventing global catastrophe while also shaping a more sane, just, and equitable future.
Postscript: Full disclosure, I’m passingly acquainted with Michael Mann through a mutual friend, and he was kind enough to gift me a copy of his new book; however, he is not aware that I write this blog, and – even were he to have been – I can’t imagine he would have been moved by anything other than the goodness of his heart to share his work with me, as I don’t think he needs my help in reaching an exceedingly broad audience.