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This is how climate disinformation is created

The New Climate War

CLIMATE: Are vegans' attempts to lift the meat comb or drop flying the solution to the climate problem? Over the past year, our changing travel and behavior patterns have had only a small effect on global greenhouse gas emissions.

"If you're in a war situation, you have to understand how the enemy thinks." This is roughly how the world-renowned climate scientist Michael E. Mann begins his latest book. Man is on the warpath. He is afraid that environmentalists and climate activists will be fooled by their opponents' tactics. Then we lose the climate fight.

Man refers to the powerful American weapons lobby. Their motto is: "Guns don't kill people, people kill people." This is how they have operated since the 1920s. The oil lobby is another strong influence on society. Exxon Mobil's own scientists concluded several decades ago that a continuation of the fossil age would lead to devastating climate change. Nevertheless, the company has run disinformation to influence the authorities so that they will get new exploration licenses.

Dirty impact

The arms lobby, the tobacco industry and the oil industry are all good at one thing: They want the responsibility for what is wrong with their own business to be borne by you and me.

This book is also about Mann's own career as a climate researcher, and all the various academic disputes he has been through. It gets tedious in parties, and that may not be so strange, since much of it is about American affairs. It is nevertheless interesting to read about organized corporations' campaigns aimed at environmentalists, be it against Rachel Carson in the early 1960s, or today's smear campaigns against leading American environmental politicians.

Exxon Mobil's strategy was to create calculators to personalize climate footprints.

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Just before a crucial climate conference in Copenhagen in 2009, some websites and newspapers published parts of various e-mails from climate researchers and presented this as a climategate. According to Mann, stakeholders such as Saudi Arabia and Rupert Murdoch's reactionary media dynasty were behind it.

Mann writes about how arch-reactionary think tanks have used their power, in collaboration with large-scale industry, to prevent a more progressive environmental policy. This has constituted a formidable influence, in the form of newspaper articles, fake science articles and other things, which have cast doubt on the science behind climate change. Mann does not mention any Norwegian names in this context. Let me add that author Aage Borchgrevink wrote in the book giants that our own Statoil (now Equinor) for a period was part of The American Petroleum Institute – which cast doubt on scientific climate consensus.

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Blinded vegans?

Many of us also allow ourselves to be influenced by documentaries such as Cowspiracy (2014), who claim that meat production and eating are the main cause of climate change. This diverts attention away from the actual conspiracy, writes Mann, which is how the fossil fuel industry has a vested interest in getting the spotlight away from themselves.

Vegans' attempts to lift meat combs as the solution to the climate problem are wrong, Mann writes. Animal welfare activists often attack climate scientists when they point out that climate change due to eating meat is a small problem compared to what occurs when burning fossil energy sources. The same applies to emissions from aircraft, just over three percent of emissions globally. Individual attention to reducing the carbon footprint has value, but without a systemic shift, we will not be able to decarbonize our economy fast enough. Here, too, large-scale industry is behind it. It was Exxon Mobil that first made calculators to personalize the climate footprint, Mann claims. He also quotes an article from the newspaper The Guardian, which writes that approx. 25 percent of all twitter messages about the climate are created by bots (a type of software program), to cast doubt on climate science. In other words, we are exposed to more influence than we realize.

Total ignorance gives a short-term happiness with great risk.

A leaked document from June 2020 shows that oil companies were behind a public relations campaign to exploit the Black Lives Matter movement. The motive was to sow racial antagonisms within the climate movement. The idea was to portray environmental groups as someone who stood for a policy that would harm minorities. And according to Mann, various fossil stakeholders have also been responsible for the same destabilization policy, with both the Yellow West in France and Brexit in the UK as examples.

Carbon pricing as a solution

Carbon pricing is the most important solution proposal Mann comes up with. Then renewable energy will eventually be able to compete. If we also introduce incentives to think renewably, and phase out subsidies to the fossil fuel industry, we are on the right track: During the corona pandemic, we can state that we in Norway have gone the opposite way in the rescue packages for the industry.

Man is not a supporter of Extinction Rebellion or other doomsday prophets, as the journalist David Wallace-Wells, author of the bestseller The Uninhabitable Earth (2019). It just makes us passive. But Mann sees a lot of hope in the young generation, with Greta Thunberg at the helm. Thunberg also says "I want you to pancick". But then in the next sentence she follows up with "but then I want you to act".

Mann's dramaturgy in this book, the personal versus the systemic, is at the forefront, and the accusations against vegans may feel unfair to some. Why not attack the problem from many angles? But Mann is optimistic anyway, and points out that we are now witnessing many positive political "tipping points". Finance and banking talk about the risk of investing in fossil energy sources, and there are several lawsuits against the polluters. And New York State, the world's eleventh largest economy, bases its post-covid-19 plan on renewable energy.

The pandemic has shown us that our changing travel and behavior patterns over the past year have had little effect on global greenhouse gas emissions. That, Mann writes, means that we must intensify the pressure on politicians. We do this first and foremost via the ballot paper. We must vote out the politicians who work as the oil industry's extended arm. It is time for everyone to vote in favor of those who work for real change in climate policy.

Andrew Kroglund
Kroglund is a critic and writer.

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