The Manichean Mann

by M. Hulme, June 2021 in IssuesinSci&Techn

Michael Mann has been in the climate wars for well over a decade now. As he reminds us frequently in this new book, he has been in the crosshairs of his enemies, has fought off the attack dogs, and carries the scars of battle. Even the environmentalist Bill McKibben’s promotional puff for the book valorizes Mann in terms of his “scars from the climate wars.” The military framing of climate change long predates Mann’s involvement, but it certainly is a framing he has done much to promote through his blogs, tweets, and general persona-at-large in public discourse.

And so it is not surprising that Mann’s new book continues his characterization of the politics of climate change through a series of complex military tropes and metaphors. Wars, battles, attacks, fights, and enemies litter its 260 pages. Much of what I said about Mann’s combative militancy in my review of his 2012 book, The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches from the Front Lines, can be equally applied to this new one. Now, his central argument is that there is a new war afoot. The old war—fought mostly around the claims of climate scientists—has been (largely) won. But a new war has been ignited; Mann and his allies are now having to fight against the forces of inaction.

Mann is half right in his diagnosis. The main axes of public dispute and argumentation about climate change have changed. The politics of climate change manifest differently now than they did a decade ago. More centrally in focus—and this is a good thing—are the substantive and pressing questions about the sorts of actions, policies, and interventions that are needed, appropriate, and effective to attenuate the risks of a changing climate. What are their respective costs and benefits? How do different options interact with diverse cultural values and collide with vested interests? How do they complicate international geopolitics?

So in this observation Mann is correct. The focus of the issue has moved from “is there a problem?” to “what should be done about it?”