Distinguished author and climate change expert Michael Mann visited the University Thursday to speak and spark discussion on his latest book, “The New Climate War: The Fight to Take Back Our Planet.” Dr. Mann addressed a lecture hall brimming with both University students and community members at an event put on by the Virginia Festival of the Book in conjunction with the Department of Environmental Sciences. Additional participants also joined via Zoom.
A professor of atmospheric science at Pennsylvania State University and the director of Penn State’s Earth System Science Center, Dr. Mann has degrees in physics and applied math, as well as a Ph.D. in geology and geophysics. “The New Climate War: The Fight to Take Back Our Planet” is his fifth book.
At the commencement of his hour-long presentation, Mann summed up his latest book by explaining how the challenges faced when addressing the climate crisis are largely political in nature, especially in current times.
“The impacts [of climate change] are no longer subtle — we are seeing them in real-time in the form of these extreme weather events,” Mann said.
Mann is of the opinion that those who contribute significantly to climate change, primarily fossil fuel corporations and their enablers, are unable to deny climate change any longer. Instead, their strategy has shifted to “deflection, division, doomism and delay.”
A narrative that the degradation of the environment is at the hands of individuals — that citizens need to be more responsible with their consumption — is bogus, according to Mann. He noted that discussing the carbon footprints of individuals when a mere 100 companies are responsible for 71 percent of carbon emissions is distracting away from necessary systemic change.
Due to the extensive propaganda and fear-mongering surrounding the topic, many feel a sense of helplessness, choosing to believe it is too late to save the planet. The path forward, Dr. Mann argued, requires urgency and agency.
“We have to stop putting carbon pollution into the atmosphere … It’s not too late to act meaningfully,” Mann said.
He urged the audience to vote out climate delayers and vote in climate advocates, not just in the presidential election, but at state and local levels as well. Mann pressed on, asking for listeners to fight against voter suppression, put pressure on Congress to act on the behalf of the people, not the polluters and to divert funding towards renewable energy sources. Mann emphasized that as the largest historical carbon polluter on the planet, the U.S. must be a leader in this fight.
“We need to get countries to commit to the promises they've made,” Mann said.
Mann smiled as he concluded his talk with his reasons for his optimism — the young climate activists. In recent years, figures such as Greta Thunberg, Alexandria Villaseñor and countless others have bravely led the environmental community — and the world — into the conversations necessary for a brighter future.
“It’s about ethics — what sort of planet do we want to leave behind to our children and grandchildren?” Mann asked the audience. “It’s up to us, but we can't put this all on the kids … We need to take advantage of this opportunity they have given us.”
The Virginia Festival of the Book hosted a variety of hybrid, in-person and virtual events in the Charlottesville and Albemarle County area from March 16 to March 20. For more details or to support the festival, visit their website.