Skip to content

From denialism and doomism – to climate activism

  • by JW

“Fossil fuel interests are working to dampen the public’s enthusiasm for taking action on climate.”

“For a classic example of defection, look at BP, which gave us the world’s first individual carbon footprint calculator. Why did they do that? Because BP wanted us looking at our carbon footprint not theirs.”

“The global low-carbon transformation will accelerate sustainable development and present unparalleled opportunities.”


Today’s ‘Start the Week’ on Radio 4 looked at ‘climate activism’ in the face of denial and doom:

Richard Powers’s prize-winning Overstory was an impassioned evocation of the natural world and a call to arms to save it. In his latest novel, Bewilderment, a father and son navigate a world seemingly bent on destruction…

Mya-Rose Craig, aka ‘birdgirl’, is a young British-Bangladeshi ornithologist and activist… In ‘We Have A Dream’ she speaks to 30 young indigenous people of colour to find out how their environments have been affected by climate change, and why young people are so involved in protecting the natural world.

The journalist Simon Mundy argues that climate change is affecting more than just the environment: everything from energy, farming, technology and business, as well as migration. In Race for Tomorrow, Mundy has travelled the world talking to the people at the front line of this transformation, from those battling to survive the worst impacts, to those eager to reap the financial rewards.

BBC Radio 4 – Start the Week, Climate activism: the next generation

The programme focussed on how ‘activism’ can displace a sense of doom and ‘eco-anxiety’ – which can end up paralysing people from doing anything at all. 

But as was suggested more than once, perhaps this is the point…

The food and drinks industry create huge amounts of packaging – but a decades-long PR campaign has successfully made the ‘individual consumer’ responsible for dealing with its ‘litter’:

Plastics and public relations – Vision Group for Sidmouth

Is the business of recycling just a fraud? – Vision Group for Sidmouth

The same, so it seems, has been happening with the fossil fuel industry.

Earlier this year, the Observer interviewed Michael Mann, co-author of the “hockey-stick graph” which showed the sharp rise in global temperatures since the industrial age, about his new book, The New Climate War, where he argues the tide may finally be turning in a hopeful direction:

Any time you are told a problem is your fault because you are not behaving responsibly, there is a good chance that you are being deflected from systemic solutions and policies. Blaming the individual is a tried and trusted playbook that we have seen in the past with other industries. In the 1970s, Coca Cola and the beverage industry did this very effectively to convince us we don’t need regulations on waste disposal. Because of that we now have a global plastic crisis. The same tactics are evident in the gun lobby’s motto, “guns don’t kill people, people kill people”, which is classic deflection. For a UK example look at BP, which gave us the world’s first individual carbon footprint calculator. Why did they do that? Because BP wanted us looking at our carbon footprint not theirs.

Climatologist Michael E Mann: ‘Good people fall victim to doomism. I do too sometimes’ | Climate crisis | The Guardian

Here he is being interviewed by Scientific American:

Although it is too soon to declare victory, Mann cautions, the initial war of disinformation against climate science is now essentially over. The scientific evidence has become impossible to dispute in light of the dramatic increases in extreme weather events, megafires and polar melting in recent years, he says. The deniers have not given up the battle, however. They have merely changed their tactics, Mann contends in his book The New Climate War: The Fight to Take Back Our Planet. He spoke with Scientific American about the book and why he believes that the world is finally getting ready to move more aggressively on the climate crisis.


You argue that the climate change deniers are going extinct and being replaced by a new group that you call “the inactivists.” Who are the inactivists?

The plutocrats who are tied to the fossil fuel industry are engaging in a new climate war—this time to prevent meaningful action. Over the past few years, you’ve seen a lot of conservative groups pulling their money out of the climate-change-denial industry and putting it instead into efforts by ALEC [the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative lobbying group], for example, to fund legislative efforts blocking clean-energy policies.

The book details the way these fossil fuel interests are working to dampen the public’s enthusiasm for taking action on climate. How are they doing that?

I use whole bunch of “D” words to describe this: deflection, delay, division, despair mongering, doomism. To start with, there is an effort to deflect attention away from systemic solutions. They are trying to convince people that climate change is not the result of their corporate policies but of our own individual actions. I mean BP [a multinational oil and gas company headquartered in London] was instrumental in the whole idea of a carbon footprint. They introduced the carbon footprint calculator to help get people to think of this as an individual-responsibility issue.

Climate Deniers Shift Tactics to ‘Inactivism’ – Scientific American

It really is that creepy. As the science reporter Mark Kaufman wrote this summer:

British Petroleum, the second largest non-state owned oil company in the world, with 18,700 gas and service stations worldwide, hired the public relations professionals Ogilvy & Mather to promote the slant that climate change is not the fault of an oil giant, but that of individuals. It’s here that British Petroleum, or BP, first promoted and soon successfully popularized the term “carbon footprint” in the early aughts. The company unveiled its “carbon footprint calculator” in 2004 so one could assess how their normal daily life – going to work, buying food, and (gasp) traveling – is largely responsible for heating the globe.

Big oil coined ‘carbon footprints’ to blame us for their greed. Keep them on the hook | Rebecca Solnit | The Guardian

With more from him here:

BP created ‘carbon footprint’ as a devious, manipulative PR tactic

Creepier still, BP have launched the carbon footprint app:

Why Do Oil Companies Care So Much About Your Carbon Footprint – Mother Jones

The business magazine Forbes gives further insight – and ways into getting active:

… Another idea of climate nihilism that may be more well-intentioned, but also serves to dispirit is the notion of the inevitable climate apocalypse. Unfortunately, the media sometimes furthered this narrative by grossly oversimplifying or misinterpreting climate research. Despite headlines the Amazon does not produce 20% of the world’s oxygenwe don’t have nine years to stop climate change, and climate tipping points have not made climate change unstoppable. However, one can hardly blame a reader for feeling confused. Climate doom stories may get clicks, but it is bad science and bad for climate action. Psychologists explain that when people believe they cannot change their circumstances, they can enter a highly demotivated state produced by “learned helplessness.” This disempowering state is the opposite of the energetic advocacy that the climate crisis demands. Unfortunately, climate doom only benefits those opposed to climate action.

Tackling climate change is humanity’s defining challenge in the twenty-first century. It demands collective action from governments, businesses, and societies. The energy systems and economies that built our modern world must be fundamentally retooled within the next generation. Fortunately, science tells us that if we act now, we still can mitigate the worst effects of uncontrolled climate change. Even better, we already have the tools and technologies to limit our greenhouse gas emissions. The global low-carbon transformation will accelerate sustainable development and present unparalleled opportunities. However, some vested interests, for political, ideological, or financial reasons, are determined to prevent this essential transition from taking place. To fight back, we must recognize that outright denial has been replaced with the three “Ds” of climate inaction: division, distraction, and doomism.

How You Can Fight Back Against The 3 ‘Ds’ Of Climate Inaction