The two-sentence summary

70% of global emissions come from the same hundred companies, but they have taken no responsibility themselves – instead, they have waged a 39-year campaign to blame individuals for climate change. The result has been disastrous for the planet, and it’s time to fight back.


  • The overwhelmingly largest carbon footprint is the fossil fuel industry.
  • The author draws the battle lines between the people and the polluters – these fossil fuel companies, right-wing plutocrats, and petro-states – and outlines a plan for forcing governments and corporations to wake up and make real change.
  • There are immensely powerful vested interests aligned in defence of the fossil fuel status quo.
  • Fossil fuel interests and those doing their bidding have a single goal – ‘inaction’ (thereby thwarting the systemic action that could eat into their profits).
  • In the set-up, Mann highlights a recently unearthed internal document from an Exxon Mobil senior scientist that warned of climate change issues caused by their activities as early as the 1970s.
  • Ignoring these responsibilities and instead emphasising individual responsibility over collective action or government regulation continues a pattern set by many other guilty industries. The tobacco industry had their own research showing a direct link between cigarettes and lung cancer as early as the 1950s, and the gun lobby invented the slogan “Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.” as early as the 1920s.
  • In 2009, following the unprecedented disaster of Hurricane Katrina and Al Gore’s wildly successful documentary An Inconvenient Truth, it seemed the world was waking up and ready to act on climate. The forces of denial, however, would intercede and manufacture a fake ‘scandal’ in the weeks leading up to the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen – subsequently known as ‘Climategate’. Thousands of emails between climate scientists were stolen from a university computer server in the UK. Bits and pieces of emails were disingenuously rearranged and taken out of context – leading to claims of proof that climate change was an elaborate hoax.
  • These inactivists have since been forced into retreat from ‘hard’ climate denial and moved to ‘softer’ denial: downplaying, deflecting, dividing, delaying, and despair-mongering.
  • These are the multiple fronts of the new climate war. Any plan for victory requires recognising and defeating the tactics now being use by inactivists as they continue to wage war.
  • The evidence shows that fossil fuel companies are engaging in a multi-pronged offensive based on deception, distraction and delay.
  • Mann also shines a light on a number of fossil-fuel-funded members of the climate-change denial machine, including, for example, the megaphone provided by Fox News and the Murdoch empire.
  • They are seeking to sow division in society by driving a wedge between individual activists and policy champions – divisions that result in instances of “the climate movement eating its own!”.
  • For example, flight and meat shaming – which inactivists are happy to encourage. But “If nobody’s without carbon sin, who gets to cast the first lump of coal”. We should not be arguing between the vegan who travels extensively and the carnivore who never steps on a plane.
  • Gentle encouragement (not shaming) and incentives for lifestyle change are a better path.
  • The inactivists have also sought to hijack actual climate progress by promoting ‘non-solution solutions.’ According to Mann these include natural gas, carbon capture and geo-engineering.
  • Mann argues that the fossil fuel industry has been granted the greatest subsidy ever: the privilege to dump its waste products into the atmosphere at no charge.
  • What we need are mechanisms that force polluters to pay for the climate damage done by their products – fossil fuels – tilting the advantage to those forms of energy that aren’t destroying our planetary home (ie. cap + trade, carbon taxes and carbon credits).
  • Mann does believe that civilisation can be saved, but only if we learn to recognise the current tactics of the enemy – that is, the forces of inaction and how to combat them.
  • The book outlines his four-point battle plan to do this:
    • Disregard the doomsayers. The misguided belief that “it’s too late” to act is just another way of these companies justifying business as usual and a continued reliance on fossil fuels.
    • A child shall lead them. The youngest generation is fighting tooth and nail to save the planet. We should model our actions after theirs.
    • Educate, educate, educate. Don’t waste time and effort on persuading unmovable hard-core climate-change deniers. Instead help inform the confused middle ground.
    • Changing the system requires systemic change. We need policies that will incentivize a shift away from fossil fuel burning toward a clean, green global economy.


The evidence keeps coming, in a somewhat relentless way, over 200 pages. It’s all meticulously referenced, but arguably a little overwhelming at times for the lay person.


Michael Mann is one of the scientists behind the galvanising so-called ‘hockey stick’ graph. Published in 1999, it showed the average global temperature remained relatively stable for nearly 1000 years, until the data hit the 20th century. It showed an immediate, steep rise in temperature and it earned Mann years of harassment from those with vested interest in business continuing as usual.