How Forbes Got the *Climate Debate* Ridiculously Wrong

The climate debate has taken a nasty turn,” Forbes declared this week; but their November 14th article is so full of wrong – starting with the obvious error in that first sentence.

There is no “climate debate” between “climate affirmers” and “climate deniers”. There is the science and scientific consensus that human actions are contributing to current climate change; and then there are people who, for whatever reasons, ignore and deny the science. There is no “debate” here. There is fact, and denial of fact.

NASA graph showing the drastic increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide since 1950
Climate Change: How Do We Know? From NASA Global Climate Change

Personal Responsibility for Combating Climate Change

The Forbes article, Does Greta Thunberg’s Lifestyle Equal Climate Denial? One Climate Scientist Seems To Suggest So, presents a false narrative that there is a big dispute within the climate advocacy community.

Now the finger-wagging is taking place among climate affirmers on the subject of personal responsibility for combating climate change.

There are two key actors in this unfolding saga. One embraces the importance of individual responsibility while the other derides it.

Greta Thunberg in her yellow rain slicker
Greta Thunberg outside the Swedish parliament, August 31, 2018 (photo credit Anders Hellberg, Creative Commons)

While they accurately describe Greta Thunberg’s personal lifestyle choices, they demonstrate the very point Michael Mann makes in the article they linked.

In that interview with The Guardian, Mann is quoted as saying, “there is an attempt being made by them to deflect attention away from finding policy solutions to global warming towards promoting individual behaviour changes that affect people’s diets, travel choices and other personal behavior.

“Them” in this sentence are the climate deniers – not Greta Thunberg.

The Guardian goes on to write:

Mann stressed that individual actions – eating less meat or avoiding air travel – were important in the battle against global warming. However, they should be seen as additional ways to combat global warming rather than as a substitute for policy reform.

It is clear that Mann does not “deride” personal responsibility nor imply in any way that Greta Thunberg’s lifestyle “equals climate denial”. To the contrary, in article after article, Mann’s point is:

This is why we really need political change at every level, from local leaders to federal legislators all the way up to the President. We need change not just at the breakfast table, but at the ballot box as well.

Michael E. Mann in Time Magazine’s Lifestyle Changes Aren’t Enough to Save the Planet. Here’s What Could

Perhaps even more damning to the Forbes article, Thunberg repeatedly makes the same point:

For well over a year young people have been striking from school every Friday, demanding our leaders take responsibility and to unite behind the science. The people in power have not yet done that. They continue to ignore us and the current, best-available science.

Greta Thunberg in The Charlotte Observe interview November 9, 2019

It’s Not an Either/Or Proposition

Michael Mann at podium giving his talk: The Madhouse Effect How Climate Change Denial Is Threatening Our Planet Destroying Our Politics and Driving Us Crazy
Michael Mann at CSICon 2016, October 28, 2016 (photo credit: Karl Withakay, Creative Commons)

Neither Greta Thunberg nor Michael Mann eat meat. That is a lifestyle choice both made, in part, because they “walk the talk” in their climate advocacy. Here is the critical theme: neither of them are demanding the rest of us make the same climate-related choices in our own lives.

As Greta Thunberg said in her interview with Democracy Now: “I go by bus, by train, electrical car, and sailboat now, as well. And it takes a lot of time. And, of course, I’m not saying that everyone should stop flying and start sailing everywhere. But it was — I thought that I am one of the very few people in the world who can actually do this and who has this opportunity to do this trip. And then I thought, “Why not?” And it sure gained a lot of attention.

In short, Greta Thunberg and Michael Mann are saying exactly the same things in their own ways.

What Mann additionally cautions against, however, is the weaponization of those individual personal choices – what he calls “deflection”. A false focus on personal responsibility for combating climate change allows corporate polluters and their beholden politicians to guilt us into thinking we, as individuals, are solely responsible for fixing the climate crisis; and that unless our personal carbon footprint is zero, we have no place advocating for governmental & corporate climate solutions.

This Forbes article is an example of exactly that sort of deflection, and I call B.S.

Sunny day high tide nuisance flooding in Brickell, Downtown Miami, Florida on October 16, 2016
Sunny day high tide nuisance flooding in Brickell, Downtown Miami, Florida on October 16, 2016. (photo credit: B137, Creative Commons)

Published byMelanieDawn

Melanie Dawn Molina Wood is a Miami native currently living in the historic downtown district. She has earned her LEED Green Associate accreditation, the NAR GREEN designation, and an Eco-broker credential. She is also a proud member of the US Green Building Council, and a member of the Sierra Club. For more information about sustainability in Miami, or to connect with a real estate agent anywhere in the world, contact Melanie Dawn by text/phone at 305.801.3133, or by email at

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