As described in Michael Mann’s The New Climate War: The Fight to Take Back the Planet (2021), deflection refers to a set of strategies adopted since the early 2000s by Big Oil, Big Ag, Big Banks, and other petronormative institutions whose operations constitute the systemic drivers of climate change (see ecocide) to project the blame for the destruction on individual consumers (see producerism). At a time when it becomes increasingly harder to deny the reality and severity of climate change, deflection is becoming the new climate denial. In all its forms, deflection is aimed to blame individual consumers rather than corporate actors, emphasize individual responsibility over corporate culpability, personal change over systemic change, individual action over collective action, personal choice over government regulations. “Those who mount deflection campaigns,” Mann writes, “are not truly interested in solving problems … Instead, their intent is to sabotage systemic solutions that might be disadvantageous to moneyed interests” (61). Thus, “the focus on the individual’s role in solving climate change” has been “carefully nurtured by industry” (63).
Mann’s argument is supported by a long line of research on corporate-sponsored climate denial and doubtism by Harvard historian of science Naomi Oreskes (see climate change denial and Merchants of Doubt). For example, the notion of a personal carbon footprint was introduced by none other than BP in the mid-2000s as a way to divide climate advocates by generating conflict, behavior-shaming, and deflecting the conversation away from systemic change. As part of this deflection, BP also launched one of the first personal carbon footprint calculators, claiming that attention to personal carbon footprint makes it “the environmentally conscious oil company” (Mann 64). ©2021 ClimateLit (Marek Oziewicz)
Emma Pattee, “The Fallacy of Our Carbon Footprint,” YES! Magazine, May 10, 2021.
Geoffrey Supran and Naomi Oreskes. “Rhetoric and frame analysis of ExxonMobil’s climate change communications.” One Earth 4, 696–719, May 21, 2021.