When News Corp. and “the hottest” Senators are subpoenaing your emails, you know you’re doing something right as a climate scientist.
Penn State University professor Michael E. Mann is on the front lines of the battle to put climate change deniers who are making a healthy living at it—from Fox News commentators to Oklahoma's Republican pollster Frank Luntz whose salacious emails admit to engaging in an all-out war to deny the scientific consensus in defense of his Big Oil donors —back in their place. Last night at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, Mann described his fight against the political "witchhunt" led by Luntz (and the ironies of Oklahoma being the "hottest" state on record) and Senators like Joe Barton and James Inhoff who have tried to discredit the IPCC's Third Report authored by Mann that found incontrovertible evidence linking manmade activities to rising temperatures.
“If you don’t like the findings of the world’s scientists, that the world is warming caused by human activity and will cause great damage. If you don’t like those conclusions there’s a whole cable network that will present an alternative reality where the laws of physics don’t apply. And a whole newspaper empire that includes Newscorp will present you an entirely different set of facts. These days people think they’re entitled to their own facts. All because of that an inconvenient graph, I continued to be attacked.”
The graph Mann is known for is called the hockey stick. It represents the steady straight line of the past 12,000 years of carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere with a big “up” arc at the end representing the last century. In our lifetime, the unprecedented extraction and burning of coal and oil, conversion of land (sprawl), the proliferation of cars and inefficient buildings has fulfilled the prediction of James Hansen, Mann’s contemporary outspoken scientist, who said we will leave a fundamentally different planet for our kids and grandkids.
“The scientific case is relatively straightforward,” Mann said. “It’s not new science. For nearly two centuries we’ve known about the greenhouse effect. It’s not a legitimately disputed fact that atmospheric CO2 is going up. For the first time in 5 million years, parts per million are up to 400. We’re engaged in this in a significant way.”
Mann also engages in the political and policy arena. Like Hansen, he’s just as comfortable discussing what Washington and all of us, frankly, can do to forestall more climate-change-induced storms like Katrina and Sandy.
“People think it only will affect the Arctic and animals will see in zoos. It obscures the fact that climate change is impacting climate now where we live. I don’t think I need to explain to you in Cleveland. The Cuyahoga River fire galvanized opinion that maybe there is negative impacts to what we do. But when are we going to have that Cuyahoga River moment in climate change debate? If it was Katrina and Sandy then we’ve arguably had two."
Mann’s advice is to hold the electeds who engage in the “fake debate” accountable through the voting booth. “There has to be a downside to the anti-science stance.”
He sees some hope in the courageous efforts led by Bill McKibben and 350.org to stop the Keystone XL pipeline. The appointment of John Podesta, a critic of Keystone, to the Obama Administration offers a sliver of hope that the Administration is shifting its position, Mann said. The bigger issue is the proven reserves of fossil fuels that if they don’t stay in the ground will raise atmospheric levels of CO2 five times above the cap that the IPCC report states we need to stay under.
“It’s this huge externality, the damage caused to water, land, food, national security. So if we’re incentivizing dirty fossil fuel energy and not incentivizing clean fuels we’re moving in the exact opposite direction.”
Santa also brought climate scientists another ‘gift.’ Mann said he’s “heartened that lots of conservatives are asking for a carbon tax, in a revenue neutral manner, consistent with their conservative values. That’s great. Let’s have that debate. But let’s put the debate about whether climate change is happening behind us.”