Ireland's only serious political magazine Saturday - Nov 22, 2014

John Gibbons interviews climate scientist, Michael Mann


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Mann enough

‘His ‘hockeystick graph’ became the defining symbol of man-made climate change – and made him a special target of the fossil-fuel lobby’

‘If you as a scientist share the stage with an industry-funded denier, you are implicitly telling the audience that these are two equally credible voices – and they’re not’

John Gibbons interviews Michael Mann

Michael Mann is one of the world’s leading climate scientists. He is director of the Earth Systems Science Centre in Penn State University and has been a lead IPCC author since 2001. His ‘hockey stick graph’ became the defining symbol of man-made climate change – and made him a special target of the fossil-fuel lobby. He is author of ‘The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars’, an insider’s account of the murky world of climate denialism. Mann was implicated in the so-called ‘Climategate’ hacking affair in 2009, but was exonerated of all alleged wrongdoing by several independent investigations.

JG: Mike, you’re best known for your work on the Hockey Stick. Can you tell us about it, why it’s so important, and why it gets you into so much trouble?

MM: The Hockey Stick is this graph my colleagues and I published a decade and a half ago depicting how temperatures, specifically over the northern hemisphere, have changed over the past 1,000 years. We used information from tree rings, ice cores and coral records, what we call climate proxy data. We know the globe has warmed by about a degree C over the past century but the question of how unusual is that warming requires us to go back in time. The record shows relatively warm conditions around 1,000 years ago, a steady, slow cooling trend into the 1900s – and then an abrupt warming over the past century. The shape of that curve is like a hockey stick…what it indicates is that the recent warming really is unprecedented as far back as we can go. This curve became iconic in the climate-change debate – it became a potent symbol in the larger debate over human-caused climate change, and it thus became an object of attack by those looking to discredit the case for concern over climate change. Climate deniers felt if they could ‘take down’ the hockey stick, then somehow the case for concern over human-caused climate change would collapse. Of course, that’s silly because there’s so much other evidence.

JG: Why do you think climate science has become such a red-hot focus of controversy? In other scientific areas, the controversies are in the (peer-reviewed) journals. Why is this one on the street?

MM: The fact is that any time you see the findings of science come into conflict with powerful vested interests, they’ve done their best to try to discredit the science and the scientists. Take tobacco, industry documents actually contained the phrase “doubt is our product”. They manufacture doubt when it comes to scientific findings that pose some potential threat (to their profits). Fossil-fuel interests are pouring in tens of millions of dollars here in the US to discredit the science of climate change, and to discredit arguments for renewables and clean energy. The Koch brothers for instance are funding both.

JG: If the more serious projections coming from climate science (up to 4 degrees C warming by mid-century) are borne out, there’s no future for anybody. Is it not a puzzle that the so-called deniers somehow believe that the impacts won’t affect them?

MM: Denial takes many forms. Those who are orchestrating the disinformation campaign at the top, one might imagine are fairly cynical – it’s quite clear that the fossil-fuel companies know their product is damaging the planet. There may also be some cognitive dissonance. Aside from sociopathic and psychopathic individuals, most people don’t want to believe they’re doing something fundamentally wrong or evil: they may want to believe those individuals who claim that it’s not going to be as bad as the scientists are saying. In other cases it’s almost ideological, it’s no longer a matter of logically looking at the scientific evidence, they see (opposition to) climate change as just another part of their cultural and ideological identity, like their stance on gun control or healthcare. In the US, belief in climate change is about as good a predictor of party affiliation as anything in this country…part of the explanation is changes in our (US) media environment; it’s now possible to isolate yourself in a bubble of self-reinforcing sources of disinformation. A study found that people who habitually watch Fox News are actually less informed.  The article title was Watching Fox News makes you dumber! In US politics, you don’t need to win the argument, you just need to divide the public.

JG: Ireland doesn’t have the US-style ideological chasm, but instead we have a media that is tremendously uninterested and uninformed. Our leading climate scientist, Prof John Sweeney had to actually boycott a recent TV programme, on the grounds that this type of ‘debate’ (giving oxygen to known climate deniers) is feeding the problem – you’ve experienced this?

MM: Sometimes, if you don’t participate, the fear is that people are only going to hear from the voices of   disinformation but if we allow that sort of ‘false balance’ approach, it does a disservice to the public. If you as a scientist share the stage with an industry-funded denier, you are implicitly telling the audience that these are two equally credible voices – and they’re not. I’m sympathetic to the view that John Sweeney expressed about the fallacy of false balance. It’s like an astronomer getting into a debate with the president of the Flat Earth Society over the latest stellar observations.

JG: Conventional scientists tend to ‘stay out of the fight’ and can be critical of those who do engage. What shaped your decision to get into the fight?

MM: As a young scientist at the University of Virginia, I very much shared the viewpoint described, that somehow we scientists have to preserve our scientific purity, yet if you look back at a scientist like Einstein, he played a very profound role in the political discussion (on developing nuclear weapons). This is a different sort of threat, a threat the whole world is being subjected to by human-caused climate change, but an even greater existential threat to civilisation.

JG: You have a young daughter, as I do. is this where climate science for you becomes personal?

MM: Yes it does. To me, this is a matter of intergenerational ethics, making sure we do not make decisions today that guarantee the fundamental degradation of this planet for our children and grandchildren. At no time before, in my view, have humans been in a position to impact the entire planetary environment including the composition of our atmosphere. With great power comes great responsibility, and we have a responsibility to make sure that we don’t screw it up.

We can look to the past for some cautious optimism. We were in a similar situation regarding ozone depletion and acid rain. This problem (global warming) is larger by many magnitudes. Fossil fuels currently underlie the global economy – Exxon Mobil is the wealthiest company that has ever existed. With that wealth comes a great opportunity to influence, some would say, to buy off, politicians;  advertise misleadingly; and fund front groups to poison the debate over climate change. Yet maybe we’re not that far from the point where we will have the necessary good faith debate about what to do about this problem.

JG: The IPCC’s AR5 report seemed to give some weight to the idea of there being some kind of pause or slowdown in the rate of warming. This was pounced on by those wanted to portray that as a ‘stepping back’.

MM: There’s no pause in global warming. Nothing that’s happened in the last 10 years fundamentally changes our understanding of global warming. The IPCC did not change their forecasts of projected warming. If anything, the IPCC is projecting even more warming. Some of the impacts of climate change are unfolding faster than the climate models say they should be unfolding – disappearance of Arctic ice is outrunning the model predictions, leading to even more warming (albedo effect). Recent articles in leading science journals are arguing that the climate models that project more warming may be the closest to reality. We’re already losing more than a trillion dollars a year from extreme climate-related events – around 1% of our global productivity.  It’s projected to cost far more in the future, but there’s also the threat to human health, to food security, water security, national security. Tobacco is a good analogy, where the science was in decades earlier, and there was a huge cost in human lives for not having acted earlier.

JG: Journalists have (largely) failed to grasp climate change; is that largely because science is so complex for non-scientists and so easy to game?

MM: It’s much more difficult to inform than to confuse. There’s asymmetrical warfare between us scientists and good-faith communicators trying to inform the public discourse, and those looking to pollute it.  Deniers don’t even have to be internally consistent. And that assumes a level playing field, which of course we don’t even have here.

You often see the framing crafted to prey on the hurt and the personally disaffected. I was attacked on a pro-gun website recently by an energy-funded writer arguing that these evil climate scientists want to somehow take away your guns!

JG: What does your line, “If you see something, say something” mean?

MM: It’s a motto from our Department of Homeland Security, if you see something strange or a threat, it’s your duty to report it. We scientists are also citizens and appreciate more than anyone the particular threat of human-caused climate change. We have a responsibility to report this threat that we see.

JG: Common sense tells us that smoking 40 cigarettes a day for 30 years is probably going to harm our health; also that dumping 35 billion tons of CO2 into a finite atmosphere must have an effect. Do you think it’s up to those who disagree to prove their case?

MM: I like the way you frame the question. It gets at the issue of what we call the null hypothesis. We may have arrived at a point where every meteorological event is operating in a different environment. We’ve fundamentally warmed the atmosphere. The default expectation is that the atmosphere is different to the way it was 100 years ago.

 

The full version of this interview is on ThinkOrSwim.ie.

 

 

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  • Leo Morgan

    Al Gore told us the North Pole would be melted by 2010. When that didn’t look like hapoening he told us it would be melted by 2013. That didn’t happen either. Australia’s ‘thousand year drought’ lasted seven years, our dams which would never be full again overflowed from floodwater, and our multi-billion dollar water desalination plants are mothballed without ever having sold a litre of water. ‘Polar amplification’ was supposed to melt the ice around the Poles but the Antarctic has record sea ice levels.
    Expensive biofuels were supposed to reduce carbon dioxide, but while we fed food to cars instead of starving people, we produced more carbon dioxide than if governments had done nothing. Instead of acting as a pr flack for Mann and his fossil fuel conspiracy theories, why not act as a journalist and investigate why and how he and his comrades got things so badly wrong?

  • Pingback: Top Climate Change Alarmist Michael Mann: Global Warming An “Even Greater Existential Threat To Civilization” Than Nuclear Weapons… | Weasel Zippers

  • Michael Harris

    I must agree 100% with Leo Morgan’s comment. Michael Mann is a figure of utter laughter. He has recently taken to court Mark Steyn, you see it costs Mann nothing in terms of revenue as he has sugar daddies on the left, including his lawyer. The best part is usually because of the massive array of green forces that amass on people like Mark Steyn they usually back off. However Steyn is fighting, and the main battle ground will be the Hockey Stick. This has literally been discredited time and again, as having sloppy methods, the inclusion of bad data which is given huge weighting in order to get that shape graph. Science is about sharing data with peers to replicate results, it is the lifeblood of science, yet Mann refuses to share his data. That tells us much. He will lose this court battle and when he does his shame will be on global TV. As Leo says, why not actually investigate rather than act as a PR agent? Why not look at he dozens or so dire predictions that have already passed, and if you ask Mann now what the tipping point is he will tell you 2036, a date plucked out of the air based on no science. Many predict a cooling period fast approaching down to the suns lack of activity. Finally, 750 million years ago, Australia was on the equator. This is known because of deposits of a very special type of rock. What’s special about this rock is that it is only generated by Glaciers. 750 million years ago, at the equator there were glaciers, and how much Co2 was in the atmosphere? 300,000 parts per million, today it is 400 ppm. Co2 IS NOT A CLIMATE DRIVER!!

  • Peter Miller

    Wow, your interviewer really got stitched up my Mann.

    It is difficult to know where to start, but let’s start with Mann’s consistent refusal to show the data and code for his papers and remember none of his stuff has any strategic or commercial value. Why? There can only be one reason.

    The Hockey Stick and its supposed methodology have become such an embarrassment to the Climate Establishment that is now almost never mentioned.

    I can never understand the term denier. What are we denying? We agree the world has warmed up over the past 150 years, probably by around 0.8 degrees C, in three similar circa 35 year periods, two of which occurred before man could possibly have been the cause. We are cautious about the actual amount, because the pre-satellite era land based statistics have been so tampered with (especially those of GISS) that it is hard to know how factual they are any more.

    Man has undoubtedly changed the world’s climate through agriculture, irrigation, city building and the burning of fossil fuels, so yes there has been climate change. Ask any geologist and they will confirm climate change is the norm, especially now in the Pleistocene Era, which began 2.65 million years ago. We are now approaching the end of the Holocene inter-glacial period, which typically last 10-15,000 years and occur every circa 120,000 years. Natural climate cycles are a heresy to people like Mann, who repeatedly tried to prove the Medieval Warm Period did not exist, or was just a local phenomenon.

    The reason Mann, and his ilk, refuse to publicly debate climate sceptics is very simple: because they know their ‘science’ will get sliced and diced and that of course is something they must never allow to happen, hence his utterly fatuous excuse, which does not stand even one moment’s analysis. It all boils down to being a case of actual observations versus biased, highly inaccurate climate models; the Climate Establishment stands behind the latter.

    The concept of fossil fuel companies funding sceptic organisations is as demonstrably false, as it is ridiculous. Fossil fuel companies annually give hundreds of millions of dollars to Climate Establishment organisations, while climate sceptic ones are starved of funds and survive on thousands of small donations from individuals, who want simply nothing more than climate science to become honest, which means:

    1. Always publish all code and all original data.
    2. Where data has been ‘adjusted’, always record the date and the reason why.
    3. Do not let political appointees and activist organisations write the conclusion (I repeat, the conclusion) of weighty documents like those the IPCC produce.
    4. If you are not prepared to publicly debate the science and the findings in your papers, then it should be assumed you have something to hide.
    5. Be prepared to review the geological record, which shows no record of temperature change due to changes in carbon dioxide levels. In fact the exact opposite is true: changes in carbon dioxide levels always follow changes in temperature by around 800 years.
    6. Do not hide papers, funded by the taxpayer, behind paywalls.

    It is now almost 18 years since the Earth’s temperature flattened out and not one computer model predicted this. This so called ‘pause’ is an extreme embarrassment to the Climate Establishment and huge efforts are being expended on trying to explain it away.

    The only possible thing, which might suggest unusual global warming, is the recent decline in the extent of the summer Arctic ice sheet. This reversed dramatically last year and the previous retreat possibly has more to do with changes in local ocean salinity levels and surface soot than CO2. But then, of course, there is that hugely embarrassing fact that the Antarctic ice sheet just keeps on getting bigger, and a new record, every year.

    Also, do not believe a word about CO2 acidifying the oceans, for at the current rate of absorption, CO2 levels will rise by approximately one part per million over the next century. The maths to calculate this are very simple.

    And finally, when you hear a left wing, populist, politician, without any scientific credentials whatsoever, tell you, “The science is settled,” then you should know you are being had.

  • NikFromNYC

    Climate “science”…BUSTED!

    http://s6.postimg.org/jb6qe15rl/Marcott_2013_Eye_Candy.jpg

    Jim Hansen’s right hand man at NASA, protests the “denier” meme:

    http://tinypic.com/r/2lsehp2/5

  • http://none Bernard

    Steyn for an inside the distance win over Mann

  • http://alphaisassumed.wordpress.com Martel

    ‘If you as a scientist share the stage with an industry-funded denier, you are implicitly telling the audience that these are two equally credible voices – and they’re not’

    This exemplifies the leftist tendency to shut down debate, not only on the greenhouse effect/global warming/climate change/climate disruption, but on EVERY issue. Frame yourself as the obvious exemplar of Truth and anyone who disagrees with you is either a Neanderthal or a craven greedy bastard.

    Mann compares himself debating any denier as akin to an astronomer debating the head of the Flat Earth Society. Were that the case, HE WOULD HAVE NOTHING TO FEAR from debating them. A brilliant scientist would WANT the other (evil and/or stupid) side to make its case so that he could effectively and rationally refute it.

    But that’s not Mann. Were his science nearly as settled as he claims, he’d welcome the opportunity to settle it through open debate and discussion. Instead, SHUT UP has become his rallying cry as he tries to sue his critics into oblivion. He attempts to frame himself as a man of the purest motives whose objective analysis is so far above discussion that to even question his wisdom marks one as pure evil that must be stamped out. He defends supposedly purely rational claims in favor of science using the rhetorical techniques of a petulant six year-old.

    Which just makes me think he is one. I’ve no problem defending my views agains critics because I relish the chance to best them in debate. Mann just wants to muzzle you, which is one of the best reasons to believe he’s full of it.

  • The Mighty Quinn

    “…but (Mann) was exonerated of all alleged wrongdoing by several independent investigations.”

    This statement is as false has “Piltdown” Mann’s hockey stick.

  • Aokoi

    What a ridiculous and fawning puff-piece. The commentators above have said it better than I could; Mann’s career is based on the gullibility of true-believers like John Gibbons. Mr. Gibbons, if you really want to hold yourself out as a journalist, investigate Mann’s claims, starting with the roadmap your commentators have laid out above. If what you find supports Mann, by all means, report it. You’re going to find out that Mann’s been untruthful all along; let’s see if you can admit it.

  • Todd

    This story has been up for over a day, and mine is only the 7th comment? Obviously Mann decided to grant this interview knowing that no one would actually read it.

    Hey Mann, if you’re truly interested in clearing the cloud of suspicion surrounding your work, defend it out in the open, and in a forum people actually frequent (Sorry “The Village”. Never heard of you. But, in all fairness, maybe your readership actually amounts to more than is indicated by the quantity of comments here). And stop trying to delay the discovery in your lawsuit against Steyn.

    Oh and by the way Gibbons, if your interested in being considered a journalist by anyone other than your mother, stop publishing such easily disprovable stuff like, “…but was exonerated of all alleged wrongdoing by several independent investigations.” (http://climateaudit.org/2014/05/09/mann-misrepresents-the-epa-part-1/)

    I mean if you’re going to act as Mann’s transcription service, at least make him pay you for it.

  • Fred Z

    Todd, I would far rather Mann defended himself in a forum where he was forced to tell the truth and could be severely cross examined by clever and well informed adversaries.

    Oh wait, he will soon be doing just that when Steyn gets him into a courtroom.

  • Pingback: Update on Mann vs Steyn et al

  • DarthProphet

    What a wretched pile of rubbish! People like Mann do not surprise me delusional types have a self aggrandizing belief in themselves. What surprises me when it comes to so called journalist is just how flat out stupid they are. Allow me to put this into context. I have a saying “it’s not that people are stupid it’s just that they don’t suspect: Suspecting if a journalist first job so I’m left with having to believe that journalist mostly today are just stupid!

    So why would I say such a thing, here’s why basic math if H2o is the most dominate GHG being nearly 25% of the earths atmosphere as well as having 1 to the 10th greenhouse effect as co2 which is only .00000395% of the earth atmosphere it doesn’t take to much logic from there to understand that c02 is not a player in the greenhouse effect!

    I could add what little we do know about this idiot models mann and others use to predict future temperatures have a huge flaw, they accelerate the GHG effect of a c02 molecule, in simple layman’s terms their models increase the GHG effect of a single c02 molecule changing it’s physical properties magically. That by it’s self is a fraud.