Tag Archives: Michael Mann

The “Debate” Is Over. Isn’t It?

What an amazing weekend! Barbara, Peter and I had the privilege of hosting more than forty students from Christian colleges who traveled to New York for the People’s Climate March. On Sunday, we joined with other Christians for a morning prayer service in Central Park, and then squeezed in with an estimated 311,000 people in what is hands-down the biggest climate demonstration ever.

We had our choice of groupings on the march. Leading the way were those already affected by climate disruption, followed by students, youth and elders. Fifteen blocks back stood those working for solutions, such as renewable energy and environmental justice advocates.  Another ten blocks and the scientists and faith groups stood shoulder to shoulder. And in the rear was an assortment of cities, states and countries from virtually everywhere.

We chose the Science and Faith section. There we were, beneath an enormous blackboard prepared by scientists declaring “The ‘Debate’ is Over!” Its chalk markings depicted the trends in atmospheric CO2 concentrations over the last 400,000 years, with the unprecedented and terrifying spike in the last half-century; a pie-chart of the 97% of climate scientists who agree on the consensus science of manmade global warming; a line-graph showing the precipitous decline in Arctic sea ice cover; and the Keeling Curve demonstrating the inexorable growth in greenhouse gases every single year. Around us stood technicians in white lab coats, research scientists of every stripe, Christian college students, university professors, grandmothers demanding climate action, and young parents pushing strollers, including our own kids Lindsey and Brad, with our beautiful granddaughters.

In the "Science & Faith" Section of the People's Climate March on Sunday

In the “Science & Faith” Section of the People’s Climate March on Sunday

The debate is over. Right?

One scientist carried a sign depicting several politicians with their now-infamous escape clause: “I am not a scientist.” On the flip side, his own declaration: “I AM a scientist!”

Eleven-thirty arrived, and we expected the march to begin. But there we stood. One hour. Two hours. Finally, at 2:00, our cohort began to slowly inch forward. It seems the entire protest route was crammed full, with at least double the expected turnout.

And so, by the time we made it down to 42nd Street, it was suppertime, our feet were blistered and our joints aching. Eventually, we yielded to temptation, ducked underneath the police cordon, and slipped into a Starbucks for some sustenance.

Picture2And there, on the Starbucks news rack, was Rupert Murdoch’s weekend Wall Street Journal, declaring on the front page: “Climate Science Is Not Settled.”

Ugh. Oh, please.

We were exhausted, and put off reading it for the following day. But now that I have, I’m surprised to find that the author admitted much that’s not remotely hinted at in the headline, and contradicted most of what we’ve heard on the climate-denial news outlets. The climate IS changing. The world IS getting hotter. CO2 IS an earth-warming gas. Fossil-fuel burning IS contributing to the problem. There is NO hoax.

So why, then, is “the science not settled?”

Well, because projections for the future cover a wide range of outcomes, the article says. Is this true? Well, yes. But the range runs from really awful to downright apocalyptic. Of course, the WSJ doesn’t mention this.

Giant climate science "blackboard" at the People's Climate March

Giant climate science “blackboard” at the People’s Climate March

Anything else? Sure, but the Journal here reverts to silliness. There’s the implication that scientific uncertainty has been covered up. That’s simply false. There’s the idea that while humans are in fact changing the climate, it’s probably no more influential than natural variation. In fact, almost all the heating of the last several decades can be only explained by human influence. There’s the claim that the UN IPCC report should have focused on all the uncertainties that exist, rather than the facts that have been uncovered by research. That’s also silly. And of course, there’s the “pause” — the last ten years in which global surface temperatures have stayed right around the record high, rather than continuing to shoot higher and higher still. That’s a fact, which means something to you mainly if you ignore heating of the deep oceans, or or take comfort in a decade of merely-record surface heat while CO2 concentrations have jumped from 380 to 401 parts per million — faster than any decade known to science.

Rather than attempting to debunk the WSJ “lets-do-nothing” article myself, let me recommend a succinct analysis written for Climate Science Watch. In it, Penn State’s Dr. Michael Mann sums up his response to the WSJ’s weekend bomb this way:

“It is the RATE of warming that presents such risk to human civilization and our environment. There is no doubt that there were geological periods that were warmer than today due to long-term changes in greenhouse gas concentrations driven by natural factors like plate tectonics. But consider the early Cretaceous 100 million years ago when CO2 concentrations were even higher than today, and there were dinosaurs roaming the ice-free poles. Over the last 100 million years, nature slowly buried all of that additional CO2 beneath Earth’s surface in the form of fossil fuels. We are now unburying that carbon a *MILLION* times faster than it was buried, leading to unprecedented rates of increase in greenhouse concentrations and resulting climate changes.

“To claim that this is just part of a natural cycle is to be either deeply naive or disingenuous.”

Whatever the facts may be, the WSJ has done its damage. In the climate debate, just like the tobacco debate of an earlier generation, you don’t need to win anything. You only need to be able to suggest that there’s enough doubt so that it’s okay to do nothing, while the “debate” rages on. The “merchants of doubt” proved this over decades, while tobacco cancer deaths piled up.

And so this morning, I was not remotely surprised to receive links to the WSJ article from perfectly intelligent friends of mine not deeply engaged in the climate discussion. Hundreds of thousands of people taking to New York’s streets to demand climate action? But wait! The country’s biggest business journal says that the debate is not over! Maybe we can wait for a while longer, and continue to burn tobacco oil just like we’ve always done. Maybe? After all, there’s a debate…. Right?

During our prayer service before the march, the Christians gathered for worship in Central Park sang these beautiful words: “This is my Father’s world, and to my listening ears all nature sings….” I love that verse, but only now notice the adjective: Listening. Listening ears.

The Creation is speaking. It’s researchers are helping us to understand what it’s saying. We have ears. But are we listening?

Was That Huge Storm Caused by Climate Change?

“When a ball player doubles his home run output because of steroid use, we don’t have to prove that any single one of those home runs was caused by the steroids.” Dr. Michael Mann

During the last week, we’ve thought of little other than Typhoon Haiyan, the six million displaced people in the Philippines, and Yeb Sano, the Filipino delegate to the Warsaw climate talks whose fast has riveted the attention of people from all over the world. For us, the intensity of our focus has been augmented by our own decision to join the fast in solidarity with delegate Sano and with the millions suffering from the strongest cyclone ever to make landfall.  

The city of Tacloban after Haiyan

The city of Tacloban after Haiyan

But implicit in our reaction to this tragedy is the linkage between the horrible suffering from this record storm and the ever-thicker blanket of earth-warming gases that our species is pumping into the Earth’s atmosphere. In the face of this assumption, we’ve all heard scientists say that it’s almost impossible to link any single local weather event to global climate disruption. Aren’t we just ignoring the science, like climate deniers who pronounce the end of global warming with every winter blizzard?

Well, I don’t think we are, but I’ve had a difficult time figuring out how to frame the response.  Yesterday, however, I came across this short interview with leading climate scientist and Penn State professor Michael Mann. And he nailed it for non-scientists like me. The interviewer asked, in essence: In the wake of the largest hurricane ever to lay waste to the Earth’s surface, can we dare to say that this is the work of manmade climate change?

Here’s Dr. Mann’s response:

This is of course the question on everyone’s mind right now, in the wake of the extreme weather we have seen here in the U.S., and all around the world, over the past few years.

It’s really this simple: we predicted decades ago that we would see more frequent and intense heat waves, more widespread drought, more catastrophic flooding events, etc. And now that we are indeed seeing this come true, as we predicted would be the case if we continued to burn fossil fuels and elevate atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations, the burden is no longer on those arguing for a connection, but on those arguing for the lack of a connection. The assumption now has to be that the fundamental changes in the atmosphere that we have caused are modifying every weather event, because every weather event takes place in an atmosphere that is now about 1.5-degrees Fahrenheit warmer, and contains about 4 percent more storm-generating moisture.

With hurricanes and typhoons, we know that warmer oceans and more atmospheric moisture leads to potentially stronger and more devastating storms. With tornadoes, we know that a warmer, moister atmosphere leads to a more unstable atmosphere, with greater potential for severe thunderstorms and squall lines, one of the key ingredients for tornadoes.

Now, in both of these cases, there are uncertainties that have to do with certain details about the behavior of the jet stream, etc. in a warmer world. But having witnessed record tropical storms like Superstorm Sandy,  Typhoon Haiyan, and the unprecedented 2005 Atlantic hurricane season over the past decade, there is little doubt in my mind that we are witnessing the “loading” of the random weather dice, with double sixes coming up a whole lot more often than they ought to.

Yes, there are uncertainties when we start talking about individual events, but that really isn’t the point. When a baseball player suddenly doubles the number of home runs he has been hitting through his career or season, and he is discovered to have been taking steroids that season, we don’t have to—nor could we ever hope to—prove that any one of those record season home runs was caused by the steroids. It is the wrong question. The right question is, were the steroids responsible for a good number of those home runs collectively? And the answer is yes.

Too often we let the “confusionists” in the climate change debate wrongly frame this connection so as to blur the connection between climate change and extreme weather. It’s time that we start calling the out the false framing. The answer is, yes—the record heat, drought, devastating wildfires, coastal flooding events, etc. that we are seeing is almost certainly a result of human-caused global warming and climate change. And it will get much worse if we don’t do something to curtail our ever-escalating burning of fossil fuels.

Here at Beloved Planet, we’ve been encouraged at the outpouring of support from Christians reflected on social media on behalf of the victims of Typhoon Haiyan. But I would offer this caution: Sincere sympathy — even sympathy demonstrated by generosity — may mean little in the end, unless it is accompanied by action to reduce Earth-warming emissions.

So, yes, get out your credit card and click here to give. But then, click here to petition your government to end the injustice of unlimited, “free” carbon pollution.

Michael Mann is a professor at Penn State University, a founding member of the popular science blog Realclimate. His latest book is titled The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches from the Front Lines. He is active on Twitter @MichaelEMann.