Starr Forum: The Madhouse Effect

Starr Forum: The Madhouse Effect

to today’s MIT Starr Forum with Michael Mann, who will
be discussing his latest book The Madhouse Effect,
How Climate Change Denial Is Threatening Our Planet,
Destroying Our Politics, and Driving Us Crazy. Today’s event is
sponsored by the Center for International Studies. I’m Michelle English,
and I’m thrilled that you’re here for this
important conversation. Before we get started, I’d like
to mention that we have a Starr Forum next Thursday, March 14th
with Ambassador Michael McFaul on his latest book
Cold War and Hot Peace, an American Ambassador
in Putin’s Russia. Details for this
talk and others can be found outside in the foyer
and if you haven’t already and are interested,
please go ahead and sign up to be
on our email list. As per our typical format, we’ll
conclude the talk with a Q&A and for the Q&A I just
wanted to remind everyone to line up behind the mics and
to be prepared with only one question so we can get
everyone’s question answered. And immediately
following the Q&A, we will be doing a book
signing, which if you haven’t had a chance to
purchase Madhouse Effect yet, please purchase
the book over here. Thanks to MIT Press for coming
and selling books for us. It’s an honor to introduce
our speaker, Michael Mann. Professor Mann is a
distinguished professor of atmospheric science at Penn
State with joint appointments in the department of
geosciences and the earth and environmental and
Environmental Systems institute. He is also director of the
Penn State Earth System Science Center. He is author of more than
200 peer-reviewed and edited publications, numerous
op eds, and commentaries and four books, including Dire
Predictions, Understanding Climate Change, The Hockey
Stick and The Climate Wars, Dispatches From the Front
Lines, and The Tantrum That Saved the World. Please join me in
welcoming Michael Mann. MICHAEL MANN: Thank
you very much. My microphone working there? Great. Well, thanks again. It’s great to be back at MIT. I always enjoy my visits here. I’m going to be talking
about a book or a topic, the Madhouse Effect. Now, this is a book that we
published in the fall of 2016. And at the time, I was
criticized by some colleagues, because this is a book
about climate change denial. And many of my
colleagues said, you know, why are you talking
about climate change denial? We’re past that. We’ve won that
battle, and now it’s going to it’s going to be
about solutions and action. And of course, history had
something else in mind, because we elected
our first climate change denying president ever. And so we are certainly back in
the madhouse of climate change denial. In fact the title of the talk
is the MadHouse Effect Climate Denial in the Age of Trump. Well, let’s talk a little
bit about the science. In fact, let’s talk
about science itself, how does science work. That’s sort of the first
chapter of the book is about skepticism. Skepticism is a good
thing in science it’s the self-correcting
machinery that Carl Sagan
talked about that helps science stay on track,
on a course toward a better understanding of how the
world works, how nature works. And too often, we allow
those who are not skeptics– the wholesale rejection of
the overwhelming consensus of the world’s scientists
based on the flimsiest of arguments that don’t
hold up to the slightest bit of scrutiny,
that’s not skepticism. That’s contrarianism or outright
denial, denial of science. There’s a great
quote here attributed to the great Carl Sagan– “the fact that some
geniuses were laughed at does not imply that all who
are laughed at are geniuses.” You guys are at MIT, you
understand basic logic here. Those two things
aren’t equivalent. In fact, they
laughed at Columbus, they laughed at Fulton, they
laughed at the Wright brothers, but they also laughed
at Bozo the Clown. Many of you in the
audience are old enough like me to remember
Bozo the Clown. And for every
Galileo, every true, Galileo every paradigm breaking
scientist who revolutionizes our understanding of the
world and the universe, there are thousands
of Bozo’s the Clown. And in today’s world,
too often, they have access to a megaphone
that amplifies the most fringe of viewpoints
when it comes to issues like climate change. So denial of the basic
science, that’s not skepticism. What about the basics? We are about as certain about
climate change– in fact, there was an article just
published within the last week that shows that we’ve exceeded
the 5 sigma limit in terms of our confidence that humans
are changing the climate and warming the planet. And that’s about as high
a degree of confidence as anything in science. We’re as sure about
climate change as we are about the
theory of gravity. And I say that and I make
that analogy seriously, because there are
still uncertainties in the theory of gravity. There are still uncertainties. We haven’t unified
all the forces. We don’t have a
comprehensive quantum theory that incorporates gravitation. We’ve never measured
to graviton. It’s a huge uncertainty. And we can’t account
for a huge fraction of the mass in the universe. So there are uncertainties
some pretty big uncertainties in gravity. That doesn’t make it safe to
walk off a cliff, does it? And yet, there are those
who would have us walk off the metaphorical cliff of
not acting on climate change based on similar
levels of uncertainty. So why should we care? It’s not just about
polar bears and penguins. And I do care about
polar bears and penguins. I care about leaving
behind a world that has the beauty and
wonder of the world that I grew up on for my
daughter, her children and her grandchildren. But it’s not about way far
off things in the Arctic that we never see, that seem
distant in space and time. It’s about things
that are happening now like unprecedented
drought in California, the worst drought in
at least 1,200 years as far back as the
tree ring folks can go. Now I have some
colleagues who say, well, you know, maybe
it’s just a natural. Things come and go. Maybe this drought, this
unprecedented drought is part of the
natural variability of our atmosphere and our
climate, but it seems unlikely. We know that when you
warm up the soils, you evaporate more moisture. When you warm the Arctic,
as we’ll see later on, you can actually
change the jet stream in a way that diverts storms
to the north of California, denying it the rainfall
and the snowfall that it would normally get. So worst drought in at least
1,200 years in California, the worst drought in at
least 900 years, as far back as they can go, in Syria. The tree ring records
take them back 900 years. And the current drought
is unprecedented as far back as we can go. We have a president who
has said that we shouldn’t be diverted by sort
of unimportant issues like climate change. We need to focus on the
threats, the real threats, like international terrorism. Well, there’s a deep fallacy
and that sort of statement, because in fact, climate change
is what our national security community refers to as
a threat multiplier. It takes existing,
threats existing tensions, and it exacerbates them. This drought in Syria forced
rural farmers into the cities where they were competing
with the people who already lived there for
food and water in space. Increased competition for
resources leads to conflict. An atmosphere of conflict
provides a perfect breeding ground for terrorist
organizations looking to recruit people. And that was the context
in which ISIS arose. So in fact, in a very real
sense, the most pressing issues today in terms of
conflict and terrorism, there’s a linkage
there with the stresses created by human
caused climate change. Unprecedented wildfires, as I’ve
said, in California, the worst wildfires on record
over the past few years. The two worst wildfires
on record in fact– regardless of what
metric you’re using, area burned, the cost of
the damage, loss of life, each of those records has been
broken over the past few years in California. And in fact, there’s
been a threefold increase in the area of
wildfire in the Western US over the past few decades. Well, and our president of
course as you may remember dismissed that as the problem
is you are just not sweeping up the leaves, that’s the
underlying problem. And if we could just do a
better job raking leaves, then we could relieve
unprecedented wildfires in California. Of course, Tom Toles,
Tom Toles can never resist weighing in on the
politics of these things. Well, unprecedented
drought and wildfire. But at the same time, a warmer
atmosphere holds more moisture. So when you do get a rainfall
event, you get more of it. And this is something we expect,
and it’s not a contradiction. You get worse drought,
wildfire in the Western US, but the potential for
larger rainfall events, larger flooding events like we
saw this winter in California. When it does rain, you get more
of it in short periods of time. And indeed, we’ve seen
unprecedented super storms. Maria, this is the
face of climate change. Climate change is not a far off
distant threat up in the Arctic only impacting polar bears. It is impacting us now in terms
of increasingly destructive tropical storms and hurricanes. And I happen to say
that here in this room, I’m a little intimidated because
my good friend and colleague here Kerry Emanuel, who
is the world’s leading scientist in our understanding
of the relationship between climate
change and changing tropical storm and
hurricane characteristics– and there is a linkage there. There’s also a linkage
with the rainfall. As I said before, if you
warm up the atmosphere, it can hold more moisture. So it’s not a coincidence
that the two worst flooding events in history
the United States have happened over
the past two years, Hurricane Harvey,
unprecedented flooding event in Houston two years ago and
Hurricane Florence a year ago. These storms produce
more rainfall. So that’s the threat. That’s why climate
change is a problem. And yet, we haven’t acted
to the extent necessary, in part because
there has been a very organized, well-funded
effort to discredit and deny the science by vested
interests who understandably would like to see us
continue with our addiction to fossil fuels. They’re profiting greatly
from that addiction. And they don’t want
to see us move away towards renewable energy. And so we have been
dealing with decades of orchestrated denialism. And often, there is
sort of a progression. I call these the
stages of denial. The first stage is that
it’s not happening. How many people here have
heard the claim that there’s a pause in global warming? Raise your hand. Let’s talk about that,
pause in global warming. Well, let’s see. What did the data
actually show here? 2014 was the warmest
year on record until 2015, which was the
warmest year on record, until 2016, which was the
warmest year on record. The good news is that 2017 was
not the warmest year on record. It was only the
second warmest year. And 2018 was only
in the top five. So it’s a cooling trend. It’s a cooling trend,
the globe is cooling. The argument you hear is,
well, OK, it was very warm. We had a few warm
years in a row. But you know, there’s
natural variability. There’s natural variability
in the climate system. Maybe this is
natural variability. Well, my co-authors– and
frogs understand that. Stove top temperatures
do change naturally. They could it could
be a natural cycle. They should just wait
it out, they’ll be fine. Well, we actually did an
analysis a couple of years ago. We estimated the
likelihood that we would see three
consecutive record breaking years like 2014, 2015,
2016, if it were just the natural variability
of the climate system. And we used a combination
of climate models and actual climate observations
to sort of estimate those probabilities. And you can use
control simulations where you’re not
increasing the greenhouse effect and other experiments
where you’re increasing greenhouse gas concentrations
to see how likely that would happen, how likely
that would be, both with and without
the effect of human caused planetary warming. Now, I would read you
the abstract of our paper and talk about the
p-values in our analysis. But I think probably
the easiest thing to do is to just put up the headline
of this discover article that summarized our findings
in terms of the likelihood of that record warm streak– “A Snowball’s Chance in
Hell That This Was Natural.” It’s a pretty good technical
summary of our findings. And the snowball
is a good analogy, because we do, after
all, have a senator who believes that if you introduce
a snowball on the Senate floor, that somehow disproves 200 years
of basic physics and chemistry and science. Well, it’s not natural. We know it’s not natural. We can’t explain the
warming that we’ve seen from natural variability. And another version
of this is, OK, well but maybe the
impact, sea level rise. It could be rock
stumbling into the ocean. You can’t rule that out. You have to consider every
hypothesis in science, you really do. You have to be open minded. Moe Brooks actually
represents the district that Huntsville, Alabama is in. I actually gave a talk
there a few months ago shortly after he
had made that statement. And I did try to
abuse the people in his district of the notion
that this is due to rocks falling into the ocean. It’s not. But The Wall Street
Journal shortly thereafter ran an editorial, “The Sea
is Rising, but Not Because of Climate Change–” an op ed
rather by Fred Singer, climate change, yes, a name that evokes
a strong response sometimes, “The Sea is Rising, Not
Because of Climate Change.” Now we wrote a letter to the
editor in response to that. And I wanted the title to
be that “Objects Are Falling but It’s Not Due to Gravity,”
“Continents Are Moving, but It’s Not Due to
Plate Tectonics,” because that’s
about as reasonable as “The Sea is Rising, not
Because of Climate Change.” Well, they did publish
a letter of response. And I know that at least one
person other than my mother read the letter to the
editor, because they were sitting next to me on a
flight to Cleveland that day. This person was actually
reading our letter. Well, continuing
with sea level rise, well, maybe it’s
self-correcting. Maybe the whole problem
is self-correcting, right? If sea levels rise
enough to snuff out all of the coal-fired
power plants, it’s a self-correcting process. After a couple hundred
feet of sea level rise, we should be fine. Well, no, it’s not
self-correcting in a meaningful sense. It’s not a good thing, that’s
the next line of argument. OK, well, maybe
it’s a good thing. And I know what you’re
thinking, it’s like, OK. No serious politician would try
to argue that global warming is a good thing, right? I mean, it’s obvious. We’ve seen these unprecedented
extreme weather events, devastating wildfires and
super storms, droughts and heat waves.” no serious politician
would actually try to say that global
warming is a good thing. Well, no current
politician, Scott Pruitt is no longer our
EPA administrator. He was asked to resign
some months ago. Don’t shed any tears for him. He very quickly found an
cushy job in the coal industry as soon as he left. Oh, right, well, melting
ice sheets lift all boats. It’s a good thing. Unprecedented super storms
and wildfires and heat waves, they’re a good thing. Wildfires in the Arctic? Nothing to see there, folks. Unprecedented floods all
around the northern hemisphere this past summer, floods,
heat waves, all time records shattered. And we talked just a
little science here. So some of our own
research has been looking at these unprecedented
weather extremes, because some of it
you can understand. Some of it’s pretty simple. As I said, you warm
up the atmosphere, it can hold more moisture. So you’re going to get
bigger rainfall events. You warm up the
ground, it’s going to evaporate more moisture,
you get worse drought. You warm up the
planet, you’re going to shift the bell curve over. And so you get more of those
extreme events in the far right tail of the bell curve. You see a large increase in
the frequency and intensity of heat waves. That’s all pretty
easy to understand. But there’s something else
that’s been going on here. And the climate models don’t
do a good job capturing this. If you look at the most
devastating extreme summer weather events that we’ve
experienced over the past two decades, what
they’ve had in common is a very unusual
pattern to the jet stream where you get very
large amplitude waves– we call these raspy waves
or planetary waves– very large amplitude waves
in the atmosphere that remain stationary. They sit in the same place. And so you’ve got a
deep high pressure. It’s heat and dryness, drought
baking the ground day after day in the Western US, or
you get this trough back East, which gives you
unprecedented rainfall, like we saw in State College. As California was baking
in those wildfires we’re breaking out, much
of the East Coast was experiencing
unprecedented rainfall. Quabbin Reservoir not
far from where I grew up in Western Massachusetts,
all time highest level ever observed. That’s because this trough was
sitting over the Eastern US day after day for a large
part of the summer. And our own work has shown
that, believe it or not, the way-off distant
warming of the Arctic could seem so remote
maybe changing the northern hemisphere
jet stream in a way that favors these very high
amplitude stationary wave patterns that give you these
unprecedented weather extremes. And that’s not captured
well in the climate models. If you look at the
key mathematical term in the equation that
describes this behavior, the average error in that term
in current generation climate models, like those used in
the most recent IPCC report, is over 300%. So the models can’t be capturing
this mechanism properly, not at the resolution
that they’re typically run in these climate
change experiments. And sometimes, there’s
surprises that in store. We don’t really think
about it until we take a retrospective look at things. So our schools were closed. They had to renovate the
schools in our town this summer. There was the danger
that school was going to be starting
late this fall because of these expensive renovations
because of a huge mold outbreak due to, again,
this unprecedented rainfall and wetness. Climate change is now impacting
us in all sorts of ways that we don’t
necessarily even realize. The impacts are
no longer subtle. We’re seeing them play out
on our television screens in our newspaper headlines
and our social media feeds and in our own hometowns. We’re already seeing profound
impacts of climate change in our daily lives. And that’s just one example. And that same factor
that I talked about– as the jet stream
potentially slows down, we think that that
might be playing a role in some of these cold
air outbreaks, the polar vortex. You’ve heard about the breakdown
of the polar vortex, which allows these cold arctic air
mass masses to just drift down into lower latitudes. We think that climate
change might actually be playing a role
there by weakening the northern hemisphere stream,
weakening the polar vortex so that those arctic air
masses can sort of slip down into lower latitudes. That science is still being
debated among scientists, but there’s a potential
linkage there. And so it’s somewhat ironic
when our president, for example, says that these cold conditions
disprove climate change. They might actually
be symptomatic of it. And let’s put it in
perspective, because we didn’t see record breaking cold
despite what you might think. Those of us who remember
the 1970s realize that what we think about
today as record cold is really little more
than old fashioned cold, the sort of cold that
used to be very common. The planet has warmed so
much that people, millennials and folks are younger
than that, don’t have within the
range of experience those sorts of conditions. But they’re not unprecedented. It’s true that during January
during that cold air outbreak, there were two records
broken, all time cold records broken in the
US for two towns in Illinois in the month of January. Those were the only
two cold records set around the
entire globe in 2019. In that same month, there were
35 all time records for warmth that were broken in the southern
hemisphere where it was summer, in Australia, South
America, and South Africa. That’s a ratio of
35:2 warm to cold. In an unchanging climate,
that ratio should be 1:1, but it was 35:2. So if you want to talk
about extreme temperatures, extreme temperatures
we saw in January are an overwhelming
affirmation of what we expect to see in a warming planet. And warmer atmosphere
holds more moisture. In Boston in the winter,
that precipitation is going to typically be snow. But if the Atlantic
Ocean is warmer, there’s more
moisture in the air. And if the Atlantic is warmer
and you have a cold arctic air outbreak, you’re going to have
a clashing of very cold and warm masses of air that are going
to lead to intense storms, like nor’easters. And there’s some evidence that
we are likely to see stronger nor’easters in a
warming climate. And those nor’easters are going
to have warmer oceans to feed off of, giving us larger
amounts of snowfall. The season of snow cover gets
is getting shorter and shorter, but individual snowfall
events are actually likely to get greater
under these conditions. And these record nor’easters
with record snowfalls that we’ve seen in Boston and
Washington DC along the US east coast if anything are an
affirmation of the science , not a contradiction
to the science. And then the final
stage of denial is, well, it’s too late to do
anything about this anyway. We spent so long
debating the science. And I’m sorry we
ran out of time. Fortunately, that’s not true. In fact, I would argue that
this is as dangerous today as outright denial. The despair and
defeatism that comes out of this unjustified view among
some that it’s too late to act is very disabling and
arguably can lead us down the very same
path of inaction as outright denial of
the science itself. So we have to recognize that
it’s not too late to act. There is still agency. If we reduce our
carbon emissions now, we get less warming. And every additional half
a degree less warming means a whole lot less
bad things happen. So there is agency
to what we do. Now we published an
article a couple of years ago showing that if
we’re to avert what many scientists would describe
as truly dangerous levels of warming of the planet
2 degrees Celsius, some would argue that even
1 and 1/2 degrees Celsius. If you live in Puerto
Rico, you would argue that we’re already there. If you live in California, you’d
argue dangerous climate change has already arrived. If you’re a low lying
island nation that’s already facing inundation by rising
seas and tropical storms, dangerous climate change
has already arrived. It’s a matter of extent. It’s a matter of how bad
we’re willing to let it get. And if we want to prevent
warming of 2 degrees Celsius 3 and 1/2 Fahrenheit
or more, which is when a lot of the worst
sort of impacts really set in, we have to act dramatically. The talking point
you’ve heard recently, in fact, Alexandria
Ocasio Cortez was mocked for claiming
that there’s only 12 years left to act on this problem. But in fact, that
statement was based on a finding in the most recent
report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate
Change, the IPCC, that shows that if we
want to limit warming to less than a
degree and a half, we have to decrease our carbon
emissions now by about 10% a year for the
next 10 to 12 years to keep carbon dioxide
levels below what will give us more than or in
this case 1 and 1/2 degrees warming. That percentage would
have been much smaller if we had acted a decade ago. If we had acted two
decades ago when we already knew we had a problem, in
terms of the emissions the way we have to bring them
down in the years ahead, we’d be going down a bunny
slope, a sort of ski slope that I can ski. Instead, we now have to go
down the sort of ski slope that only my wife and
13-year-old daughter can ski, the black
double diamond slope. That’s what two
decades of inaction has bought us, a trip down
a much more perilous, much steeper decline in
carbon emissions if we are to avert warming the
planet beyond dangerous levels. So there’s been this
assault on climate science. And you know just like
the last Japanese soldier who was found a few years ago
still fighting World War 2, as long as there are
fossil fuels to burn, there will still be people
denying that climate change is a problem. But they will become
increasingly irrelevant. We will move on, but
we’re not there yet. We have a president who has
dismissed climate change as a hoax perpetrated
by the Chinese, who thinks that a couple of cold
days in the middle of winter disproves 200 years
of radiative physics. We’re still in the madhouse. And it’s interesting,
it’s instructive. I’ve had some experiences being
in the crosshairs of climate change denialists because of
the so-called hockey stick curve that my colleagues and I
published two decades ago, which has become sort of an icon
in the climate change debate, because it tells a simple story. You don’t need to understand
the somewhat complex physics of Earth’s climate system to
understand with this curve is telling us, that there’s
something unprecedented taking place with the
warming that we’ve seen over the past
century and a half and probably has to do with us. And because of that, as a
physics and applied math double major at UC Berkeley, went
off to Yale University to study theoretical physics,
ended up doing climate science, but I didn’t think I was
on a career trajectory that would place me at the
center of the most contentious societal
debate that we’ve ever had. But ultimately, when we
published the hockey stick, whether I liked it
or not, I was now at the center of that
fractious debate. And I’ve ultimately grown
to embrace the opportunity that that’s given me to inform
this very important discussion about what’s arguably
the greatest challenge we face as a civilization. But I’ve experienced some– you know you’re not supposed
to laugh at this point. I haven’t even
told the story yet. So back in 2009, who here has
heard of so-called Climategate? Yeah, just about everybody. All these stolen emails,
including emails of mine that remarkably– sort of interesting, because
Russia had some role here, as did Saudi Arabia,
Wikileaks, Julian Assange, stolen emails used to thwart
an important political event. You might think I was talking
about the last presidential election. But no, I’m talking
about the affair that came to be known
as Climategate back in 2009, where emails between
climate scientists were stolen and put out in
the public domain. Words and phrases were
cherry-picked to try to make it sound like scientists
were fudging the data, cooking the books. At the time, Sarah Palin wrote
an op ed in The Washington Post where she claimed
that the emails reveal that leading climate experts
deliberately destroyed records, manipulated data to hide the
decline in global temperatures. Sounds terrible,
unless you realize that what the scientists
were actually talking about were bad tree ring data
that they didn’t want to use in a graph
they were preparing because it would be misleading. And they had published
an article the year before in the journal Nature
describing why these tree ring data are bad after 1960 or so. It’s called the
divergence problem. They no longer properly
track temperatures. And so instead, they wanted to
show the correct temperatures from the instrumental
record that’s available. And I explained that in
some of the other things that Sarah Palin got
wrong in my own op ed in The Washington Post that
appeared nine days later. And it seems to have had an
effect on Sarah Palin herself. These are her words. She said “a lot of those
emails obviously weren’t meant for public consumption.” She admitted that. And she agreed that they
could be misinterpreted if taken out of context. Of course those
were her own emails that had been released
in response to a Freedom of Information Act request. And then there’s the tale of
James Inhofe, the senator who thinks that a snowball disproves
200 years of radiative physics, who felt that there were
17 scientists who should be prosecuted for perpetrating the
hoax of human-caused climate change as revealed by
these stolen emails. And I’m proud to say that
I was among those 17, along with Susan Solomon,
some you may know, a leading climate scientists
here at MIT, recipient of the Presidential
Medal of Science– the highest honor afforded
a scientist in this country. She was on that list as well. Well, based on these stolen
emails, Ken Cuccinelli– if you know on a
first name basis, his nickname is the Cooch,
they call him the Cooch– Tea Party Republican,
attorney general of Virginia wanted to prosecute me and
the University of Virginia based on the fact that
we were perpetrating the hoax of climate change
as revealed by these stolen emails. In fact, this was
one of his first acts as attorney general of Virginia. Well, The Washington Post
weighed in on this five times, denouncing Ken Cuccinelli’s
witch hunt against me and the University of Virginia. Tom toles weighed in on
this not once, but twice. I would of course
later write a book with him, which is the book
I’m talking about here, The Madhouse Effect. And I have to
admit, I don’t mind being compared to Galileo here. That comparison, that’s OK. I’ve been called
worse, trust me. So it turns out that the case
was rejected by the lower court based on a technicality. In his 40 page
filing to the court, he had failed to provide
evidence of wrongdoing on my part. So it was thrown out. Of course, he appealed,
appealed to the state supreme court, which
ultimately rejected the case with prejudice, meaning
they really never want to see an attorney
general come back to the court with
something like this again. So is a battle was won. He ran for governor of Virginia
in the next gubernatorial election. When I was asked if I would
be willing to campaign for his opponent,
I was not going to decline that opportunity,
because I understood the threat that Ken Cuccinelli represented
to the great commonwealth of Virginia, a state that
I have great affection for. And so I campaigned
actively for him. Terry McAuliffe was victorious. Cuccinelli lost. And you guys can Google
this, I’m not making this up, I promise. He went off. His next venture was
to help run an oyster farm on an island,
Tangier Island, an island in the
Chesapeake Bay that is succumbing to the effects
of global sea level rise. You can’t make this stuff. You can’t make it up. Well, it didn’t end there. Joe Barton– in fact, this
is a few years earlier. 2005 was the case
of Joe Barton who was the chair of House
Energy and Commerce Committee who– this may start
to sound familiar– wanted to subpoena
all of my emails to try to discredit the
hockey stick, to discredit me. And he was denounced by our
leading science organizations, the American Meteorological
Society, AAAS, the AGU, The journal Nature,
denouncing this witch hunt, again, against a
scientist whose findings might be inconvenient to
the powerful fossil fuel interests who fund Joe
Barton’s campaigns. It might not be
a surprise to you that a progressive
Democrat like Henry Waxman would have spoken out at
the time against the actions of the Republican Joe Barton. But he wasn’t the only one. It turns out that the heroes
in this story were Republicans, were Sherwood Boehlert,
who was the Republican Chair of the House
Science Committee, a pro-science,
pro-environment, moderate, sort of Northeastern Republican who
called out Joe Barton’s attacks on my colleagues and me in
some of the harshest terms of anybody. And he wasn’t the only
prominent Republican to do so, John McCain. And I will quote him. He wrote an op ed in The
Chronicle of Higher Education, “the message sent by the
Congressional committee to the three scientists–
me and my two co-authors, senior co-authors at the
time– published politically unpalatable scientific
results and brace yourself for political retribution,
which might include denial of the opportunity to
compete for federal funds. It represents a kind
of intimidation, which threatens the relationship
between science and public policy. That behavior must
not be tolerated.” That’s the way I choose
to remember John McCain. That’s the John McCain
that I choose to remember. And it was an act of
bravery on his part, almost unprecedented in
modern American politics to see somebody from
one party call out another senior committee
member of their own party in such harsh terms. And it’s a reminder that
the politics of this issue were not always so– there wasn’t so much of
a partisan sort of split when it comes to
basic values, like environmental preservation. One might argue that’s a
conservative principle, preserving the environment. And it wasn’t that long
ago when this wasn’t a political partisan issue. But it’s become one because
of powerful special interests. Now, some would say, all
right, now finally, we’re on to the solutions. So if we can get
past the denial– and I think there’s some
evidence we’re doing that. We’ll see that a
little bit later. There’s some evidence
that even Republicans in the House of
Representatives now want to get on to the
meaningful debate about what we do about this problem and
get past the fake debate about whether it exists. So what do we do
about the problem? Some say, well, why
don’t we just engage in some other planetary scale
intervention with this system that we don’t understand
perfectly and hope that this other massive
intervention with the climate system magically
offsets the warming effect of the increasing
greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere? The chapter in our book, of
course, is geoengineering, or what could possibly go wrong? And indeed, the principle
of unintended consequences reigns supreme when it
comes to geoengineering. And the analogy I like to
use is a song many of us grew up with, “There was an
old lady who swallowed a fly.” And she swallowed the
frog to swallow the fly, and so on and so
forth until ultimately she swallowed the horse. And that’s what
killed her, of course. And geoengineering is the
horse, or may well be the horse. The cure may be worse than the
ill that we’re seeking to cure. We could end up with
even bigger problems if we engage in these
uncontrolled experiments with the only planet
we know of currently in the universe that
can support life. There is no Planet B. And our former Secretary
of State, Rex Tillerson, thought that that was the way
to deal with climate change. Might have something
to do with the fact that he was the former chairman
of Exxon Mobil, the world’s largest fossil fuel interest. Maybe there was a little bit of
a conflict of interest there. I don’t know. He’s no longer our
Secretary of State. But geoengineering remains
prominent in discussions about how to deal
with this problem. Just this week it
was back in the news. There’s a new scheme that some
scientists have put forward for basically sucking CO2
out of the atmosphere. And people like Bill Gates are
really fond of geoengineering. And I sort of find
it interesting, when it comes to
techno fixes, the idea that we can use
geoengineering, intervene at a planetary scale
with the Earth system in some way to offset
global warming– some of the people, some
of the techno-optimists who think that we can do that. But then you say to them,
well, what if instead, we were to take existing
technology, like wind and solar and geothermal and scale it up? There’s no way you
could possibly do that. There’s no way, no
way we could do that. Their optimism seems
somewhat selective at times. And if that isn’t the path
forward, then what is? Well, arguably,
it’s doing something about the carbon emissions
in the first place. And we’ve seen some evidence of
progress, the Paris Agreement, which gets us almost
halfway to limiting warming to below that
dangerous two degrees Celsius level if all
the nations of the world own up to their commitments. Of course, President
Trump has threatened to withdraw from Paris. And so we’ve hit this wall. And it’s not the wall that
you normally hear about. The true wall that
Donald Trump has built is the wall that separates him
from the reality of climate change, and we all will pay
for it if he has his way. And as we know, he’s
appointed a veritable dream team of climate
change denialists and delayers and
fossil fuel lobbyists to run his administration. He’s essentially outsourced
his administration to fossil fuel interests when
it comes to energy and climate policy. Just within the
past 10 days we have seen him appoint a
prominent climate change denialist to a influential
national security panel. We’ve seen him nominate
a climate change denialist to be the US
Ambassador to the United Nations. And just within
the last week, we learned that he
wants to put together a panel of climate
change contrarians to discredit a report
that was published by his own administration
months ago, The National Climate
Assessment, which establishes overwhelmingly that
climate change is real, human-caused and already a
problem for the United States. And so we’re still
dealing with the denial. This is Tom Toles’ latest,
invoking executive power to declare a non-emergency,
not an emergency. Climate change isn’t a problem. Well, just today, headline
The Washington Post. 58 former national security
officials denouncing his effort to form a climate change-denying
panel because they understand what the national security
community understands, that climate change– even if you don’t care about
polar bears, even if you don’t care about the environment– if you care about
national security, climate change is what our
national security community considers the greatest threat
in the years and decades ahead because it is,
indeed, a threat multiplier. It takes existing tensions
and exacerbates them. So what can we do? We can push back
against the denialism. And I and colleagues
of mine have been active in pushing
back against the policies of the current
administration, the climate change denialist policies of
the current administration. I was at the front of
the first science march back in March 2016
with this annoying guy who was next to me
wearing a bow tie. He was really annoying. Bill Nye, a good friend
of mine, actually, who has sort of
used his celebrity to try to bring attention to
what he sees as the greatest threat that we face, the
threat of climate change. And we can all do what we
can to try to make sure that we don’t lose focus. We need to talk about it. We need to talk to our neighbors
and our local politicians and write letters
and do everything we can to make sure
that this issue remains at the forefront of our politics
because it is the greatest threat that we face. And elections matter. Voting is absolutely critical. Terry McAuliffe, who you may
remember I campaigned for, in return he appointed me to
the Virginia Climate Advisory Board that had disappeared
under the previous Republican administration. He resuscitated that commission. He appointed me to it. And when Donald Trump threatened
to withdraw from The Paris Accord, Terry McAuliffe was
one of the first few governors to say, we don’t
care what he does. I’m still in. We’re still in Paris. Virginia is still
in the Paris Accord. And I talked to
Terry about that. I told him I really
appreciated that. And he said to me, you know,
elections have consequences. And maybe it was payback
for a favor done. Elections do have consequences. So on that note, I
testified two years ago to the House Science
Committee, the chair of which is Lamar Smith of Texas, a
climate change contrarian, a climate change
denier who’s actually tried to prosecute scientists,
climate scientists. He’s tried to defund climate
science and the National Science Foundation and NOAA. He engaged in a full-on
assault on climate science as the chair of the
House Science Committee. And I testified
to that committee, and I just want
to play one part. [VIDEO PLAYBACK] – According to an article
that came out a few days ago in the journal
Science, Chairman Smith was on record at the
Heartland Institute. This is a climate
change-denying, Koch brothers-funded outlet
that has a climate change denier conference every year. And Chairman Smith spoke
at that conference. – Dr. Mann, don’t
mischaracterize that. – Well, let me finish. – No, they do not say
that they are deniers, and you should not say
that they are, either. – Well, we can have
that discussion. I’d be happy to. – Well, be accurate
in your description. – I stand by my statement. Can I finish my– – I’d like to reclaim
my time, Dr. Mann. – Yes. So he indicated
at this conference that he– according
to Science, and I’m quoting from them– he sees
his role in this committee as a tool to advance
his political agenda rather than a forum to examine
important issues facing the US research community. As a scientist, I find
that deeply disturbing. – Dr. Mann, who said that? – This is according
to Science magazine, one of the most
respected outlets when it comes to science. – And who are they quoting? – This is the author, Jeffrey
Mervis, who wrote that article. I’d be happy to send to
committee the article. – That is not known as an
objective writer or magazine. – Well it’s Science magazine. [END PLAYBACK] MICHAEL MANN: So that’s
where we were two years ago, alternative universe where
Science magazine cannot be trusted on matters of science. The bizarro world. And where are we now? The most recent Science
Committee hearing, which now has– of course, the Democrats
have won Congress. The chair of the committee
is Eddie Bernice Johnson, who has stated that she wants
to use her chairwomanship to give prominence to the
issue of climate change and to restore the rightful role
of science to our discussions about climate change. And in the most recent hearing
of the House Science Committee, the Republicans, for the
first time in many years, invited mainstream witnesses who
accept the science of climate change as their witnesses. They didn’t invite
climate change deniers. And that is a very
significant development. To me, it signals
that maybe we’re ready to move on, to get
past the bad faith debate about whether a problem exists
and onto the worthy debate about what to do about it. And perhaps, in an era where
we have a Green New Deal and there’s a threat
of a very heavy-handed governmental approach to
regulating carbon emissions, maybe Republicans have
decided that they’d better get a seat at the table. If they want to have
some role in the policies that we implement to
solve this problem, they better get past the
denial and get a seat at the adults’ table,
where we can discuss, because there’s a
meaningful debate to be had about the
policy solutions. We should be debating what’s the
role of nuclear energy, what’s the role of– should we use a cap and
trade system or a carbon tax, and if it’s a carbon tax, should
it be a revenue neutral carbon tax, which conservatives like? Let’s have that debate. And maybe we’re ready
to have that debate. So I have some optimism. Despite all of the things
that have happened, and as many reasons as there
might seem for despair when it comes to where we
stand on climate change, I think there’s some reason
for cautious optimism. And not just this development,
but the voice of our youth, the fact that we
have these kids now who are doing these
schools strikes, and the Sunrise movement. And all of a sudden there’s
this passion, this great passion among young people. And they speak with
a moral authority that has the potential to
change the whole conversation. And so I feel like maybe
we’re at a juncture here, that maybe, just maybe,
we’re ready to start having a serious
conversation about how to solve this problem. And ultimately, the stakes
couldn’t be greater. We literally are
talking about the future of this planet,
what sort of planet we want to leave behind for
our children and grandchildren. So thank you very much. Happy to field any questions. [APPLAUSE] MICHAEL MANN: Please. Yeah. AUDIENCE: Thank you very much. I just want to put a
plug in for everyone, for Citizens Climate Lobby. Sorry, it’s not a question. I know Dr. Mann knows about
Citizens Climate Lobby. It’s a national group
with local chapters. There’s a meeting that happens
here at MIT once a month. It’s pushing a
revenue neutral carbon fee and dividend program. There’s also bills in the
Massachusetts House and Senate to enact carbon fee legislation
that we should all get behind. Thank you. MICHAEL MANN: Thanks. I get very concerned if I give
a talk and nobody from CCL gets up to speak. I feel something’s wrong. Please, yeah. AUDIENCE: George Bryan. I’m a supporter of the
Revolutionary Congress Party of [INAUDIBLE]. I like to tell people
there is a group preparing for how to work toward getting
rid of the whole capitalist framework that’s put
us in this predicament. But my question to you
is this contradiction between the idea of
an existential crisis for humanity, which I agree,
Earth in the balance– there may be an Earth,
but there may not be human beings living on the
Earth any more– the contrast between that sense, and on
the other hand, this fixation on national security, which
is what actually motivates the people in power in
this society, Democrat and Republican. In one stark example, we had
somebody everybody loved, Barack Obama, advocating
for fossil fuel expansion, including open up the Arctic
to deep sea drilling, and even Hillary going up there and
saying the question is not what we do, but who controls. What country controls those
arctic spaces that are melting? So this great contradiction
between America being an empire, essentially,
competing with other empires, and that being at
odds with having any kind of global
cooperation because everybody is fixated on capital and
expanding their capital. So how do you reconcile
those two things? MICHAEL MANN: Well, you know, I
see my role in this discussion as informing the policy
debate, but not prescribing the policies. And so I’m not going
to stand here and say that we should Institute any
particular policy prescription, cap and trade, carbon tax,
what kind of carbon tax. I would be happy if that’s
what we were debating, if our politicians were debating
the form of the solution based on an acceptance
of the objective evidence of the science, the
risks that we face. And it includes
national security risks, but it includes all
sorts of other risks. Let’s have that debate. I would be happy if
that’s the debate we were having in Congress. And I think that
is the debate we’re going to be having in Congress. Thank you for that. Please, yeah. AUDIENCE: Hi. So thank you for
your presentation. My name is Laur Hesse Fisher. I work for the Environmental
Solutions Initiative here at MIT, and I’m
working on expanding MIT’s public engagement
on climate change. In particular, I’m really
interested in the conversations around climate
change in red states. I was wondering
if you could share a little about your
experience in talking there. You mentioned Alabama. I’m curious who
invited you, what the conversations were like. Was it people who had already
bought into climate science, or how you manage
those conversations. MICHAEL MANN: Yeah. Well, thanks for the question. And you know, when
I’m down south of the Mason-Dixon line, my
southern accent sort of returns sometimes. You know, I find
that wherever you go, people are not that different. And the difference between
a red state and a blue state is often in the margins. And we’re talking 10%, a
difference of 10%, 15%. So you can go to the deepest,
darkest, reddest states. And there are still
going to be people there who are very passionate
about this issue, who want to do something about it. And they’re often the ones
who come out to these events. Sometimes you get some
critics at this event. At Huntsville, it
actually featured myself and a colleague
of ours, John Christy, who is known as a contrarian. He’s at the University
of Alabama Huntsville, actually at the NASA center
that’s located there. And he has sort of a contrarian
view about climate change. So we sort of presented
somewhat different views about what the
science has to say and had a really
healthy discussion, really good questions. And some of them were
skeptical in nature. But I saw them as in good faith. And we need to
have that dialogue. Now we’re not going to win
over all of the dismissives. Some of them are sort of– their heels are dug in on this. There are people who see this
no longer through the lens of science and evidence and
logic, but it’s ideological. You know, if you want
to be a faithful member of the tribe of
conservative Republicans, you’re told that you– at least have been in the
past– are told that you need to deny climate change. That’s part of our identity
is to deny climate change. It was written into the
Republican platform, in fact. And so some of those folks
you’re not going to win over. But many of them,
the dismissives, the outright dismissives, people
who their heels are dug in, you’re not going to
change their views. They’re very loud,
and we hear from them. There’s this megaphone in the
form of Fox News and The Wall Street Journal editorial pages
to promote that viewpoint. But it turns out if you
look at the demographics, they’re like 10%
of the population. And so I think it would
be a mistake for us to focus so much energy on
this fringe 10% who are largely immovable when the sweet spot
is this large what I call the confused middle,
the people who think there’s a debate because
they hear the rhetoric. They’re victims of the
disinformation campaign. And with a little bit of
information and some resources, they can be brought along. You know, you don’t
need 99% of the public. You don’t need
90% of the public. You just need a
majority of the public. At least if we can get rid of
gerrymandering in Congress, just a majority of
Americans, in principle, would be enough to
see policy action. So my efforts are focused
on the confused middle. And wherever you
go you find them in the deepest,
darkest red states and in the bluest states. And so I’ve had good experiences
in Alabama, Nebraska, Idaho, some of our reddest states. Again, wherever you go,
there are good people there, and there are honest,
confused people who can benefit from a good
faith discussion about what the science has to say. Thanks. Please. AUDIENCE: Thanks for the talk. I’m a student in climate
science in the PhD program. MICHAEL MANN: Great. AUDIENCE: And I wanted to
ask a little bit about– MICHAEL MANN: What are you
working on, if I can ask? AUDIENCE: Ocean
circulation and climate. I guess I’m wondering– so
we talked a lot about how, assuming– sort of an easy
assumption to make– that as you increase
global temperatures or increase radiative
forcing, you’re going to increase
the damages just due to having to adapt
to an increasingly hostile climate for humans. But there’s another
extreme, right? If we just stopped emitting
fossil fuel hydrocarbons today, that would also cost
a lot to civilization. We wouldn’t be able
to power things. There’d be a lot of human
suffering, et cetera. So you have some
extreme with no climate change, and one with a
lot of climate change, and presumably there’s a
minimum in the middle there. And do you think we have the
tools to find that minimum? Or do you have any guess of
what that minimum might be? And what’s your view
on that problem? MICHAEL MANN: Great question. I would say just take the
second derivative and– no, I’m just kidding. It’s a great question. And we don’t actually know
what that surface looks like. We don’t even know that it
has a single unique solution. All we can do is sort of
work with what we know and the tools that we have. It’s pretty clear that if
you try to decarbonize simply too rapidly, you are not going
to be able to meet the energy demand that powers our economy. And so one can easily
envision a limit where you’re trying to
decarbonize simply too quickly. And yet, with each
additional PPM of CO2 we add to the atmosphere,
we’re adding to those damages. So it sort of boils down
to a discussion I actually had today with a group of
climate policy folks, what is the social cost of carbon? What is the damage done by each
ton of carbon that’s emitted? We don’t know the
answer to that, in part because of things
like ocean circulation. There may be tipping points
in the climate system. What if we destabilize
the conveyor belt ocean circulation? Or how much additional
warming triggers the melting of most of the West
Antarctic and Greenland ice sheet? We don’t know where
those tipping points are. And if we don’t know where
those tipping points are, we don’t know what the
social cost of carbon is. We don’t know what
the damage has done for each incremental ton
of carbon despite the fact that a Nobel Prize was given
last year to somebody who basically put forward an
approach for climate policy which assumes that we do know. We have some idea of
what that cost is. So I would say that
we are working, then, in the domain of decision
making under uncertainty. And one can appeal to the
precautionary principle here. We’re walking onto
this minefield. We don’t know where those mines
are, those tipping points. But every inch that we step
further onto that minefield, there’s a greater probability
that we trigger these tipping points. And given that uncertainty, and
given that uncertainty isn’t our friend, as we resolve
the uncertainties, we’re learning that many of
the changes that we feared can happen faster, and they
can be larger than we thought. To me, that strongly
weighs on the side of limiting our carbon emissions
as quickly as possible. And once again,
if we had started acting on this two
decades ago, that would be a pretty smooth trip
down this decarbonization highway. Now we’ve got to take a
steeper trip down the highway. But the cost of
inaction is already far greater than the
cost of taking action, and that only becomes greater
with each additional degree of warming. AUDIENCE: Thanks. MICHAEL MANN: Please. AUDIENCE: Hi. My name is Alan [? Fierce. ?]
I’m not a student. I’m not a scientist. I’m a retired
environmental lawyer who is in a panic about where we
are with the climate situation. I have a couple of grandchildren
and another one on the way. I have a science
question, though. Not being a scientist, and
reading a little bit about you, I’ve learned that one of the
issues you’ve been raising is this issue about
the two degrees, or one and 1/2
degrees of warming since the advent of
the Industrial Age. And as I understand
it, your position is that we’re not
properly setting the start point for that
measurement correctly, that it was, in fact,
some years earlier than we originally thought. But I’m not sure I
understand that– maybe you can explain that– but also, the
implications of that. Does that mean, for
those of us who’ve been thinking the start
date was a much later point and we had until here, we
now have less time to act? MICHAEL MANN: Yeah. Thanks for the question. It’s sort of an example
of the lamplight effect. You know, you lose your keys,
you look near the lamp light because that’s the only
place you’re able to see. That’s the way that
the IPCC has decided to define the pre-industrial
because the instrumental record of temperatures,
global temperatures, only goes back to the
mid- to late 19th century. And so for convenience,
they’ve said well, we’ll use the late
19th century average as our estimate of
the pre-industrial. But all you have to do is run
a climate model simulation with the actual
historical changes in CO2 to see that
we had probably warmed between 0.1 degrees
Celsius to 0.2 degrees Celsius before that point. So the true pre-industrial
state is probably 0.1 to 0.2 degrees
Celsius, smaller, lower than the baseline
that’s used by the IPCC. Now that might sound
like a small difference, but it turns out that
we’re at about 1.2 degrees. We’re close to 1.2 degrees
Celsius warming now. If we’re going to limit
warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, we’ve got a very small
amount of wiggle room. In fact, part of
the problem is if we stop burning fossil fuels,
if we stop burning coal, we stop putting particles
into the atmosphere that actually cool certain regions– and in particular China, which
is still engaged in dirty coal burning, has produced a fair
amount of sulfur dioxide that leads to these
so-called aerosols that have a cooling effect. So we’ll probably get another
0.1 or 0.2 degrees of warming if we stop burning fossil fuels
just from the disappearing aerosols. Then we’re up there
already at about 1.5. So we have almost no
room, no margin for error if we’re going to
avoid one and 1/2. What we calculated, we didn’t
look at the one and 1/2 limit. We looked at two
degrees Celsius. What does that difference of
as much as 0.2 degrees Celsius of additional warming mean? It turns out it means
that our budget– how much carbon we can
still burn and remain below two degrees Celsius– is up to 40% less than
the IPCC concluded. So we have to
decarbonize even faster, underscoring the fact that the
IPCC is a conservative body. Despite the fact that it’s
often dismissed as alarmist, if anything, the IPCC– which is a lowest
common denominator of thousands of
scientists– by its nature, tends to be a
conservative assessment. If anything, the IPCC is overly
conservative in that regard. So now there’s
another footnote here. Then you can ask,
well, what do we really mean when we define the danger? When we said two degrees
Celsius was dangerous, did we mean relative to
the true pre-industrial, or relative to the
definition that we’ve been using of the pre-industrial
of the late 1800s? And it turns out the
answer is a bit mixed. In some cases, the
impacts are assessed based on running a control
simulation with CO2 levels at 280 parts per million. That’s a true pre-industrial. If we’ve defined an impact based
on the use of a true control simulation, than we
mean pre-industrial. And we do have to add on
that additional warming to assess how much we’ve warmed. In some cases, it’s defined
a little differently. So it’s a little muddy. But the bottom line is, if
anything, the IPCC’s assessment is overly conservative,
and arguably we have to decarbonize even faster
to avoid those thresholds. AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE] MICHAEL MANN: What’s that? AUDIENCE: How do you
arrive at the 0.1%? MICHAEL MANN: 0.1 to
0.2 degrees Celsius. That’s based on using
climate model simulations. There’s a suite of
climate model simulations that have been run for
the past 1,000 years. It’s part of the IPCC
assessment process. So we’ve got these
climate models we can use to estimate
how much warming was there due to the increase? The CO2 started
increasing in about 1700. You can see the Industrial
Revolution back to about 1700. And it turns out the early rise
has a proportionately greater effect on temperature because
of the logarithmic nature of the relationship between
CO2 and temperature. AUDIENCE: Yeah. Great talk again. I’m Jeff Ackley with the
EcoEnlightened Charitable Organization. MICHAEL MANN: I saw you
yesterday, didn’t I? AUDIENCE: Yes. And I actually have a follow-up
question from yesterday which you didn’t address today. I was hopping you’d talk
a little bit about it. MICHAEL MANN: Uh oh. All right, he’s chased me down. OK, yes. AUDIENCE: So as you know,
the EcoEnlightened Charitable Organization is focused
on getting people to think differently
about climate change, and more positively, and
take positive action. And I’m concerned
with what I would call sort of the new
denier, and what’s going on with this new denial,
and specifically Lomborg and what he’s focused on. And I heard him talk– matter
of fact, I sat next to him. Very convincing and
intelligent person. And I was wondering
if you’d just talk a little bit about
him, what he’s trying to do in that new denial. MICHAEL MANN: Yeah, so
I call this the kinder, gentler form of denialism. And I do think it’s a threat. It’s denialism that
wears a Greenpeace t-shirt to convince you that
it’s environmentally aware. And Bjorn Lomborg does
wear a Greenpeace t-shirt. He’s funded– AUDIENCE: He’s not
authorized by Greenpeace. MICHAEL MANN:
Unfortunately, they don’t get to regulate who
can wear the t-shirts. AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE] MICHAEL MANN: Yeah, absolutely. He’s using that to
somehow convince you that he has the imprimatur
of the environmental organizations, and he
doesn’t, of course. And he’s very smooth. And what he does is he will
claim to accept the science, but in fact, he
doesn’t, because he will downplay the projections. He will dismiss
many of the impacts. In fact, there’s
a very famous case where he pointed to the
sea level record, which is increasing steadily, but
because of things like El Nino events, you get little wiggles. Sometimes sea level
goes down a little bit because you’ve got a lot
of rainfall over Australia during an El Nino year. And so the ocean loses
some of that water. It’s stored over the land. And you can get a little
down dip in sea level on a time scale of a year or so. And what he did was point to
one of those little down dips. And he actually said, look,
sea level has gone down. Why don’t we hear
this good news? El Nino is good
news, apparently, when it comes to climate change. Well, you know, you get
the flip side, then, La Nina, where it actually
goes up even faster. So it’s misleading. It’s misrepresenting the data. So in a sense it is
denying the science, or it’s misrepresenting
the science, and using that misrepresentation
to downplay the impacts and the cost of inaction. And then he’ll do something like
he’ll use a very high discount rate. So one of the things that’s
done in climate cost benefit analysis is financial
discounting because $1.00 10 years from now isn’t worth
as much as $1.00 today. You lose the opportunity
to spend that dollar. And so the idea is that impacts
that occur in the future are downweighted relative
to current impacts. And if you downweight
it fast enough with a large enough percentage,
then the mathematics will tell you that
there’s no reason to act, that the financial
impact will be minimal. Well, it turns out that the
quality of life of our children and grandchildren isn’t like
a 30 year Treasury bond. We don’t downweight the quality
of life of future generations. And so an argument has been
made that you shouldn’t do that. And if you do do it, it
shouldn’t be the 7& or 6% that Bjorn Loomborg uses. It should be what Bill
Nordhaus, who won the Nobel Prize for developing this
approach to climate policy, has said, that probably 3%
is the maximum rate that it makes sense to use. So it’s a way of systematically
downplaying the problem, but claiming to accept the
science, which gives you sort of the imprimatur
of being reasonable. And because it’s
so difficult now, with the impacts of
climate change playing out so prominently, it’s so
difficult to dismiss the fact that climate change is happening
because people can see it with their own two eyes. We see what’s happening. So it’s no longer useful
for fossil fuel interests to employ talking heads
who deny the science, deny that it’s happening,
because that’s not credible. But people like Bjorn
Lomborg, who say well, no, I accept the science. It’s happening, but the
impacts aren’t too bad. And by the way, if we
act on this problem, it’ll destroy the economy–
which I would call alarmist rhetoric, by the way– that’s the true
alarmist rhetoric. They are as much a
threat today as those who outright deny the science. And they are denying
the science in the sense that they’re
mischaracterizing it, and they’re
mischaracterizing the impacts and presenting a misleading
view of the cost of inaction. If you’re interested, I went
up against Bjorn Lomborg in a Huffington Post Live
Earth Day panel discussion forum years ago. You can find it online. And I had the
delightful opportunity to call these things out in
real time during the course of our discussion because he
was sort of throwing– you know, doing the usual cherry picking. And it became very obvious
to any viewer, I think. AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE] MICHAEL MANN: Well,
there’s the famous quote. Upton Sinclair. You’ve all heard it before. Very difficult to get a
man to understand something when his salary depends on
him not understanding it. It might have something to do
with the thousands of dollars he’s gotten from the
Koch brothers, maybe. I don’t know. Maybe. Please. AUDIENCE: Hi. I’m Mara Frelich. I’m also a PhD student
here in climate science. So thank you for the talk. . I had a question, I guess,
more about your personal path. And so I think you’re
extraordinary among a lot of your colleagues in having
seized the opportunity that pretty much anybody
in climate science has to become engaged in the
political aspects of this work. Yeah, so two questions there. One is what allowed
you to make that choice in the moment of
making the choice, and then continually
making that choice as you go about your life. And then the second is what
do you think graduate students or young climate scientists
need in their education in order to effectively engage
with the political aspects of our work? MICHAEL MANN: Thanks
for the questions. Good questions. So I didn’t really
have a choice. When we published the hockey
stick and it became this icon, I found myself in
the cross-hairs. I found myself under the
spotlight, in the public sphere whether I liked it or not. It was the last thing. It was not what I had chosen. It’s not why I decided
to double major in applied math and physics. I didn’t think that’s where
it was going to be leading me. But with the publication
of the hockey stick, I found myself in that place. And my instinct was
to defend myself against what I felt were invalid
attacks against my science and attacks on me. And ultimately, it sort of
opened my eyes to the fact that there are larger
things at stake here. This isn’t just about me
and defending my work. It’s about the science
here has implications, like I said before, the
greatest societal challenge that we face. And here you have
these bad actors who stand to profit
from leading us down a disastrous
path for humanity. And even though it’s not
what I had signed up for, I ultimately embraced the
role as a public figure in this debate because
I had this opportunity to try to influence
this conversation, like I said before, about the
greatest challenge we have. And I’ve embraced that. And it’s led me down a
completely different path from the one that I had
chosen initially and intended. I’m still able to
do some science, and that’s really
important to me because my first love
is doing science. That’s why I went into this. I love solving problems,
cranking, constructing models, crunching numbers. That’s still my
bread and butter. It’s still what I love doing. But I have this opportunity
now to play this other role. And I feel privileged to be
in a position to do that. What I would say for
younger scientists today is that in the sense,
it’s much easier– the path towards
engagement with the public, for your generation,
is easier because it’s a natural extension of
the way people grow up. In the world of
social media, people engage with the public
as a natural extension of their daily lives. And what I find is
that young folks, it’s far more natural
to them to participate in the public
discourse, and they’re far more skilled at doing so. And we need a
diverse set of voices that speaks to the diversity
of society overall. I’m still part of a generation
where most of the talking heads are white males. And we live in a
diverse society, and we need far
more representation from people with
diverse backgrounds, diverse with respect
to ethnicity and gender and everything else. And one of the things
that I’m delighted in is the fact that we are seeing
a far more diverse community of scientists who are
coming up now and choosing to engage in public
outreach, not because they were forced into it like
I was, but because they choose to do so, because
they have a passion to do so. I actually think
that to some extent, the attacks on our
science has helped create this new breed
of scientists that’s very passionate about
defending science and about ensuring that the
public get an objective view of what science has to say. So if you’re interested in
outreach and communication, there are now so many
opportunities to do so. Obviously, social media
is an easy way to do it. But for people who have an
interest and a proclivity for communication, there are
now lots of opportunities. It’s now recognized in a way
that it wasn’t in the past. It used to be that if you
spent time doing communication, it would hurt you
professionally. You would be seen
by your colleagues as not being a
serious scientist. The Carl Sagan phenomenon. Carl Sagan suffered,
to some extent, professionally
because of his choice to be a science communicator
and popularizer. I think the culture of science
is very different today. It rewards those choices. And so I would say
if you like doing it and you enjoy doing
it, there is no end to the opportunities that
are available to participate in the larger conversation. AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE] MICHAEL MANN: Again,
there’s no longer the obstacle to participating
in the public discourse that there used to be. Anybody can go on social media,
go on Twitter, what have you, Facebook. And you can write
letters to the editor. You can talk to your friends
and family and church members and schoolmates and
your work colleagues. Again, there’s no limit
to the ways anybody can participate in
this discussion. And it’s really important
because if people aren’t talking about this
problem, if ordinary people– not just the scientists– ordinary people aren’t
talking about this and forcing the issue into
our daily conversations, it’s too easy for
politicians to ignore it. But they can’t ignore
the voice of the people. We’ve seen that in recent years. If there’s an overwhelming
demand by the public to act on something,
politicians find it unavoidable to fail to act. And so we can all play a
role, every single one of us. Thanks. AUDIENCE: Hello. I’m a high school senior, and
I’ve really enjoyed this event. I have two very similar
related questions. You mentioned a bit earlier
about Virginia’s push to stay in the
climate accord even though Trump is pulling out. Do you think that it’s possible
that if enough municipalities and local governments commit to
the accord, the US as a whole could still fulfill
its commitment? And just in general, do you
think that long-lasting climate change policy is tenable
or possible with– at least in the
US, we tend to ping pong from one view set to the
other every few years or so. MICHAEL MANN: Thanks. Yeah, good questions. You know, the political cycle
can make it difficult to have some coordinated long-term
strategy for acting on a problem like climate
change when you get a new administration comes in, tries
to change all of the executive policies, tries to undo– as we’re seeing right now– all of the progress
that was made under the previous
administration. And yet some of the changes
become institutionalized. They become sort of
ingrained into our economy. There are structural
changes that are taking place today that
are moving us inevitably away from fossil fuels. And nothing that Donald Trump
claims he can do or wants to do is going to prevent the coal
industry from disappearing. They’re just not going to be
competitive in the marketplace against newer
energy technologies, including renewable energy. So it’s inevitable. That’s the direction the
rest of the world is moving. That’s the great
revolution of this century is the clean energy revolution. And those countries that
choose to get on board are the ones who are going to
prosper in that economic race, if you will. So we don’t get to choose. The United States,
Donald Trump, doesn’t get to choose whether or
not we act on climate. The world is acting. The world will act on climate. All he gets to choose is
whether we at least temporarily get left behind
and we allow China and all the other
countries of the world to outcompete us in the
global economic race. So we’re seeing steady
increases in the market share of renewable
energy in the United States, electric vehicles. We’re moving in that direction. We have 30% of the
population in the US– even in the absence of any
federal executive policies on climate under
this administration, and even in the absence
of congressional climate legislation. We don’t have that either. But just based on the fact
that many states are acting and are banding together
to form consortia. Massachusetts is part of Reggie,
the Northeastern consortium. New Jersey and Maryland have
joined, have come on board. Pennsylvania, we’re hoping, will
become part of that coalition as well. You’ve got the west coast states
that have formed a coalition. 30% of the population
lives in a state that’s part of a regional
consortium for pricing carbon. So we’re moving
in that direction. Nothing’s going to stop that. And it’s just a matter
of whether or not we’re going to keep up
with the rest of the world. And as I said in this talk,
elections have consequences. We have a say. And what we saw in
this last election is that if you look at the
change in the complexion of the House of
Representatives now when it comes to the
issue of climate, where even Republicans are
no longer really contesting the science. They’re just trying to make sure
that their preferred policies are at the table. That’s a huge shift,
and it’s a shift because people turned
out to elect politicians who would stand up
for their interests rather than the
polluting interests. And if we continue
to do that, then we will continue to see progress. But we have to vote. We have to come out
and vote in elections. If we don’t do that, we’ve seen
the consequences of that, too. Thanks. Final question. Thanks. AUDIENCE: Thank you. I’m not a climate scientist,
but I am a social scientist and a historian. And I must say
that I don’t fully share your sense of
optimism in this regard, in part because the lessons of
both history and social science are that people under stress
don’t act on what they know. They act on what they believe. And in this respect
we’re in real trouble because some of the
things that you’ve asserted that we are
about to manifest in our beliefs, new
leadership and the like, is still predicated on the
economics of continuous growth, on the techno
scientific salvationism that somebody is going to pull
some rabbit out of some hat and we’re going to be able to
adjust, all the while expanding as a human population
on a finite planet. It’s a nonstarter
for any ecologist. The question is how do
you get to sustainability, not the oxymoron of
sustainable growth? Can’t happen. Won’t happen. MICHAEL MANN: So thanks
for the question. So climate change is
just one dimension in this multi-dimensional
problem that is environmental sustainability. And even if we solve
the climate problem, there’s still overfishing. There’s still the pollution
of our oceans and atmosphere. There is still the loss of
biodiversity deforestation the list goes on. This is a
multi-dimensional space. And so my discussion has
focused on one problem. But I am not denying
that that is just a subset of a larger number
of problems that we face, which is the crisis
of living sustainably on a planet with
finite resources. And by some estimates, we
have leveraged this planet through technology
that we’re highly dependent on to
a population that might be seven times larger
than the natural carrying capacity of the planet. And if that’s true, that means
that we could potentially be in for a collapse. If we’re so dependent
on technology to , allow for that inflation of the
carrying capacity of the planet that means that any collapse
in infrastructure could lead to a collapse in population
and a fundamental change in the nature of
human civilization. I don’t question that
that’s a possibility. And what it
underscores is the fact that prevailing on the
climate issue isn’t enough. There are a lot of
problems that we face. It’s not even clear that
climate change is the greatest crisis that we actually face. And so I don’t purport, I
don’t pretend to be speaking– I’m not the Lorax– I’m not speaking for the trees. I’m not speaking for all of
the problems that we face. I’m just talking about one. And I would advise
people to recognize that the challenge we
face is even larger.

3 thoughts on “Starr Forum: The Madhouse Effect

  1. couldn't have found anyone better to pitch your hoax narrative than a proven fraudster? bad look for MIT, and the climate change circus as a whole.

  2. Why would MIT invite a scientific hypocrite. If the scientific method is good why has this fraud refused to share his data and contrived with his fellow climate alarmists to alter data then hide it? And what scientist sues his fellow scientists for challenging their data? Perhaps to keep the fraud quiet?

    Science has nothing to do with Mann; it’s politics and liberal political bullying.

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