Prove your humanity

Check out our full interview with Micheal Mann in this episode of our podcast, Trump on Earth.

While delegates from 195 countries are working out details of the Paris Climate Agreement in Bonn, Germany this week, the White House delayed a much-anticipated announcement about the U.S.’s future commitment to the agreement.

Some news outlets are reporting President Trump’s advisors are giving him conflicting advice about whether the U.S. should withdraw. But that’s happening behind closed doors.

Deliberations that were a little more public, but still not well publicized, took place in late March at a hearing on climate science and policy held by the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology.

Michael Mann, a climate researcher and author from Penn State University, was a witness, and The Allegheny Front’s Reid Frazier recently talked to him about it.

FRAZIER: You testified before the House Committee on Science. Why did you want to testify before this committee?

MANN: I was asked by the Democrats to testify. there were three other witnesses invited by the Republicans. And the witnesses I would characterize as being individuals who are in the fairly small fringe of the scientific community who deny or downplay the reality and impacts of climate change.

So I was sort of the sole voice of the scientific consensus. That means one out of the four witnesses who testified was part of the consensus, which is ironic considering most of studies have concluded that somewhere between 97 and 99 percent of actual scientists publishing in the scientific literature are convinced by the evidence that climate change is real, human-caused, and a problem. In this hearing, only 25 percent of the witnesses reflected that position…me.”

LISTEN: The Climate of Mann

FRAZIER: We heard Chairman Lamar Smith say during the hearing that “alarmist predictions amount to nothing more than wild guesses.” And you hear a lot of that kind of rhetoric from people who are on the side that climate change isn’t a settled scientific phenomenon and we shouldn’t be basing our policies on unsettled scientific theories at this point. What’s your reaction when you hear that kind of talk?

MANN: Well, it’s really troubling. We hear this same argument from the critics of the theory of evolution who want creationism taught in schools because they are convinced that there isn’t a scientific consensus there either.

And it’s not coincidental that where you find this sort of opposition to the overwhelming consensus of the world’s scientists is whenever an issue happens to touch on ideological or religious matters. Or when it involves an issue that impacts one of the most powerful and wealthiest industries on the face of the earth: the fossil fuel industry. And they’re not skeptics because good scientists actually are skeptics.

All good scientists actually are skeptical. You need evidence and logical reasoning, and compelling arguments to support a hypothesis or finding. And the more extraordinary the hypothesis, the more convincing the evidence has to be. And to deny that the Earth is warming, that human impact is behind that, or to deny the impacts that we are now plainly seeing in terms of unprecedented droughts and floods and extreme weather events–to deny that is extraordinary. That’s the opposite of skepticism. That’s contrarianism or denialism.”

“As long as the public thinks there is a scientific debate, they won’t demand action be taken.”

FRAZIER: Huge scientific organizations all basically endorse the view that carbon dioxide that we’ve created is responsible for the vast majority of recent global warming. And yet the American populace is not entirely behind that. A recent Pew poll found that only 40% of people agree with that statement, that people are responsible for climate change.  Why is it so hard for scientists to get through to regular people that this is happening and it’s because of us?

MANN: There’s been a master campaign to confuse the public and policymakers about the science. In fact, in 2002, there was a memo that was leaked into the public domain from Republican pollster Frank Luntz. And he noted that the public was becoming convinced of the scientific evidence, and if they became convinced that there was consensus among the world’s scientists, they’d demand that policy action be taken.

But what he said was, based on his focus groups and his polling, there was still time to insert doubt into the public discourse. And he encouraged fossil fuel interests to fund talking heads and front groups and support the campaigns of politicians who were willing to confuse the public about this problem.

If it sounds familiar, it’s because it is exactly what the tobacco industry did decades ago. In fact, it’s called the tobacco strategy: The idea that when the findings of science prove inconvenient to powerful special interests, be it the tobacco industry or the fossil fuel industry, one way for those interests to try to gain a foothold is to simply muddy the conversation. As long as the public thinks there is a scientific debate, they won’t demand action be taken.

Michael Mann is a distinguished professor of Atmospheric Science at Penn State, and his most recent book is called The Madhouse Effect: How Climate Change Denial Is Threatening Our Planet, Destroying Our Politics, and Driving Us Crazy.