This graph, based on the comparison of atmospheric samples contained in ice cores and more recent direct measurements, provides evidence that atmospheric CO2 has increased since the Industrial Revolution. (Source: NOAA)

Mann: A Changing Climate Doesn’t Have a Political Agenda

9 Nov , 2010

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The body of evidence for climate change is strong and convincing, and multiple lines of evidence show the changes are caused largely by human activities. The consensus among scientists about the reality of the phenomenon is also convincing.

But from the nature of public discussions on the subject today – at least in the US – that consensus might not be apparent. And somehow the discussion has become a “debate,” which is often divided down political party lines.

“We have to make it clear that the ice sheets are not Republicans or Democrats – they don’t have a political agenda as they disappear,” said Michael Mann, a physicist at Pennsylvania State University, who has been at the recent forefront of climate research. “Certain facts cannot be denied. We have to find a way to steer the conversation to a good faith debate about what we can do about the problem, not this bad faith debate about the reality of it.”

Mann spoke to over 600 writers and journalists on November 7, 2010 at the combined meetings of the National Association of Science Writers and the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing, held at Yale University this week.

Why has the public discourse become so polarizing and why is there a fair amount of legislators and the public who now think that climate change is an elaborate hoax?

Michael Mann, Professor Director, Earth System Science Center, Pennsylvania State University. Credit: PSU

Mann said there has been a large, well funded campaign to manufacture misinformation about climate change, similar to how tobacco companies muddied the waters in the 1960’s on how smoking causes lung cancer and emphysema. It’s no secret that many climate change deniers have ties to the fossil fuel industry.

Mann referred specifically to an infamous memo sent out by GOP political consultant Frank Luntz in 2002 to President George Bush, “which basically said that if the public comes to understand the reality of this problem they will demand policy action to deal with it,” Mann said, “and so you need to manufacture doubt and controversy and uncertainty and cultivate a set of scientists who can act for advocates essentially for fossil fuel industry. And that is what is happened.”

And the science became politicized. “If you can politicize something in today’s political environment,” Mann continued, “you can immediately get half the population on your side. Unfortunately the forces of anti-science — those who deny the science — have been very effective in politicizing the framing.”

Line plot of global mean land-ocean temperature index, 1880 to present, with the base period 1951-1980. The dotted black line is the annual mean and the solid red line is the five-year mean. The green bars show uncertainty estimates. Credit: NASA

But thousands of scientists from almost 200 countries around the world agreed on the most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report which said most of the observed increases in global average temperatures is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations. Additionally, the US National Academy of Sciences, the National Academies of all the G-8 nations, the American Association for the Advancement of Science and several other scientific bodies have all issued equivalent statements of consensus of the reality of human-caused climate change.

“Certain facts cannot be denied because you don’t like the implications,” Mann said.

Mann is probably best known for known for his “hockey stick” reconstruction of past climate, (Nature, 1998) which shows the world is warmer now than it has been for at least 1000 years. The “hockey stick” has been attacked by climate change deniers, and while new research has better defined the data, it has not been disproven, nor is it the only line of evidence for global warming.

“The hockey stick is not ‘the’ pillar of evidence for the reality of climate change,” Mann said. “There are multiple pillars that include just the basic understanding of chemistry and physics. But it is one of the more visually compelling pieces of evidence for warming.”

The 'hockey stick' chart from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Third Assessment Report in 2001.

Mann conceded that various other studies and reconstructions of past climate data don’t agree entirely and that there are uncertainties of how much warming will continue because the predictions are based on models, which attempt to predict the future.

“There are legitimate uncertainties, but unfortunately the public discourse is so far removed from where the scientific discourse and controversies actually are, “Mann said. “There is not an uncertainty of the reality of climate change, that sea levels are going to rise, that arctic sea ice will be gone in a few decades or a whole lot of other areas, but we do have an uncertainty in our ability to project regional climate change.”

Mann said scientists don’t completely understand the El Nino and La Nina affects, how cloud feedback will influence the warming and other modeling issues.

However, Mann said, the science has improved over the past few years, and still, there is enough evidence for not just a hockey stick, but an entire hockey league.

“Every reconstruction reveals that the warming is indeed anomalous in a very long term context. Global temperatures are running the highest they have ever run. The twelve month running averages are warmer than they have ever been in documented history. There is no cooling of the globe and no decline to hide,” Mann said referring to the “Climategate” emails that were stolen from East Anglia climate research center and leaked just a few weeks before the Copenhagen climate summit in late 2009.

“Hackers stole thousands of emails –private correspondences between scientists,” said Mann, “and their words were cherry picked, taken out of context and distorted to make it sound like scientists were engaged in some sort of hoax.”

‘Hide the decline’ actually meant the scientists were going to remove unreliable tree-ring data, not cover up any decline in temperatures.

Mann said the real crime was the illegal theft of private correspondence, in addition to the moral crime of intentionally distorting what scientists believe and think.

Mann took his audience to task by saying, “I’d like to say the mainstream media recognized the manufactured controversy for what is was, but they didn’t, entirely.” He also admitted that scientists have not done all they could in the past to make the science clear and their words convincing.

But looking at the current political climate, Mann asked for journalists’ help in the future.

“No doubt we are in for a period of months or even years where climate science is likely to be subject to the sort of politically motivated inquisition that we haven’t seen, frankly, since the 1950’s,” he said. “It is necessary and important for the scientific community to do the best it I can to defend itself from this oncoming attack, and frankly, we are entirely reliant on the willingness of the mainstream media to serve in its role as the critical and independent arbiter and not just report the two sides of the so-called debate, but to actually establish what is fact and what is fiction. The scientists will not be successful against the attack that is coming unless the media is serving its role.”

Mann ended his talk with a picture of his daughter enthralled by a polar bear at a zoo. “I don’t want to have to tell my daughter that polar bears became extinct because we failed to counter a well funded effort to distract the public,” he said.

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Note: For any reader who thinks they need to leave a comment to debate the climate change science, before posting, please take a look at the following information:

Mann’s (and other scientists’) data are entirely open and available for anyone to view.

RealClimate.org –– Mann and other climate scientists answer questions and discuss climate change data

NASA’s Global Climate Change Website. Lots of graphs, images and information.

IPCC

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JDoddsGW
Member
JDoddsGW
November 9, 2010 9:37 AM
Just because there is a correlation of rising CO2 to global warming does NOT means that it is the cause. Consider that the Greenhouse effect says that when you add an energy photon to a Greenhouse gas, then you get warming. Why is it that the GHG causes it? Why isn’t it that the addition of the extra energy photon causes the warming. After all a simple common gas like CO2 or water vapor can NOT create warming energy. Now consider that when you add more water vapor to the air when it rains the temperature does NOT get warmer. ALso consider that there is excess water vapor and CO2 in the air, and that all the GHGs… Read more »
quack
Member
November 9, 2010 10:13 AM

‘atmospheric CO2 has increased since the Industrial Revolution’ . . . but it was increasing prior to the IR also.

Dark Gnat
Member
Dark Gnat
November 9, 2010 10:14 AM

I think most of the climate change is a natural occurance, but humans are adding to its effects.

I believe the real, and mostly ignored cause of climate change is deforestation. Rain forests remove CO2 from the air. If there are fewer trees, then there will be more CO2, even if the rate of release is the same. Just look at sat photos, and see how the tropics have been destroyed in vast ares. Not to menion all of the dead trees and plant material, which itself is releasing CO2, and the fires that are burning.

Dark Gnat
Member
Dark Gnat
November 9, 2010 10:15 AM

Should have said the real cause of Man made Climate Change is deforestation, just to be clear.

Manu
Member
Manu
November 9, 2010 10:25 AM

@ JDoddsGW: I’d like to hear your explanation of why a greenhouse is warm. A plain, simple garden greenhouse.

@ Dark Gnat: deforestation sure doesn’t help, but as far as I remember ocean plankton is far more effective at pumping CO2 from the atmosphere than rain forests.

Manu
Member
Manu
November 9, 2010 10:27 AM

“ocean plankton is far more effective at pumping CO2 from the atmosphere than rain forests.” because there’s so much more of it than forests, I meant to add.

flashman
Member
flashman
November 9, 2010 11:45 AM

I lurk on this site alot and I always look forward to LBC comments.

I don’t believe this story is appropriate for this site there are many good blogs for dicussing the nuances of climate science.

The address from Michael Mann is wholly political stating that there are influences stopping people realising how important climate change is. This denigrates peoples ability to make decsicions effectively stating “I am right but the public are too stupid to see it”.

For what its worth I consider myself a “lukewarmer” ie. climate change is happening but it aint going to be as bad as stated. Now get back to the Astronomy!

cheers
Flashie

Torbjorn Larsson OM
Member
Torbjorn Larsson OM
November 9, 2010 11:58 AM

jdoddsgw, quack, dark gnat, sad that none of you read the article, which clearly explains how there is no scientific debate about AGW happening.

Especially jdoddsgw should benefit from learning about actual science, as for example CO2 is the greenhouse gas that makes earth habitable in the first place (“CO2 does not cause warming” (O.o)). I’m certainly not going to repeat the science, because it is so easy to find in the article.

As Mann says, science blogs and other have to make the good faith debate, now that we know the phenomena exist and we caused it, what if anything should we do? If you don’t want to participate, take your bad faith lunacy elsewhere.

Torbjorn Larsson OM
Member
Torbjorn Larsson OM
November 9, 2010 12:02 PM

flashman, you too. Science blogs is about science, Mann is all about science and its social responsibility, and what we learn on Earth climate is useful for modeling exoplanets and vice versa. We _are_ discussing astronomy!

Torbjorn Larsson OM
Member
Torbjorn Larsson OM
November 9, 2010 12:25 PM
On the good faith debate (finally!), I believe Mann overlooks some things. First, the manufactured “debate” doesn’t mean that all the people that denigrate science doesn’t “understand the reality of this problem”. It likely makes many comfortable to have a sign to stand behind when they don’t want to take action or pay 0.5 % today (estimated cost to avoid AGW) for 50 % tomorrow. IIRC it is believed future costs of AGW is at least two order of magnitudes larger than todays avoidance costs – though of course modeling this isn’t as mature as understanding AGW in the first place. Second, Mann is US centric. “If you can politicize something in today’s political environment” … “you can… Read more »
Dark Gnat
Member
Dark Gnat
November 9, 2010 12:25 PM
I’m not denying AGW at all. I’m just saying that deforestation is having a huge impact and has had a huge impact for a long time. Many of the vasts forests in North America have been cut down in order to clear space for farms and strip malls. Surely, this must have an effect on the amount of CO2 in the air. Human activity is certainly adding to the effects of GW, but I think we are too focused on alternative fuels, etc and forgetting about the damage we’ve done to the ecosystems. Yes, reducing CO2 emissions is great, but what about the CO2 that’s already in the atmosphere? Most of it is in lower levels IIRC, so… Read more »
Lawrence B. Crowell
Member
Lawrence B. Crowell
November 9, 2010 2:32 PM
There will not be any action on global warming until the situation becomes dire. Largely I have abandoned any hope or prospect that we will avoid what could be the worst of this situation. This does not mean we are doomed, and there are things we can, and in the future must, do about this. However, the disinformation over this has been politically powerful, just as the Tobacco Institute’s efforts blocked health legislation over tobacco use for decades. If I were to use that analogue with smoking I would say our future will be like the smoker who gets lung cancer and then struggles with complex and expensive treatments from then on. For those who say AGW is… Read more »
rebosher
Member
rebosher
November 9, 2010 2:55 PM

@MANNU,

Could you please comment on: http://www.sciencebits.com/CO2orSolar

Thanks.

rgibbons
Member
rgibbons
November 9, 2010 3:50 PM
The Graph at the start of the Article is trying to make a point the data can’t support. When you show 100,000 year cycles, high frequency noise (such as over the past 50 years) won’t show up 100k yrs ago. The data gets more smoothed at 200k yrs than at 100k yrs. If there were occasional spikes in data in the distant past, the graph couldn’t show it. I wish this would remain an astronomy news site, rather than trying to convince people we know the precise effect of each cause of Global warming, and calling religious people stupid. When I was a kid a half century ago, we tried to get people to stop polluting to save… Read more »
Aqua4U
Member
November 9, 2010 4:05 PM

Good stuff! cept I’d underline the fact the acidification of the oceans might wipe out far more of the oxygen producing organisms on this planet than cutting down all the trees would, which is bad enough!

The Eclectic Exterminator of Stupid Electricians
Member
The Eclectic Exterminator of Stupid Electricians
November 9, 2010 4:41 PM

JDODDSGW said;

“Just because there is a correlation of rising CO2 to global warming does NOT means that it is the cause.”

Who says it is the only contributor or cause? However, it is probably one of the significant contributors, along with methane and even atmospheric water vapour. The real issue is that increasing CO2 etc. is that they add net energy to the atmosphere, which has the averaging effect of increasing temperature.

Just cherry picking facts does you know favours. It just looks like wishful and poorly organised thinking.

rebosher
Member
rebosher
November 9, 2010 4:46 PM

@RGIBBONS, Forget the high freq, the main point of Shaviv is that the CO2, temp correlation is not necessarily a mechanism but might as well be a bi-product; while the Solar activity does provide a mechanism.

“… Earth’s global temperature sensitivity is also on the low side. Thus, if we double the amount of CO2 by 2100, we will only increase the temperature by about 1°C or so. This is still more than the change over the past century. This is good news, because it implies that future increases in the amount of atmospheric greenhouse gases will not dramatically increase the global temperature, though GHGs will probably be the dominate climate driver.”

Michael812
Member
November 9, 2010 7:25 PM

The conclusions by Prof. Mann seem to echo the information published by Billy Meier…since 1951. Of course there has been much derision of Mr. Meier and his claims regarding the source of most of it but it really can’t be argued that he’s presented the largest, most specifically accurate body of scientific information, consistently publishing up to decades in advance of “official discovery”.

This is freely and easily verified by perusing the information and documentation at and linked form my site, theyfly.

davesmith_au
Member
November 9, 2010 11:42 PM

Mann made global warming – now that I CAN agree with…

renoor
Member
renoor
November 10, 2010 12:09 AM
“Why has the public discourse become so polarizing and why is there a fair amount of legislators and the public who now think that climate change is an elaborate hoax?” – well my opinion is, that this happens mainly because of the style (not content) of Mr. Mann’s statements. I don’t like anybody playing God and that’s exactly what is happening in the fight for/against climate change. He should have been expecting this when he started it. (OK, maybe he didn’t started it, but his name is the first that pops in my mind when you mention climate change evilness). How can he say “The consensus among scientists about the reality of the phenomenon is also convincing.” when… Read more »
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