Scientist Michael Mann Expresses Hope on West Coast Book Tour » Yale Climate Connections
CORTE MADERA, CALIFORNIA – Don’t believe the climate crisis pessimists: we can still cut carbon emissions by 50% by 2030. But we need to elect lawmakers with the political will to enact meaningful climate legislation. The atmosphere is warming dramatically, just as Exxon Mobil scientists predicted in 1982. But the fate of our planet is far from sealed, as long as the electorate rejects candidates who support ‘false’ solutions climate… or no solution at all.
These were among the key messages delivered by climatologist Michael E. Mann PhD, whose iconic hockey stick graphic brought the link between carbon emissions and global warming to center stage in 1998, making him the primary target of a decades-long oil smear campaign. and the gas industry in concert with the right-wing media.
Mann, now Presidential Emeritus Professor at the University of Pennsylvania Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences and director of Penn Center for Science, Sustainability and Mediaspoke at Book Passage in Corte Madera, Calif., to discuss his book The new climate war.
The event was hosted by Chairman of the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Oceans and Wildlife Jared Huffman (D-Ca), whose subcommittee has jurisdiction over federal projects d water, fisheries management, oceans policy, wildlife and endangered species.
Mann, who recently moved from Penn State to the University of Pennsylvania, had traveled to the Bay Area in late August to tour California’s northern coast from San Francisco to the Oregon border. Along the way, he visited north coast streams and rivers too low to kayak; once thriving kelp forests are now replaced by deadly algal blooms; and examples adverse health effects caused by lingering smoke from wildfires.
As an example of the impact of climate change in real time, Mann cited the lack of clean, potable water in Jackson, Mississippi, where flooding contaminated the local water facility with raw sewage, leaving the community without water for weeks.
Mann also explained how wildfires destroy vegetation and destabilize the ground, leading to deadly mudslides when the rains come.
Increase in the percentage of Americans alarmed
From 2014 to 2019, the number of Americans who said they were alarmed by climate change tripled, and the number of Americans ‘dismissive’ of the threat of climate change fell to just 10%, according to a survey by the Yale Program. on Climate Change Communication , editor of this site.
But some of those who still vigorously oppose climate action continue to step up their efforts to try to convince people that skepticism is more widespread than the data suggests. So even though only a small portion of Americans still deny climate change, some people still think the doubts are more prevalent than they actually are, Mann said, in part because some partisan news and news sites information online helps spread a message of doubt and denial. .
With extreme weather events and massive wildfires increasing in frequency and intensity, bold climate change denial is no longer a viable deflection tactic, Mann said. But he thinks the consequences have become impossible to ignore, so he debunked fake joint efforts he says are being used to deflect criticism and delay needed political action. He cited several examples:
Seventy percent of carbon emissions come from 100 fossil fuel companies. Individual citizen action alone is not enough to save the ecosystem. While individuals should do all they can to minimize their own environmental impacts, Mann continued, these efforts alone cannot lead to the necessary emission reductions. Without policy and regulatory action, using more efficient appliances, driving more efficient vehicles, changing our diets and traveling less are all helpful, but ultimately insufficient.
Another common deflection tactic Mann cites is dividing progressive voters with the argument that if regulatory proposals aren’t perfect, they shouldn’t be supported. But democracy is about compromise, Mann argued, and perfection can often be the enemy of progress.
As an example, he cited the recently passed investment reduction law, which he said cannot on its own solve the climate crisis. But he hailed the new law as the most aggressive climate legislation ever passed and the best deal possible in a tightly divided and highly partisan Senate and House of Representatives. Furthermore, he said the enactment of this sweeping law paves the way for more opportunities to build on and strengthen efforts to better manage climate change and its impacts.
The promise of carbon capture technology is another deflecting tactic Mann cites. The promise is that we will find a way to sequester carbon from the atmosphere. “Trust us. We’ve got that,” we’re told, just like the reclusive billionaire character in the satirical film Don’t look up plans to split a meteor hurtling towards earth into 30 smaller pieces with drones so it can harvest their $140 trillion worth of minerals. “What could go wrong?” Mann joked.
Saying it’s okay to mine and burn fossil fuels because things will get better later is another deflecting tactic, Mann said. There may be carbon capture solutions that we will want to explore one day. But they aren’t viable or commercially available today, and likely won’t be in the next 10 years, he said. He warned that emissions must be reduced by 50% by 2030 or else serious damage to the ecosystem could result.
“The only 100% reliable way to keep carbon in the ground is to keep carbon in the ground,” Mann told his audience.
Allowing polluters to emit climate pollutants in exchange for planting trees is another diversionary tactic. There are obvious flaws in this logic. First, Mann said, there’s no guarantee that the carbon will stay sequestered. Australia’s 2019-20 fire season has doubled that country’s carbon emissions, providing ammunition for those skeptical of certain carbon offset strategies.
While certainly desirable, expecting reforestation, no matter how massive, to sequester carbon emissions on the scale needed to protect the atmosphere from dangerous warming remains far-fetched, according to Mann. Certain sectors of the global economy, such as cement and aviation, will be particularly difficult to decarbonise and may benefit from carbon offsets at some point. But forest carbon sequestration is not a viable offset to justify the continued extraction and burning of fossil fuels, he said.
Despite the repeated harassment, assassinations and even death threats he and other climate scientists have faced over the past few decades, Mann said he hasn’t given up hope. And he said it’s not too late to turn back. “The Syrian uprising was the consequence of an epic drought. We’re starting to see tears at the seams,” Mann said.
“There’s a reason we want to keep warming below 3°F and cut carbon emissions by 50% by 2030. Because these actions will likely keep us in our adaptive capacity.”
Eric Schwartzman served as Special Digital Communications Advisor to the US State Department for the Paris Climate Agreement. He is the author of The Digital Pivot: The Secrets of Online Marketing and editor of Sonoma Wine Tasting Blog.