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Thursday, September 25, 2008

Michael Mann heckled in Providence, RI: local meteorologist claims no relationship between CO2 and temperature

by Tyler Will, The Good 5-cent Cigar, September 24, 2008

At the Fall 2008 Honors Colloquium last night, some of the audience members criticized joint Nobel Prize winner and Pennsylvania State University professor Michael Mann. One told him to leave the university during his speech.

Herb Stevens, a meteorologist who formerly worked in Providence, said there is no connection between carbon dioxide and temperature, and told Mann to leave the university. After his remarks to Mann, he called global warming a hoax.

"You don't have to have a doctorate to understand the hoax," he said. "It's a hoax. The correlation between CO2 and temperature does not exist. We're on the verge of spending trillions of dollars on a hoax."

Almost 1,000 people heard the speech in Edwards Auditorium, which had five objectives: projections, impacts, vulnerabilities and adaptations and solutions. Mann, who was a joint-winner of the Nobel Prize in 2007 with Al Gore for research on climate change, began his speech with a daunting prediction.

"It turns out, and many people aren't aware of this, if we were to put on the brakes [of greenhouse gasses] ... we would see about half a degree Centigrade of warming over the next century," Mann said. "So we are committed to some change."

Some of the projections Mann presented strongly suggested that human activity has contributed to a spike in carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide is measured in parts-per-million, and pre-industrial levels were about 280 ppm, and current levels are about 386 ppm, and rising at about by two ppm a year, Mann said.

"There's been nothing like the spike we've seen in the last 10,000 years," Mann said while pointing to a graph that showed carbon dioxide levels taken from ice cores.

If the Earth warms by two degrees Celsius, Mann said, Arctic ice sheets could melt and the Greenland ice sheet could also melt, raising sea levels up to eight meters. Computer models he showed to the audience presented various scenarios, from what Mann called "burn baby burn," a continued use of fossil fuels, to an adoption of serious measures such as decreased energy use and renewable sources of energy.

In some of the scenarios, Mann explained that sea levels might only rise by two meters by the end of the 21st century, when carbon dioxide levels are expected to be around 630 ppm. At two meters, sea levels would threaten cities like New Orleans, but do fairly insignificant damage around the planet. But at eight meters, a chart Mann showed presented the southern third of Florida underwater, and nearly half of Louisiana. Major cities along the East Coast, including Providence, Mann said, would also be threatened.

Other effects include the extinction of species and the decrease of biodiversity in the ocean, Mann said. Hurricanes could become more violent and heat waves may become more prevalent. Mann pointed to a heatwave in Europe a few years ago that killed almost 30,000 people.

"I could show you 100 other variables, and they would all tell a consistent story," Mann said.

A lot of the change, he said, was not directly related to the effects of the warming itself, but of what he called "feedback" effects, such as clouds, which deflect some radiation and help keep the Earth cool, and the melting Arctic ice, which will raise sea levels and threaten coastal towns and cities.

He also explained the necessity of the greenhouse effect.

"There probably would not be life on this planet as we know it without the greenhouse effect," he said.

The greenhouse effect, Mann said, is caused by the absorption of radiation from the sun, and the Earth naturally emits some of that radiation, and retains the rest. Greenhouse gasses, such as carbon dioxide, methane, and water vapor, also absorb some of the sun's radiation and send some of it back to Earth, and the rest into space.

The amount of carbon dioxide, Mann said, is included in computer models, but the models can only be so accurate. After the speech, Mann said the fact that India and China are exponentially increasing their fossil fuel usage has not been factored into the models, and other natural effects, such as volcanic eruptions and the water warming effect called El Nino, also make models inaccurate.

Volcanic eruptions actually help cool the Earth, Mann said. Sulfur is released into the atmosphere during the eruption, and it blocks radiation from the sun.

The effect of El Nino, he said, could be significant. "If you want to know how the climate is going to change in these regions, you not only have to know how much the globe is going to warm, you have to know how the warming is going to change El Nino," Mann said.

Mann said he would leave solutions largely to future discussions, but presented the audience with a picture of the painting The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, a portrait of a prophecy from the Christian Bible about the end of the Earth.

"They will make an appearance if we chose to remain on the course we're on," Mann said, pointing to the painting.

During a question and answer session, Mann explained that two degrees Celsius of warming is considered a danger zone because two degrees Celsius higher than the average temperature of the Earth today is the temperature when Greenland had no ice sheet.

Mann also dodged "ad hominem" attacks from audience members. When someone commented that the melting of the ice on Mount Kilamanjaro has nothing to do with climate change, Mann replied, "the statements you make are simply not correct."

At the conclusion of the speech, Shannon Marks told Mann that students speak for the university, and apologized for remarks made about his research. "Overall, it was very enjoyable," Marks said. "I think it was easy to follow. We're here to hear what [Mann] has to say."

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