Blog Archive

Friday, June 8, 2012

Michael Mann: Climate change deniers blinded by political ideology

Climate change deniers blinded by political ideology



Michael E. Mann’s recent book.


Michael E. Mann’s recent book.

A recent commentary by Frank Hilliard of the Individual Rights Party of B.C. that appeared in The Vancouver Sun June 4 misinformed readers when it comes to the reality and seriousness of human-caused climate change. Further, Hilliard’s tirade was riddled with fabrications and dishonest personal attacks against me and other climate scientists.

Hilliard demonstrates that he does not understand the so-called “Hockey Stick” graph that my co-authors and I published more than a decade ago, which demonstrated that the nature of recent warming is unprecedented. Our temperature reconstruction was based on hundreds of climate “proxy” records around the world, including tree-ring data from every continent as well as ice cores from polar regions, coral records from the tropical oceans, and other sources of information. Yet, Hillard claims they were based only on “one set of observations of tree rings in Russia.” That is simply a blatant fabrication.

Hilliard compounds the problem by citing attacks against our work by two Canadian climate change deniers (Fraser Institute-funded economist Ross McKitrick and energy industry consultant Stephen McIntyre) without noting that several independent studies have established fatal flaws in their claims.
Dozens of independent studies have reproduced our original findings and the highest scientific authority in the U.S., the National Academy of Sciences, has reaffirmed our conclusions (see, e.g., "Science Panel Backs Study on Warming Climate," New York Times, June 22, 2006), confirming that modern temperatures are likely higher than they’ve been in more than a thousand years.

But all of this is a diversion anyway, as our work is not the central pillar of evidence for human-caused climate change that our detractors would like you to think it is.

Numerous independent lines of evidence, some of it based on basic physical principles that have been known for nearly two centuries, indicate that humans are warming the planet and changing our climate by burning coal and other fossil fuels.

The fact that such falsehoods and fabrications like those put forward by Hilliard could readily appear on the editorial pages of a respected paper like The Vancouver Sun is a perfect example of just how divorced our public discourse about climate change has become from scientific reality.

Indeed, it is the poisoning of the public discourse over climate change that prompted me to write my recent book, The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches from the Front Lines, where I describe the circumstances that led to my becoming and accidental and reluctant public figure.

I describe the crescendo of attacks that I have endured as climate change deniers have engaged in a cynical campaign to try to discredit me in the hope that by so doing they might discredit the case for human-caused climate change. I describe how U.S. Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) and Sen. James Inhofe (R-Oklahoma), among the largest recipients of fossil fuel money in the Congress, have both launched partisan investigations into my work, as has Attorney-General Ken Cuccinelli of Virginia, another recipient of oil company largesse.

Thankfully, the scientific community is doing more to stand up for researchers who find themselves targeted by politicians and ideological groups that don’t like our findings.

The Climate Science Legal Defense Fund, for instance, is soliciting donations from the general public to help cover legal expenses scientists are incurring. This is an incredible help for scientists, who often lack the resources to defend themselves and face attacks from deep-pocketed groups funded by the fossil fuel industry.

It’s unfortunate that people who are ideologically opposed to dealing with climate change feel entitled to not only attack scientists like me for doing our jobs, but to attack us again and again when we try to set the record straight.

We have as much right to speak out as any citizen. But as scientists, we have a special duty to make distinctions between our scientific judgment and our opinions as citizens.

Unfortunately, the people who choose to attack us are often so blinded by their ideology, they can’t tell the difference between science and political opinion.

The truth is that regardless of one’s ideological position on whether or not we should reduce the emissions that drive climate change, we should be able to base decisions about how to protect ourselves from a changing climate on established science.

When I think of my role as a citizen and a parent, I feel strongly we must also confront the ethical choice we face: Choosing not to reduce emissions is choosing to leave our children the legacy of a planet that will be degraded relative to the one we inherited from our parents.

It’s time for us to have a grown-up debate about climate change in this country. And attacks on scientists by political operatives like Hilliard should have no place in it.

Michael E. Mann is a member of the Pennsylvania State University faculty, holding joint positions in the departments of meteorology and geosciences and the Earth and Environmental Systems Institute (EESI). He shared the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 with other scientists who participated in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

No comments: