Interview with scientist Michael Mann, author of ‘The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches From the Front Lines,’ and the latest of many to describe efforts to intimidate climate scientists and create confusion about their findings.
Nature’s Edge Notebook #31
Observation, Analysis, Reflection, New Questions
About This Interview and Its Context:
Following are the video and transcript of an interview with climate scientist Michael Mann of Penn State University, conducted on April 19, in New York’s Central Park.
Long respected by his professional peers around the world, Mann became more widely known as one of the targets of the so-called and now discredited “climategate scandal,” involving hacked emails of several prominent climate scientists.
Mann’s science and professional conduct (and that of others so targeted) have been repeatedly exonerated by independent professional review.
His recent book, “The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches from the Front Lines,” includes an account of his personal experiences in that incident, in Chapter 14: “Climategate: The Real Story.”
But the book’s scope is far wider. Mann explores the larger context of climate science and its recent history stretching back to the 1970s, depicting and analyzing a disinformation and intimidation campaign promoted by fossil fuel interests and others.
(The “Hockey Stick” in the title of Mann’s book refers to the graph plotting global temperature going back more than a thousand years and showing a sudden upward turn, at almost a right angle, soon after the year 1900 — like the right angle forming the blade at the end of a hockey stick; it is part of the fundamental proof of global warming being well under way already and triggered by the excess burning of fossil fuels since the beginning of the industrial revolution.)
In the book,which also clarifies some of the basics of climate science and what is at stake as humanity struggles with manmade global warming, Mann often names individuals and organizations involved.
He is not the first.
Such accounts of well funded disinformation and intimidation campaigns, seeking to create confusion about basic findings of worldwide climate science in an apparent rear-guard effort to delay inevitable regulation on greenhouse emissions as long as possible, are not new.
Journalists and widely respected academics have written a number of books and articles focused on detailing such efforts that have appeared with increasing frequency for the past 15 years.
They began at least as early as 1997, with the publication of “The Heat is On” (Perseus Books) by journalist Ross Gelbspan, who had previously directed Pulitzer-winning teams as an editor at The Boston Globe.
There is a very brief annotated list of a few of these other published accounts in the “Appendix” below, at the end of the transcript of Part 1.
In this conversation, Mann discusses some of the main points of his book, his motivations and his deep concerns.
This is a nearly complete record of their conversation. A few sound distortions and off-camera production comments and audio distractions have been cut from both the video and the transcript.
MICHAEL MANN INTERVIEW PART 1 (OF 5)
Some of Mann’s main points and charges in Part 1 include:
– “New McCarthyism” in US legislature directed at US climate scientists; details
– Death threats, dead rats, scientists’ families threatened.
– Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., campaign has aimed to discredit climate scientists…
– Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, misrepresented Mann’s science
– National Science Foundation and other panels have cleared Mann
– Koch Brothers, Scaife Foundation, involved in fossil fuel efforts to discredit the climate science
– Organized email and letter campaigns have intimidated and silenced climate scientists; details
– Believes intimidation campaigns will fail if “exposed to the light of day”
Transcript of above video — part 1/5:
Bill Blakemore: One of the things about your book, “The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars,” is you tell … what happened to you and happened to all of your colleagues. And I must say… I’ve been covering it since about 2004, 2005 … and it tells a story I’ve heard often before. And again the phrase comes to my mind — “The New McCarthyism.” Have you not heard that story — that phrase – from your colleagues — “the new McCarthyism?”
Michael Mann: Well, I have and, and I’ve actually seen editorials written about some of the attacks against me, which you use terms like “McCarthyism” and “witch hunt” and “inquisition.” So, yes, there are a lot of things that have happened to me over the past 10 years since we published our … the so-called “Hockey Stick Graph” back in late 1990s. And my feeling was that by telling my story, I could sort of use the experiences that I’ve been through as a really reluctant and accidental public figure in the debate over climate change to talk about the questions surrounding the issue, the reality of the problem, the threat that it actually represents.
Blakemore: I read here, and am reminded, that you’ve had death threats, dead rats. Tell us some of the worst things that have happened … to you and your family.
Mann: Well, I’ve had death threats made against me. I’ve had sort of thinly veiled threats made against my family. Um, I have had envelopes sent to me containing white powder where I actually had to have the FBI come in and analyze the contents and make sure that I or my colleagues hadn’t been exposed to harm … harmful substances.
Blakemore: Who sent them? Who did this? Who is behind that?
Mann: Well, to my knowledge they were never able to track down who did it and … you know it’s really just an example of something that’s become very widespread, and not just for me but many of my colleagues who are sort of active in talking about this issue of climate change. We regularly get nasty emails in our inbox, we have organizations and front groups demanding that we be fired from our academic positions because of, … again because we’ve spoken out on this issue.
Blakemore: And also, the reason I think the term McCarthyism comes up more and more from prominent peer reviewed scientists around the world, they talk about the McCarthyism in the United States against climate scientists… Members of Congress have asked you … have asked to have you investigated. Asked to have your personal… Tell us about that.
Mann: Sure. Well, for example, James Inhofe, a senator from Oklahoma, who happens to be one of the largest recipients in the U.S. Senate of fossil fuel money, has really been on a campaign for more than a decade to try to discredit the science of climate change, to try to discredit individual scientists like myself, and to subject us to intimidation efforts.
He actually had a list — which harkens back to the days of McCarthyism. He had a list of 17 climate scientists who should be investigated for perpetrating the hoax of human-caused climate change. And I was frankly proud to be on that list.
Blakemore: But it sounds like serious intimidation.
Mann: Sure. Unfortunately, it’s not that all new a tactic. If you look at what the tobacco industry was doing decades ago, and I talk about this in the book, and there are others who have talked about the relationship between what the tobacco industry was doing … Hiring their own scientists, creating lavishly funded front groups to try to discredit science and the individual scientists linking the use of their product to adverse health effects on humans.
Now, we’re seeing the same thing with the fossil fuel industry trying to discredit scientists like myself linking the use of their product, fossil fuels, to the health of the planet.
Blakemore: Just to complete one part of what you’ve said, what was the investigation that Inhofe asked for? And also I think there was another congressman, Barton?
Mann: Right. So, Joe Barton back in 2005 cited a criticism of my work on the editorial pages of The Wall Street Journal as a reason to engage in an open-ended fishing expedition. He actually sent a … what was essentially a congressional subpoena demanding all of my personal emails from my entire career, all of … every document, every note that I ever wrote, and those of my co-authors.
Again, based on the fact that our work had been criticized by The Wall Street Journal, and based on the supposition that our work was somehow a foundation of the case for human influence on the climate — which it isn’t, in fact.
Blakemore: So, why are you not … I can’t help but wonder: why are you smiling? Why aren’t you just furious and angry at this intimidation, which I take it is… You’ve been exonerated by peer reviewed science and others over and over.
Mann: I have. There have been multiple investigations. Most recently, a year ago, the National Science Foundation pursued the claims that had been made by climate change deniers that have accused me of all sort of improprieties… And they’ve said we’ve looked … we’ve done a thorough investigation and there is absolutely no evidence of any misconduct at all. And you would think that would be enough to silence our critics, but it hasn’t because in many cases I don’t think they’re come at this from a logical standpoint.
They see our work, this iconic graph that we published a decade ago, the Hockey Stick Graph, as this icon of the case for human caused climate change, and there’s sort of this cynical belief that if they can take down this icon by taking down me personally that the case for limiting our emissions of fossil fuels will collapse like a house of cards.
Blakemore: Do you believe that some of the people openly behind this “intimidation campaign” actually believe what they are saying?
Mann: Well, it’s hard to know. What I do know is that just about all of the individuals and organizations and groups that have been prominent in attacking me and my colleagues… When you trace, sort of when you follow the trail as to where it leads, it inevitably tends to lead back to certain interest groups, certain vested interests.
Fossil fuel industry-funded front groups, groups funded by the Koch (pronounced like coke – eds.) brothers -K-O-C-H— the Scaife Foundations, conservative foundations that have been funding this disinformation effort to confuse the public, and this intimidation effort to subject scientists like me to all sorts of personal attacks and criticisms, hoping I think that we’ll withdraw from the public debate.
Blakemore: I can’t believe that they think you will, because they understand the science, don’t they? They know it… Surly they know it’s not going away — it’s going to get worse.
Mann: Unfortunately, I think these intimidation tactics probably have worked to some extent. I feel that there … I know that many of my colleagues are afraid to talk about this issue in public.
Blakemore: It’s had an effect? Your colleagues?
Mann: Yeah, I think that many of my colleagues are afraid to speak out about this publicly, to talk about the connections between climate change and, for example, the anomalous extreme weather we have seen in recent years, and in particular this past spring and this past winter, because they know they’ll be attacked…
If they talk about the connections between these things, they know that within 24 hours, email boxes will be flooded with acerbic, nasty emails, that their department chairs’ may very well — and their deans’ — may be flooded with letters demanding that they be fired from their institutions.
Blakemore: Enough that it appears to be an organized kind of campaign?
Mann: I think there’s little question about that. Some of us have actually compared the notes that we get, the angry emails that we get , the phone messages that are left, and there appears to be a pattern. The message is often similar.
There does seem to be a concerted effort… And in fact I think where it starts is that there’s some very prominent websites, for example: That if a scientists talks about the influence of climate change on weather, then, you know, that night, their picture will be put up there with their email address, maybe even the email addresses, or the phone numbers, of their spouses…
And suddenly that flood of angry attacks will begin… And that’s just enough to, I think, to convince many of my colleagues that maybe they should just stay out of the spotlight.
Blakemore: That’s not very helpful, it would sound, for informing the public… Because we understand scientists are trying to inform the public about this.
Mann: Well, that’s partly why I felt I had to tell my story. I had to write this book so that … I believe, that these sorts of campaigns will fail if they’re exposed to the light of day. If people know what’s going on, if people know the sorts of intimidation tactics that are being used, not just against me, but many of my fellow scientists…
If we let the public see what’s going on, and the fact that this is, in fact, a fairly organized and orchestrated and well-funded effort to intimidate scientists, to discredit our science… I think that climate change denial will wither under that sort of scrutiny.
A brief list other professional accounts detailing disinformation efforts that create confusion about the basics of worldwide climate science:
1997 - “The Heat is On: The Climate Crisis, The Cover-Up, The Prescription” (Perseus Books) by Ross Gelbspan.
Recently retired from the Boston Globe, where as an editor he conceived, directed and edited an investigation that won the Pulitzer Prize, he soon discovered the enormity of both the global warming story and the efforts to create confusion about peer-reviewed climate science from around the world.
Website: Gelbspan began reporting the story full time in print and eventually on his website, which he still maintains at www.heatisonline.org.
2004 - “Boiling Point: How Politicians, Big Oil and Coal, Journalists, and Activists Have Fueled a Climate Crisis — and What We Can Do to Avert Disaster.” (Basic Books)
Gelbspan’s continuing investigation further details fossil fuel industry-funded confusion campaigns, opposing activists, and explores possible solutions.
www.ThinkPRogress.org — Climate Progress
The website run by Joseph Romm, whose daily blog has been called “indispensible” by New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman and many other journalists. Romm is the author of:
2007 – “Hell and High Water: Global Warming -and What We Should Do” (HarperCollins) by Joseph Romm.
Romm’s daily ThinkProgress postings and his blog have frequently documented efforts by fossil fuel and some ideological groups to create confusion about peer-reviewed climate science.
2009 – “Climate Cover-Up: The Crusade to Deny Global Warming” (Greytsone Books) by James Hoggan.
James Hoggan, a Canadian who already had his own successful PR and advertising company, came to feel that his profession was being used for dishonest and highly dangerous ends by fossil fuel companies and some ideological groups seeking to create confusion about the solidity of climate science.
Hoggan founded www.DeSmogBlog.com – a website that focuses on exposing such disinformation and intimidation efforts.
2009 – “Storms of My Grandchildren: The Truth About The Coming Climate Catastrophe and Our Last Chance to Save Humanity” (Bloomsbury) by James Hansen.
Like Mann’s book, this is a personal account by a widely respected scientist, rich with scientific details easily understandable to the lay reader.
Hansen is one of the world’s most famous climate scientists and among the first to warn the world of impending catastrophe from greenhouse emissions.
He directs NASA-GISS (NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies) which focuses on, among other things, space-based studies of earth systems — based at Columbia University, where he also teaches.
His record for predicting the climatic effects of global warming has been described as “depressingly accurate.”
In 1988, testifying before Congress that manmade global warming was already changing the climate, Hansen accurately predicted the general rate at which it would continue to heat the atmosphere.
Storms of My Grandchildren does not focus chiefly on any disinformation campaigns, but, as it glimpses in passing various forms of individual and institutional resistance to the science, Hansen tells his story of wrestling to bring it to the public, and this book thus provides a good and authoritative framework for the overall story and illuminates how sometimes complex disinformation efforts interact with the most principled and rigorous science and scientists..
2010 — “Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming” (Bloomsbury Press) by Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway
(…also 2004 — “Beyond the Ivory Tower: The Scientific Consensus on Climate Change” in the journal Science, December 2004 by Naomi Oreskis)
In her above article, Oreskes, a professor of history and science studies at the University of California, San Diego, was among the first to rigorously survey the climate science community, reporting in Science that the great majority agreed on the basics of manmade global warming, and that almost none with any standing among their peers disagreed.
These findings have been repeatedly reproduced, for example by a 2010 study, “Expert credibility in climate change,” in PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Science) which found that more than 97 percent of 1,372 professional climate scientists who were surveyed agreed with the basic findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change about global warming.
“Merchants of Doubt” expands and deepens the picture presented about disinformation and confusion campaigns in science, long since confirmed and generally accepted, including findings about “the dangers of DDT, tobacco smoke, acid rain, and global warming.”
2012 — “Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power” (Penguin) by Steve Coll describes ExxonMobil’s corporate culture in “an era of corporate ascendency.”
In his review of it in The New York Review of Books (June 7) Bill McKibben, focuses on the book’s details, which illuminate ExxonMobil’s support of anti-climate science efforts, including then-CEO Lee Raymond’s declarations casting derision on the science and on ExxonMobil funding of groups and politicians who also excoriated the peer-reviewed science.
In June 27, 2012 at the Council on Foreign Relations, in an on-the record speech available, with transcript, online at the Council’s website, current ExxonMobil CEA Rex Tillerson, in a speech entitled “The New North American Energy Paradigm: Reshaping the Future,” apparently broke with the denialist position of Raymond. Tillerson, according an Associated Press report, “acknowledged that burning fossil fuels is warming the planet, but said society would be able to adapt.”
Michael Mann subsequently remarked that such step-by-step accommodation as climate science becomes better known and understood by all is what he calls “retreating yet another rung up the ladder of denial.”
Read Part 2 – Far Worse Than Tobacco CEOs Lying Under Oath, says Mann (Republican and conservative voices on Climate Crisis are sorely needed )
Read Part 4 – Unprecedented Crisis for Humanity – But There’s Hope (Great danger is an overall tipping point)
Read Part 5 -Climate “Groundhog Day” for Scientists and Journalists Alike (Ideas to cool earth with dust are dangerous)