Climate Denialists Worse Than Tobacco CEOs Lying Under Oath, Says Mann

Republican and conservative voices on climate crisis sorely needed


Nature's Edge Notebook #31

Observation, Analysis, Reflection, New Questions

Interview with Climate Scientist Michael Mann, author of "The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars"

Conducted by Bill Blakemore in New York's Central Park 4-19-12:

Some of Mann's main points and charges in Part 2 include :

- One major political party supporting science denial intimidates journalists into fearing they will look partisan

- Republican and conservative voices needed on real climate problems

- A rear-guard action by deniers to slow down regulation on carbon, which contributes to America losing its leadership in the world on this issue

- Global warming is most important challenge facing civilization

- Worse than "crime against humanity" - a crime against the planet.

- Far worse than tobacco CEOs lying under oath

Climate Scientist Michael Mann Interview, Part 2 (of 5)


Blakemore: Of course, I have no political party affiliation and we try to be as fair as possible in all of our reporting as professional journalists, but I must say that over the last - since 2004, 2005 - one of the patterns we've seen is that one of the two major political parties has somehow been - I can't help but say "tricked" - into making the denial of this a litmus test, which seems to have the effect of intimidating media leaders, including mainstream journalist leaders, into thinking that, if they cover the event of climate change, they may look to people like they're being partisan. Do you think that's one of the patterns here?

Mann: I think that's one of the very unfortunate patterns that has emerged in recent years. And I think people, you know, who read my story will be surprised to learn that one of the greatest heroes in this story was a Republican.

It was the Republican chair of the House Science Committee, Sherwood Boehlert, an old-school pro-science, pro-environment Republican who actually stood up and defended my colleagues and me when we were under attack by his fellow republican, Joe Barton of Texas.

And it wasn't that many years ago when this really wasn't a partisan issue, when politicians of conscience on both sides of the aisle recognized that we needed to have a good faith discussion about what to do about the problem.

There is no room anymore to have a good faith discussion about whether the problem is real. But there is a worthy discussion to be had about what to do about that problem, and wouldn't it be great if we could get beyond this false debate about whether the problem even exists, and on to the legitimate debate that is to be had about what to do about it?

Blakemore: Indeed, I've heard many people say one way or the other that one of the things that's badly needed and badly missing is the conservative and the Republican voice about what to do about it, because they perceive that the Republican Party and some other associated groups are so hung up on trying to pretend that it's not real.

Mann: Yeah, and I find it ironic again because, you know, I have friends who are Republicans and Democrats, and I absolutely believe that my Republican friends care every bit as much about their children and their grand children as my Democrat friends, my Democratic friends, and um…

And so, that's what this is about - it's about making decisions now, making responsible decisions, so that we preserve the quality of life for our children and grandchildren, and that should not be a partisan issue.

Blakemore: Before we get to the questions of the accusation of the "crime against humanity," and why it is, I know many people are going to want to know what has been the personal toll on you? Why aren't you angry? Perhaps we can start with the way you start your book: "It was Ben Santer, the climate scientist, who first got personal attacks." And then you came in the second round, and got even bigger attacks.

Mann: Right.

Blakemore: What has been the personal toll on the lives of people like Ben Santer and then yourself?

Mann: Well, there has been personal toll. And I'm not going to lie to you. There have been some very dark days, you know, when I think many of our lives…

When we've been under attack, when we've been under threat by powerful politicians who want to subject us to inquisitions - nasty threats against us and our family. So there are the dark days, and I've seen, I've looked into the abyss, at times, as a public figure in this debate, subject to an onslaught of attacks over the years.

But I've always been reminded of the fact that, you know, this is about something bigger. It's about potentially the most important challenge we've ever faced as a civilization - confronting this problem of how to deal with human caused climate change, what to do about it.

And though I was a reluctant and accidental public figure when our work became featured in this debate more than a decade ago, over time I've actually learned to embrace the role that I've been able to play because of the things that have happened to me.

And because I do have a story to tell, it's put me in a position, potentially, to try to talk about this issue in a different way and maybe to get people who haven't been willing to listen, to listen to, what, you know, the scientific community has to say about this.

Blakemore: Some very prominent people have called it this "disinformation campaign," this "intimidation campaign" - "a crime against humanity," which is as grave an accusation you can make, really, against anybody, given the origins of that phrase.

One, if not the, most pre-eminent climate scientists on the planet, James Hansen, told Congress it's a "crime against humanity." He says the CEOs of the fossil fuel company know exactly what they're doing.

The general picture we get is that it's a kind of rear guard action in which fossil fuel companies are trying to delay regulation on carbon as long as they can, because they know that regulation will come sooner than later, but they're trying to keep people intimidated from acting on it so far, which has cost - according to the reporting we've done around the world - it's cost America a lot of prestige as a leader.

Mann: Oh, and it's cost us, right, I mean, we're losing the, you know, the economic battle globally. I mean the rest of the world is moving forward with renewable energy technologies.

And they see that that's the future of the economy, and yet we're having this debate about whether or not to even recognize the challenge.

Blakemore: And aside from the loss of American prestige in the world - because the world we know since we've started focusing on this story has wanted America to take the leadership in it, there's "the crime against humanity" that the climate scientist James Hanson and others are talking about - and that prominent journalists like Ross Gelbspan are talking about, who've used who use the same phrase - that we see because of the cost and consequences of any delay in a drastic cut of emissions. I think, for example, of the wedges graph that we saw five years ago or more from Socolow and Pacala at Princeton…

Mann: Right, and now they've come out and they've said we actually are going to need even more "wedges."

Blakemore: Right, and not only that but recently I saw a graphic that took that graphic from 2005 and showed it to us for 2010, making it shift upward and outward .

(Note: Blakemore slightly misremembers the dates on the graphic. It shows the shift not from 2005 to 2010 but from 2004 to 2011 of the "stabilization wedges" that would be required for civilization, as generally calculated by Princeton's Sokolow and Pacala, to control manmade global warming. It thus purports to illustrate how delay in greenhouse emissions make it significantly more difficult and expensive, and to help explain why "E ven the traditionally staid and conservative the International Energy Agency explained two years ago that ' The world will have to spend an extra $500 billion to cut carbon emissions for each year it delays implementing a major assault on global warming.' - as this Climate Progress website states. You can see the shifting "stabilization wedges" here.

So, in other words the longer we delay, every day we delay according to the scientists, it makes it more costly. Tell us about that - why it is "a crime against humanity" in that sense, from your point of view.

Mann: I mean, I think it might be something even larger and greater than that. I think it's a crime against the planet. But it's certainly a crime against humanity in the sense that, you know, we talk about the tobacco industry, and how the CEOs knowingly lied under oath to Congress about whether or not they were aware of the fact that their product was killing people.

And they knew that decades ago, and the documents that were released because of a settlement of the lawsuits actually shows that.

It turns out that there's similar documents that have been released over the past five years or so that show that the fossil fuel industry's own scientists fully understood that increasing greenhouse gas concentrations from fossil fuel burning was warming the planet and changing the climate.

And the irony here is that, you know, we look back - and I talk about this in the epilogue of the book - we look back at, with revulsion, at those CEOs from the tobacco industry testifying that they didn't know about the health impacts of their product.

But in fact the effects, the impacts of climate change down the road, may cost far greater lives than lives that were lost because of the use of tobacco products.

And so, in a sense, it may be an even greater cost to humanity. And ethically it's even more disturbing because, in the case of tobacco, well, you know, aside from issues of second-hand smoke, you had to make the decision to smoke those tobacco products to suffer the health consequences. With the case of climate change, the people who are going to suffer the greatest consequences are not those of us who have profited from the access to cheap fossil fuel energy, it's going to be the poor, it's going to be the developing world - which is least able to adapt to the changes that are coming. And it's future generations that are going to bear the brunt of the decisions that we are making today.

Blakemore: According to some of the reporting we've been doing, it's not in the future tense anymore, it already is - in some of the low-lying islands around the world, and some of the low-lying coastal countries around the world, there's already salt water seeping up.

Mann: Absolutely.

Blakemore: And desertification already, to say nothing of the weather here. But, give us a sense of what even a one-year or a five-year delay in beginning drastic cuts of emissions means about the chances, and the cost, when we do get around to it.

Mann: Right now, C02 levels are at about 392 parts per million. Every million parts of the atmosphere, 392 of them are C02. In pre-industrial times, it was about 280…

And when scientists look at the projected impacts of climate change, what we have determined is that if we go much above about 450 parts per million, we will likely start to see some of the most damaging impacts of climate change.

We're already seeing some impacts, but the most damaging impacts will start to set in when we go sort above that 450, when we commit to 450 parts per million.

And like I said, it's 392 right now. Next year, if I was sitting with you in Central Park talking about this, I would say it's 395. Two years from now, we'd be talking about a level close to 400. So in order to avoid reaching that 450 ppm level, we have to act quite quickly…

And frankly, many of us who talk about this issue have been saying for a number of years where we have to bring emissions to a peak within the next few years, and then we have to ramp them down dramatically in the decades to come. Well, you know what? It's actually a few years now. That means we have to basically bring our emissions to a peak now and begin ramping them down. And we do need to transition away from the fossil fuel economy that we've, you know.

Blakemore: Well, we've been hearing that for a long time. I've been hearing that for eight years. It sounds to me like we're past the time you all were saying, before, we had the time to do it.

Mann: It's not too late to avoid breaching those levels. And so it's important to realize that we haven't yet passed a tipping point. There's reason to believe that there's still time to stabilize C02 concentrations below those dangerous levels, but there isn't a whole lot of time.

The problem is far more urgent now because of the delay, because of the inaction due in part to the intransigence of groups that have been trying to manufacture a false debate about the existence and problem.

Blakemore: And I take it that each year we delay means that, when we do it, it will cost more and be harder to do.

Mann: Absolutely. It means, with each year we delay, it's sort of like a ski slope, and as we delay the peak of where that ski slope starts, the slope has to be that much steeper in order to prevent C02 levels from getting above that dangerous level.

Blakemore: In fact, Richard Somerville, one of the earlier climate scientists, showed us his, what he calls his "ski slopes graph" on a very snowy day just over there behind those trees to give us this idea of trying to avoid the black diamond steepest slope…

Mann: Absolutely.

Blakemore: … that is quite impractical:

Click here to see Richard Somerville explaining his "ski slopes" graph. Find the graph and explanation at 5:50-to-7:20 in this video in a snowy Central Park.

READ PART 3 (of 5) - Climate Denialists Would Be Remembered as Villains, says Mann (and Mark Twain's advice: never fight with a pig or argue with a fool )