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Trump ‘worst possible scenario’ for climate, says Penn State scientist

Dr. Mann speaking at the EcoAmerica Climate Leadership Conference in September 2016.

Courtesy: Michael Mann

"I couldn't have outlined anything more bleak than what we've seen," Dr. Mann says of Trump's election.

Dr. Michael E. Mann is a distinguished professor of atmospheric science at Penn State University and one of the most vocal advocates for climate action within the scientific community.

His latest book, with Washington Post cartoonist Tom Toles, is called, “The Madhouse Effect: How Climate Change Denial Is Threatening Our Planet, Destroying Our Politics, and Driving Us Crazy.”

Mann recently sat down with StateImpact Pennsylvania to talk about the death threats he’s received over the years, his views the natural gas boom, and his concerns about Donald Trump.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: You’ve been in the cross-hairs of this public debate for a long time. What are you expecting from the incoming Trump administration?

A: If you’d asked me a year ago, ‘What’s the worst possible scenario that might play out in the election when it comes to U.S. action on climate?’ I couldn’t have outlined anything much more bleak than what we’ve seen. We’ve had the election of a president who is on record as a climate change denier and has appointed other climate change deniers to key posts.

Scott Priutt, who’s been appointed to EPA, has sued the EPA in the past over their efforts to act on climate change. Rick Perry, who has been appointed to the Department of Energy, said he would eliminate [the department]. He’s on record dismissing even the fact that the globe is warming. There’s an overwhelming consensus among the world’s scientists that human actions—the burning of fossil fuels—is responsible.

Q: How did we end up here? There was almost no discussion of climate change during the election. If you believe scientists, it’s pretty much the existential threat to humanity.

A: It isn’t just the scientists. Talk to our national security experts and they’ll tell you the greatest national security threat we face in the years ahead is climate change, because it exacerbates existing tensions—the battle for water, food, and land. Hundreds of CEOs of major corporations are on record saying, this is a real threat to our economy, if we don’t do something about it.

Climate change didn’t get the attention it deserved. It wasn’t for lack of trying on the part of Hillary Clinton. Full disclosure—I was a member of her advisory board on energy and climate. She’d go out of her way to comment on climate change, even in answering questions that weren’t explicitly about it. It didn’t seem to catch on. I won’t criticize all media outlets, but writ large, our mainstream media didn’t seem very interested.

Q: You wrote recently in The Washington Post about some of the attacks you’ve faced over the years. You’re somewhat unique among scientists in that you communicate a lot, and very vocally with the public. What’s that been like for you?

A: That’s not how I started out. I was a science nerd in high school.  I went off to college at U.C. Berkeley to study applied math and physics. I ended up going into the field of climate science.

Ultimately, my coauthors and I published this graph in the late 1990’s that came to be known as the ‘hockey stick.’ It depicts how temperatures have changed over the last thousand years. When you look at that graph, it becomes obvious that the warming we’re seeing now is unprecedented. It became iconic in the climate change debate. All of sudden, whether I liked it or not, I became a public figure in this very contentious debate over climate change.

I’ve embraced the role because it’s provided me with an opportunity to inform this discussion. I’ve written a whole book, “The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars,” which is about my transition from a very reluctant ‘nerd scientist’ to somebody who has become passionate about communicating the science and its implications to the public.

Q: What are some of the most drastic things that have happened to you?

A: There are powerful, vested fossil fuel interests—the Koch brothers—who have literally spent tens of millions of dollars attacking the science and the scientists.

I’ve been subject to their attacks, or attacks facilitated by them. It’s amounted to getting death threats and getting all sorts of nasty emails and letters. There have been actionable threats to members of my family. I had an envelope with a white powder sent to my office at Penn State. We had to have the FBI investigate. There was police tape over my door. I had to explain that to my colleagues.

It’s not the sort of thing you think you ought to be spending your time worrying about. It’s not part of the official job description of being a professor and a climate scientist. Unfortunately, it has become part of what it means to be a scientist studying and communicating about his very public and contentious issue.

Q: Are you fearful of the Trump administration? What do you intend to do, personally?

A: I’ll continue to do what I’ve been doing. If anything, it’s energized me because it’s all the more important that we have an informed citizenry, so we hold policymakers accountable for acting in good faith on this problem.

Q: What can people do if they’re concerned about climate change?

A: We’re not going to see progress from the executive branch. We’re not going to see it in Congress. We’ll have to look elsewhere.

The good news is, if you start looking elsewhere, you see some reasons for cautious optimism. If you look to California, led by Governor Jerry Brown, who is a good friend of mine—he’s personally stated his commitment to act. You’ve got the whole West Coast. Washington and Oregon are part of an alliance, along with British Columbia. Then you’ve got the New England states that are part of an alliance. It turns out, about a third of the public live in states that are part of consortiums that are acting. We’re seeing progress at the state level.

The future is a clean energy future. That’s where the world is headed. We have to decide whether to get on that train now, and be part of the solution, or be left out of the greatest economic revolution of this century.

Q: Pennsylvania has tapped into a huge reserve of natural gas in the Marcellus Shale. How do you feel about the ongoing shift in electric power generation? Gas has been cutting into the market share of coal, which is a dirtier fossil fuel. Gas is often touted as a bridge to a cleaner future.

A: I’ll be blunt. I personally see that as a bridge to nowhere. Natural gas, it’s been argued, has a lower carbon footprint than coal, so it’s preferable. But you do generate greenhouse gases. There are some legitimate uncertainties. We don’t know how much methane—natural gas is basically methane—is escaping as fugitive emissions. That could offset any nominal gain that natural gas might have over coal.

But bottom line, the solution to a problem created by fossil fuels cannot be burning more fossil fuels.

Q: Trump may seek to roll back new EPA rules on methane emissions. Here in Pennsylvania, Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration is creating new methane rules. If we really crack down on those fugitive emissions, does gas have a temporary climate benefit?

A: There is the potential, if we take that seriously. If we put in place regulations that really do limit the prospect of emissions, then it could be a player. I’m all for finding ways that we can safely use fossil fuels. For example, coal. If we had economically viable carbon capture and sequestration—if power plants could capture the CO2 they’re producing and bury it— then that would be viable strategy for producing energy without worsening climate change. The problem is, it’s expensive to do that.

Q: Trump has said he wants to pull the U.S. out of the Paris climate agreement. Even if we remain on board with that, it’s not enough, right?

A: That’s right. The Paris agreement alone isn’t going to achieve what we really need to achieve, which is limiting warming below the commonly accepted dangerous level of 2 degrees Celsius. The commitments made in Paris get us about halfway there. It’s a first step, and it’s something we need to build on. In the end, we don’t control the will of the world anymore.

If there’s one commitment Donald Trump has emphasized over the course of the election, it’s ‘Making America Great,’—and I’m paraphrasing. If he’s really committed to making us great, it means making us competitive when it comes to producing renewable energy, like wind turbines, and solar panels. Are we going to let China and the rest of the world do all that?

Q: You left out the word ‘again,’ which harks back to a time with more coal mining jobs.

A: {Laughs} I was being generous with my rephrasing.

 

 

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Comments

  • Radcliffe Paul

    Alt-left fake news taxpayer supported fraudmister. He can’t even predict the temperature next week.

    • David Rice

      Who the bloody hell claimed he could? Wake up!

      • Radcliffe Paul

        Wow, that gets you the stupid Limey award!

    • Wayne

      Radcliffe, please stop conflating short term weather predictions with climate change issues. Also, if you are going to play with German, at least spell it correctly…fraud-meister. Of course, if you mean to describe someone who stands with a bottle of water spraying mist onto the word fraud, stay with your spelling.

      • Radcliffe Paul

        I’m going to warm up my hot tub, using fuel that I extracted from the sweat of the proletariat.

        Leb wohl!

    • Fitshoeman

      Irony at its finest: Oil refinery threatened by rising sea levels, asks government to fix problems.

      Big oil companies invest big chunks of their profits (which are bigger than
      many
      countries’) into climate change denial. As I wrote a while ago, 9 out
      of 10 top climate change deniers are linked with Exxon Mobil, the
      biggest private oil company. Still, there are some brilliant scientists
      working for oil companies, and they understand what is happening and
      preparing for it – after all, you wouldn’t make plans to explore oil in
      the Arctic areas if the ice wasn’t melting.

      They’re also very open
      in accepting climate change when it suits them. Recently, an oil
      refinery from Delaware is asking taxpayers to pay for protecting it from
      rising sea levels. The refinery is just on the water front, and
      vulnerable to sea level rise, storms and even coastal erosion.
      Naturally, they invested lots of money in the facility, and don’t want
      to see it destroyed.

      The federal Coastal Zone Management Act
      provides grants to states for projects such as building out natural
      barriers, like dunes, to protect against storm surges. The oil refinery
      believes it too can ask for money, after making its “fair share” of
      contributions to global warming.

      “The
      extent of the shoreline erosion has reached a point where facility
      infrastructure is at risk,” says the permit application from the
      company.

      Well sure, we wouldn’t want any damage to be done to the
      refinery by global warming, especially as refineries are one of the main
      causes of global warming.
      We should protect it, so that it can cause even more global warming, so that we can protect it more.

      Just
      so we’re clear – I’m not saying the oil refinery shouldn’t be protected
      just because it’s an oil refinery – I’m saying that there’s a lot of
      irony in this – and if oil
      companies want to be protected against the effects of climate change, they should first admit their part in climate change.

      To make things even more interesting, this facility is a particularly bad actor
      even
      by the standards of oil refineries since it is refining dirty tar sands
      oil; and that’s not all. The refinery’s proposal is to construct a type
      of dam which will likely direct more storm surges toward Delaware City,
      the adjacent town. Bravo! I applaud you! What you lack for in common
      sense, you make up in audacity. But hey – at least they’re not denying
      climate change… that’s something.

      • Radcliffe Paul

        Yeah, the sea level is rising also. Lived on a tidal estuary most of my life. High tide looks the same. So I should believe someone who depends on funding or my lying eyes?

  • Icarus62

    Huge credit to Michael Mann for continuing to do science and inform the public despite threats from fossil fuel industry bosses and their useful idiots.

    • Necklinsberg

      Keep drinking that Gore-bul warming kool air there Icarus while you worship at the alter of Hockey Stick Mann

      • Icarus62

        I had this mental image of you dribbling like an imbecile while you were writing that…

  • Mike Korb

    i guess i’m one of the idiots, i just hope i’m a useful one. I think its a real stretch to forecast what Trump is going to do on ANY issue. Lets wait and see?

    • Vince Clancy

      There are more “idiots” who cannot predict what our President-elect will do! Just like we don’t know who will will the lottery, today! Any improvement over the last 8 years would be nice; we can only wait and see!

  • Fitshoeman

    Irony at its finest: Oil refinery threatened by rising sea levels, asks government to fix problems.

    Big
    oil companies invest big chunks of their profits (which are bigger than
    many countries’) into climate change denial. As I wrote a while ago, 9
    out of 10 top climate change deniers are linked with Exxon Mobil, the
    biggest private oil company. Still, there are some brilliant scientists
    working for oil companies, and they understand what is happening and
    preparing for it – after all, you wouldn’t make plans to explore oil in
    the Arctic areas if the ice wasn’t melting.

    They’re also very
    open in accepting climate change when it suits them. Recently, an oil
    refinery from Delaware is asking taxpayers to pay for protecting it from
    rising sea levels. The refinery is just on the water front, and
    vulnerable to sea level rise, storms and even coastal erosion.
    Naturally, they invested lots of money in the facility, and don’t want
    to see it destroyed.

    The federal Coastal Zone Management Act
    provides grants to states for projects such as building out natural
    barriers, like dunes, to protect against storm surges. The oil refinery
    believes it too can ask for money, after making its “fair share” of
    contributions to global warming.

    “The extent of the shoreline
    erosion has reached a point where facility infrastructure is at risk,”
    says the permit application from the company.

    Well sure, we
    wouldn’t want any damage to be done to the refinery by global warming,
    especially as refineries are one of the main causes of global warming.
    We should protect it, so that it can cause even more global warming, so
    that we can protect it more.

    Just so we’re clear – I’m not saying
    the oil refinery shouldn’t be protected just because it’s an oil
    refinery – I’m saying that there’s a lot of irony in this – and if oil
    companies want to be protected against the effects of climate change,
    they should first admit their part in climate change.

    To make
    things even more interesting, this facility is a particularly bad actor
    even by the standards of oil refineries since it is refining dirty tar
    sands oil; and that’s not all. The refinery’s proposal is to construct a
    type of dam which will likely direct more storm surges toward Delaware
    City, the adjacent town. Bravo! I applaud you! What you lack for in
    common sense, you make up in audacity. But hey – at least they’re not
    denying climate change… that’s something.

    http://www.zmescience.com/ecology/environmental-issues/irony-finest-oil-refinery-threatened-rising-sea-levels-asks-government-fix-problems/

  • Paul Kangas

    Best policy is to build 100 panel solar carport like Germany is

  • Paul Kangas

    In 2014 1.5 Million babies diagnosed with Autism. Doubles every year. Big Pharma profits doubled. 9 M Black men with autism in prison.

  • https://www.facebook.com/TheStefanMartinShow Stefan Martin

    Says the guy that uses BS stats.

  • yerkiddenright

    Mann is terrifed that his climate gravy train may be cancelled. He’s a scam artist, nothing more.

    • Bill Bugbee

      An amazingly stupid statement – nothing could be further from the truth. the “scam artist” is the president-elect and his cabinet appointments of fossil fueled and paid for dirty energy agents set to take over EPA, State, and Interior. Professor Mann and the over 97% of the world’s scientific community are the reality check on stupidity, and the alt-right propaganda machine of dirty energy money interests and their paid global warming deniers.

      • yerkiddenright

        Uh-huh… If that comforts you, Bill, go with it…

  • pschearer

    If I criticize Prof. Mann here will he threaten to sue me as he has other critics? For me he is the poster-child for corrupted science.

  • Edward Simmons

    Is this the same clown who continues to make up stuff to fit his models so he can keep getting grant money?

  • Steve McGlamery

    Michael Mann is a fraud of the highest order…..Remember the hockey stick? Once you lie about something, all your creditability is gone.

  • Arnold

    Just like to impress upon people that our planet Is prophesied to have dramatic
    changes in this end time (Matthew 24). Would the Devil use these events to his
    advantage? Some call Ellen White a prophet, but she said she was a messenger
    from God. Look what she said over 100 years ago: The restraining Spirit of God is even now being withdrawn from the world. Hurricanes, storms, tempests, fire and flood, disasters by sea and land, follow each other in quick succession. Science seeks to explain all these. The signs thickening around us, telling of the near approach of the Son of God, are attributed to any other than the true cause.—Testimonies for the Church, vol. 6, p. 408
    Local disturbances in nature are permitted to take place as symbols of that which may be expected all over the world when the angels loose the four winds of the earth. The forces of nature are under the direction of an Eternal Agency. Science, in her pride, may seek to explain strange happenings on land and on sea; but science fails of tracing in these things the workings of Providence.—Manuscript Releases, vol. 19, p. 280
    Go to remnantofgod.org if any of this interests you.

  • Tom in PA

    UCal-Berkey and Clinton Supporter. Doesn’t take a rocket-scientist to know where this guy’s coming from. He should go to work for the Clinton Foundation. Wait! They’re shutting that down because they don’t have any more influence to sell. This guy deserves to go the same way.

  • Bill Bugbee

    Earth Sets a Temperature Record for the Third Straight Year…

    “A single warm year is something of a curiosity,” said Deke Arndt, chief of global climate monitoring for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “It’s really the trend, and the fact that we’re punching at and through the ceiling every year now, that is the real indicator that we’re undergoing big changes.

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