Renowned Scientist Urges Immediate Action on Climate Change

Videos and text by TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff

PROVIDENCE — Michael Mann has been on the front lines of the key battles over climate change. He co-authored the famous hockey stick graph and was a central player in the hacked e-mail scandal in 2009 known as "Climategate."

Mann was one of the featured speakers at Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse's ninth annual Rhode Island Energy, Environment and Oceans Leaders Day, held July 20 at the Rhode Island Convention Center

The well-respected scientist is also known for books such as The Madhouse Effect that uses comics and political cartoons to convey the serous implications of climate change and the ignorance of climate deniers.

The book was published in 2016 because “it's most likely we’ll have a chief executive who will learn something from cartoons,” Mann said. “But it didn’t work.”

Mann is currently a professor of atmospheric science and director of the Pennsylvania State University Earth System Science Center.

Mann noted the fight that he and other scientists have fought over e-mails, research, and accusations of false information by the likes of Sarah Palin and world leaders to demean climate science. Mann was one of 17 scientists Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., threatened to prosecute over their research.

Mann's current research is showing that small changes in temperature can make the difference in a continent being covered in ice or being a diverse temperate zone. Global temperature can't increase by more than 2 degree Celsius or 3.5 degrees Fahrenheit, Mann said. Otherwise, sea-level rise may increase from a projected 8 feet to 20 or 30 feet by 2100.

“It’s a red line we certainly don't want to go beyond," he said.

On the media
Mann said climate change receives scant coverage in the media.

“We have to get journalists and editors to make those connections because they do a disservice to the discourses by not helping us connect the dots,” Mann said.

A well-funded disinformation campaign funded by hundreds of millions of dollars from fossil-fuel companies have succeeded in convincing the media and public to downplay the issue while hurting the credibility of scientists, he said.

“What we face is the most well-funded, most well-organized public-relations campaign — disinformation campaign — in the history of human civilization. And in that battle the scientists are the Boy Scouts fighting the Marines,” Mann said.

Path forward
Mann recognized Rhode Island for being on the front lines of climate change harm and praised state officials for being on the forefront of efforts to address it. But the struggle for comprehensive action is mostly in Washington, D.C, he said.

Mann noted that President Trump and his “scorched-earth squad” of political appointees like former director of the Environmental Protection Agency Scott Pruitt have rolled back 50 years of environmental protections.

Mann suggested that people speak out, influence others, organize, and vote. The planet, he said, can't wait five or 10 years to address climate change.

“There is still time to prevail in this challenge,” Mann said. “But we can't lose another one or two years.”