BURLINGTON — For Michael Mann, director of the Earth System Science Center at Penn State University, there is no legitimate debate to be had that the earth is facing imminent peril from man-made global warming. Anyone who dares question that orthodoxy is a climate science “denier.”
The theme of the professor’s speech Thursday at UVM’s Ira Allen Chapel was “The Madhouse Effect,” a cheeky reference to the elevation of “climate denialism” to the highest office in the nation with the election of President Donald Trump.
Despite the swagger, Mann spent most of his speech on the defensive, addressing critics who dare to challenge his doomsday predictions.
“Denying the overwhelming scientific evidence with the flimsiest claims that don’t stand up to scrutiny, that’s not skepticism folks,” he said to the few hundred students who attended the event.
Mann said climate change could bring about “the potential end of civilization as we know it.” In addition to extreme weather events such as floods and hurricanes, Mann attributed the rise of terrorism, and even mold in school buildings, to warming temperatures.
“Sometimes the effects of climate change, you don’t even realize that they are climate change impacts,” he said, adding that unprecedented wet summers have led to rises in water levels and mold.
He also said droughts and other extreme weather patterns force competition for limited resources, leading to extreme violence.
“[Potential terrorists] are competing for food and water … it creates conflict,” he said.
Ultimately, Mann said, civilization has about a decade to reduce carbon emission levels or the earth’s climate — and its 4.5-billion-year history of climate change — will experience irreversible damage.
“We basically have 10 years or so to curb our emissions to become carbon neutral,” he said.
He also spent time defending his now-infamous “hockey stick graph,” which alleges global temperatures have taken a sharp swing upward since the advent of big industry and the burning of carbon fuels into the atmosphere.
A 2005 study by two Canadian scientists spearheaded a backlash against the graph, with the authors pointing out that Mann’s concept “is primarily an artifact of poor data handling, obsolete data and incorrect calculation of principal components.” Mann has since taken his defense of the graph to the Supreme Court of British Columbia, where he lost his case to go after his critics.
Mann has further claimed that the last five years are the warmest temperatures on record, a notion disputed by the U.S. Climate Reference Network, and he alleges that Greenland ice sheets are melting at record rates — a claim also contested by scientists.
Throughout the speech, Mann said the mainstream is working against the climate change movement, and opposing voices must be working for the Koch brothers or the oil industry.
Consensus breaking down
The speaking event, which allowed for only handpicked written questions at the end, did not address a group of 500 climate scientists and professionals who sent a letter to the United Nations in September declaring that “there is no climate emergency.”
“The general-circulation models of climate on which international policy is at present founded are unfit for their purpose,” the letter stated. “Therefore, it is cruel as well as imprudent to advocate the squandering of trillions of dollars on the basis of results from such immature models.”
One of those authors, MIT professor Richard Lindzen, warned about the dangers of having governmental organizations such as the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have a prominent role in the direction of science and policy.
“Stories have been promoted over the last 25, 30 years and they have completely redirected the science,” he said in a 2016 interview with ChangeUp Media. “But more to the point, they’ve also followed Eisenhower’s warning, that fundamentally as the state monopolizes the support of science it calls the shots.”
Eisenhower’s warning about government and science can be read here.
Mann spent about 10 minutes defending the IPCC for the 2009 “Climategate” scandal in which emails by climate scientists were released to the public that appeared to show politics taking precedence over science. Mann blamed Russia and Wikileaks as the two main culprits for these leaks.
While Mann extensively argued that the emails were “stolen” and “cherry-picked,” he did not share any samples of the emails in question for the audience to make their own judgment.
An excerpt from one of those controversial emails, written by professor Phil Jones, head of the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit, reveals the extent to which some environmentalists have gone to skew data toward a global warming scenario:
I’ve just completed Mike’s Nature [the science journal] trick of adding in the real temps to each series for the last 20 years (i.e., from 1981 onwards) and from 1961 for Keith’s to hide the decline.”