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  January 30, 2017

Doomsday Clock Ticking on Climate Change


Dr. Michael E. Mann says that despite Trump's team's claims, the science is unequivocal: human caused climate change is real and catastrophic
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biography

Dr. Michael E. Mann is Distinguished Professor of Meteorology at Penn State University, with joint appointments in the Department of Geosciences and the Earth and Environmental Systems Institute (EESI). He is also director of the Penn State Earth System Science Center (ESSC).

transcript

DHARNA NOOR: Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Dharna Noor, joining you from Baltimore.

The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists moved the hands of their symbolic Doomsday Clock 30 seconds closer to midnight on Thursday, a warning of increasing global peril caused by the threats of nuclear weapons and unchecked climate change. The setting has not been this close to midnight since 1953 when the Soviet Union exploded a hydrogen bomb, triggering the nuclear arms race. Here's David Titley, of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists.

DAVID TITLEY: The current political situation in the United States is of particular concern. The Trump Administration needs to state clearly and unequivocally that it accepts climate change caused by human activity.

DHARNA NOOR: The Doomsday Clock movement is decided by a board of prominent preeminent global security and scientific experts which includes 15 Nobel Laureates. This comes just after government agencies, NASA and NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration confirmed that 2016 was the hottest year on record, continuing a decades-long warming trend that is a result of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions into the Earth's atmosphere. This is also the first time that three consecutive years, 2014, 2015 and now 2016 each broke global temperature records.

To discuss this existential threat caused by climate change we're joined by Dr. Michael E. Mann. Michael is the distinguished professor and the Director of The Earth Systems Science Center, at Penn State University and the author of the book, "The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars". His latest book, co-authored with Tom Toles, is called "The Madhouse Effect: How Climate Change Denial Is Threatening Our Planet, Destroying Our Politics and Driving Us Crazy". Thank you so much for joining us today, Dr. Mann.

MICHAEL MANN: Thank you, great to be with you.

DHARNA NOOR: So, one of the things that the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists cited as a great concern, as they put it, is a growing disregard of the scientific expertise that's needed when it comes to responding to pressing global challenges, including climate change. They say there is a troubling propensity to discount or outright reject expert advice related to international security, including the conclusions of intelligence experts. We've seen in week one of President Trump's Administration, here in the U.S., which appears to be a muzzling of climate of scientists with a veritable gag order for the EPA and some other governmental agencies. As well, as the threat of a purging of the governmental collective of scientific data. So, can you talk about the dangers of attacking or silencing climate scientists and eliminating this data?

MICHAEL MANN: Yeah, absolutely, and you heard earlier from David Titley, former Rear Admiral in the Navy, a colleague of mine here at Penn State. He now directs the Center for Climate and Weather Risk, at Penn State University and he's one of the leading experts in that area. And what David and other national security experts are telling us is that climate change represents one of the great national security threats that we face as a nation in the years ahead because it leads to increased competition for food and water and land among a growing global population and it exacerbates existing tensions. And so, it couldn't be more dangerous literally from a national security standpoint to have an incoming administration that is rejecting what scientists have to say and what national security experts have to say about the risks of climate change. Even to the point, as you allude to, of censoring data and findings from government scientists that aren't convenient to the powerful vested interest of the fossil fuel interests who appear to be running the show now with this income administration.

DHARNA NOOR: And many headlines detailing the 30 seconds move closer to midnight by the Doomsday Clock scientists indicate that this greater risk that we face is largely due to the Trump Administration. So, talk a little bit more about what's at risk here -- what's on the line under Donald Trump?

MICHAEL MANN: Yeah, I mean, the risks are that if we don't act to avert catastrophic climate change, then we are, you know, we're facing fundamental challenges to our continued flourishing as a civilization. And so, to have an administration now in control of one of the world's two largest emitters of carbon. The two largest emitters of carbon are the U.S. and China, and under the Obama Administration they engaged in a bilateral treaty to reduce their carbon emissions. China is making good on their commitment. But now we have the U.S. threatening to go back on their commitment. And without the U.S. as an active partner in this global effort to limit carbon emissions, to avert catastrophic climate change -- without the U.S. acting as a good-faith partner in these global efforts -- it's going to make the challenge, an already uphill challenge, even greater. And so, it literally does.

The fact that the income administration wants to go back on our commitments to the rest of the world when it comes to reducing carbon emissions, wants to undo the progress of the previous administration, in terms of the gains that we've made in lowering our carbon footprint, incentivizing clean, renewable energy. To have an administration that wants to throw all that out and now instead provide all of the subsidies and incentives to the fossil fuel industry that has created this problem in the first place, obviously it represents a challenge to the global effort to avoid catastrophic climate change.

DHARNA NOOR: And tying into NASA and NOAA's recent findings as well, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists report that and this is a quote -- "The continued warming of the world measured in 2016 underscores one clear fact, nothing is fundamentally amiss with scientific understanding of climate physics." This builds on what you've just said. So, does the continued rise in global temperature confirm the UN's and the IPCC's, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and other's findings? And explain why the Bulletin says it's so clear that warming is so connected to human activity.

MICHAEL MANN: Yeah. Well, I'll give you an example because we've actually done a calculation. A calculation of the likelihood of three consecutive record-breaking years like we've seen now with 2014, 2015 and 2016, in the absence of human-caused climate change, if it were just the random dice of weather and natural climate variability? That sort of event, three consecutive record-breakers should be a one in a million event. And what the warming of the planet has done is taken an event like that, that should be a one in a million event and turned it into a, you know, one in ten event -- the sort of event that we expect to happen over the course of a decade or so.

And so, that's what we've seen. The warming of the planet has fundamentally changed. It's loaded the random dice of weather and climate towards having more and more of these record-breaking years. Here in the U.S. we had the second-warmest year on record. We had wide-spread unprecedented heat, major heat waves. These impacts aren't subtle. We're seeing the impacts of the excessive heat; the more frequent flooding events because a warmer atmosphere that can hold more moisture. The two strongest hurricanes in either hemisphere happened over the last year. We are seeing the impacts of that warming, of our alteration of the climate in terms of extremely damaging, extreme weather events.

As I like to say, “The effects of climate change are no longer subtle. You don't have to tease them out with clever statistical tools.” We can see the impacts of climate change now, playing out on the 24-hour news cycle with our very own eyes.

DHARNA NOOR: Talk about what the U.S. could do. Talk about what you'd like to see from, for instance, the U.S. Federal government in the face of this catastrophic climate change.

MICHAEL MANN: Yeah, what we really need at the Federal level is the sort of commitment that the previous administration showed towards engaging with our international partners in combatting this problem. Now, we have an executive branch, incoming administration that has appointed climate change deniers to key posts that basically has the fossil fuel industry now running our government. And so, it's unlikely that we're going to see progress at the national level. Congressional Republicans have shown that they're completely unwilling to act, to do something about this problem.

So, what that means is that we are going to need to see action at the grassroots level, at the local level, at the State level and fortunately, that's happening. If you looked at California, they're a shining example of how you can grow your economy on renewable energy, incentivize renewable energy, shift away from fossil fuels and have unprecedented economic growth. California and their Governor, Jerry Brown, is leading the way in demonstrating to the rest of the country that if you really want to have a flourishing economy, you have to embrace the great economic revolution of this century.

The rest of the world recognizes that the 21st Century is going to be all about the revolution of renewable energy. And those countries that are jumping on board, those States that are jumping on board are prospering. The rest of us are falling behind. But you've got California; you've got the Westcoast States who have joined together in a consortium to incentivize renewable energy, to put a price on carbon emissions. You've got the New England States who have formed a consortium to do that. If you total up the people who live in those States, it's about 30% of the population.

So, even in the absence of leadership at the national level, there is still a ground-well of support for moving away from fossil fuels towards renewable energy. That's the direction that the world is going and those States that recognize that have an opportunity to be part of that. Those States that refuse to act are going to fall behind.

DHARNA NOOR: Dr. Mann, I'd like to thank you so much for joining us today.

MICHAEL MANN: Thank you, always a pleasure.

DHARNA NOOR: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.

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