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  April 7, 2017

Congress' Assault on Climate Science Heats Up

Dr Michael Mann who appeared as witness at Congressional climate change Hearing says Scientists upcoming March on Washington unprecedented
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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).


Congress' Assault on Climate Science Heats UpDIMITRI LASCARIS: This is Dimitri Lascaris for The Real News.

The fossil fuel-friendly Trump administration and the Republican-dominated Congress continue their assault on climate change science. In response, scientists are mounting a protest in Washington, D.C., on Earth Day, which falls on April 22nd.

Last week, the Congressional Science, Space and Technology Committee, headed up by Chairman Lamar Smith, Congressman from Texas, called a hearing titled, “Climate Science: Assumptions, Policy Implications, and the Scientific Method”.

In that hearing, renowned climate scientist Michael Mann faced off against three prominent climate change deniers, two of whom have been shown to have links to the fossil fuels industry. Here is a clip from Chairman Lamar Smith's opening remarks from that hearing.

LAMAR SMITH: Climate science today appears to be based more on exaggerations, personal agendas and questionable predictions, than on the scientific method. Those who engage in such actions do a disservice to the American people, and to their own profession. Only when scientists follow the scientific method can policy-makers be confident that they are making the right decisions. Until then, the debate should continue.

DIMITRI LASCARIS: Remarkably, on the same day as Chairman Smith made these remarks, the House passed, by a vote of 228 to 194, Representative Lamar Smith's so-called “Honest and Open New EPA Science Treatment Act”. This Act restricts the use of research in EPA regulatory processes. So, essentially, at the same time that Representative Smith is arguing for a more robust scientific debate, he appears to be taking steps designed to reduce the use of scientific research in the regulatory process.

With us to discuss these developments now is one of the expert witnesses who spoke at that congressional committee hearing, Professor Michael Mann.

Now, Professor Mann is a Distinguished Research Professor and a Director of the Earth System Science Center at Penn State University. He is the author of the book, “The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars”. His latest book, co-authored with Tom Toles, is titled, “The Madhouse Effect: How Climate Change Denial is Threatening Our Planet, Destroying Our Politics, and Driving Us Crazy.”

Michael, so good to have you with us again.

MICHAEL MANN: Thanks. It's good to be with you.

DIMITRI LASCARIS: I'd like to start by asking you, is there any validity, in your opinion, to Congressman Smith's accusation that climate scientists have been transgressing scientific integrity and departing from the scientific method, in particular in light of the studies that have been produced over the years linking climate change to human activity?

MICHAEL MANN: Yeah. No, what we see there is classic projection, which is to say, the Congressman, whose funding comes substantially from fossil fuel interests, is in fact allowing politics to enter into the discourse over climate, but it's his politics. It's the fact that he is funded by fossil fuel interests to attack the overwhelming scientific consensus among the world's scientists: that climate change is real, it's human-caused, and it's a problem.

And, you know, that's the conclusion of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, which was founded, incidentally, in the 19th century by a Republican president, Abraham Lincoln.

It's the view of every scientific society in the U.S. Ninety-seven percent of scientists publishing in this field, all on record, with that conclusion: that human-caused climate change is real and it's already presenting serious challenges to us; it already presents substantial risk to us.

And here, unfortunately, we have a contrarian Congressman, funded by fossil fuels, doing the bidding of those fossil fuel agendas by inviting some fringe scientists to attack what is very well agreed-upon scientific findings.

DIMITRI LASCARIS: You talked about the extent of agreement within the scientific community; over 97% of the articles, published by those who are qualified to talk about the subject, agree with the hypothesis of human-caused climate change.

And in your remarks, you compared that to the composition of the experts who were called upon to testify at this committee. How did those experts line up? What proportion of them would you say were aligned with the climate skeptic school, and how many are aligned with the overwhelming consensus on climate change?

MICHAEL MANN: Yeah. Like I said, anywhere from 97 to, in fact, 99% of scientists publishing in this field - depending on the study that you look at - anywhere from 97 to 99% are on record with the conclusion that climate change is real, it's human-caused, and it's already presenting challenges to us.

And so here, in this hearing, I was the only scientist representing that overwhelming consensus view of the scientific community, and we had three contrarians who either deny key aspects of the science or downplay the impacts of climate change.

So, contrast the 97 to 99% of scientists who actually accept the findings that I was summarizing, versus the 25% - me versus three other contrarians – that were represented at that hearing. It was obviously a distortion of where the scientific community actually stands on this matter; and I pointed that out at the hearing, that that was not an auspicious way to start out a hearing that's supposed to be about the scientific evidence.

DIMITRI LASCARIS: And two of those contrarians were Judith Curry and John Christy, I understand, who expressed doubts about the link between human activity and climate change. They've been alleged to have links to the fossil fuel industry, or at least have relied to some degree on funding from the fossil fuel industry. Do you think those allegations are well-founded, and more broadly, what reputations do they have in the field of climate science?

MICHAEL MANN: Well, I'll let others speak to the issues of conflict of interest. I haven't personally investigated their connections to fossil fuel interests, though I am aware that others have shown that there are ties to fossil fuel interests.

You know, here's the bottom line: both of these scientists have gone out of their way to downplay the reality of climate change; to either argue that natural variability could explain the changes we are seeing – when the scientific community has overwhelmingly determined that that is extremely unlikely; that natural variability is at play or that the warming is somehow less than the models predict; which isn't true.

And so what each of these witnesses did was to cherry-pick the scientific literature, to provide a distorted view of what the science actually says.

I saw my role at this hearing as being to inject some actual science, what the science actually does have to say, into this discussion.

DIMITRI LASCARIS: Now, I noticed in his opening statement that Representative Smith seemed to accept that climate change is happening; humans have something to do with it. But he says that the extent to which humans are causing climate change remains in doubt.

And there appears to have been an evolution in the essential message of those whose views more or less represent the views, or at least the message, of the fossil fuels industry.

We've gone from outright denialism in the Congress to something a little more sophisticated, because of the overwhelming consensus. Now they're saying, well, we're not sure about the extent to which human activity is causing it; we know it's happening; we know humans have something to do with it. How do you respond to that argument?

MICHAEL MANN: And so, there is no consistency between the arguments of contrarians, even among the three witnesses. There's very little they were even willing to agree upon.

The only thing that they seem to agree upon is that we shouldn't worry about this problem.

And their reasons for that are as varied as, you know: it's not happening; or, it's not as much as the scientists predict is happening; or, the impacts aren't that bad, it’s really not a problem.

So what's so interesting is that the one thing that they agree upon, that the various contrarians and the climate change debate agree upon - because there is no consistency, because they're not on the side of science.

All they're doing is looking to pick holes in various aspects of the science, and make it seem like the science is on a less-firm footing than it actually is.

And so in the end they don't have a coherent explanation of what's happening. They don't even agree with each other on many of the details.

The one thing they agree upon is the one thing that's very convenient for fossil fuel interests to have them agree upon: that we don't need to worry about this problem; that we shouldn't do something about our ongoing burning of fossil fuels and emission of carbon into the atmosphere. That seems to be the only thing that they agree upon.

But of course, that bottom line message is really the only message that fossil fuel interests need to try to communicate.

They don’t have to win the argument - the scientific argument - and they can't, because they're wrong on the science. All they need to do is to confuse the public; to confuse the discussion; to divide the public and divide the policy-makers with respect to our scientific understanding. All they need to prevent action from being taken is to sow doubt and confusion, and that's what they're trying to do here.

DIMITRI LASCARIS: But specifically with respect to Lamar Smith's brand of denialism, if I might call it that: the claim that we aren't able to quantify, or we don't know to what extent human activity is causing climate change; how would you respond specifically to that version of the argument?

MICHAEL MANN: Yeah, and in fact, one of their witnesses was essentially there to try to help him make that false argument. Judith Curry, for example, put forward the notion that we might be responsible for at least half of the warming that we've... or, sorry, that natural factors might be responsible for at least half of the warming that we've seen.

Now, in fact, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change - this body of thousands of scientists from around the world, that assess the collective evidence for climate change and publish that in the form of IPCC reports every five years or so - has actually provided a quantitative estimate of that.

The likelihood that we might be responsible for less than half the warming is about 1 in 10,000 – it's that unlikely. And, in fact, the most likely scenario is that we are responsible for more than 100% of the warming that we've seen.

And what I mean by that, and what the IPCC means by that, is natural factors were actually pushing us slightly in the opposite direction. Volcanic eruptions, a small decrease in the output of the sun, it was a small natural cooling trend, and we warmed in spite of that. We warmed in spite of that small natural cooling trend. We warmed as much as we have warmed because of the increasing concentration of greenhouse gases, due to human activity.

DIMITRI LASCARIS: I'd like to conclude by talking to you a little bit about this march that's coming up on April 22nd. Have we ever seen anything like this before, where scientists en masse converge on a major capital for the purpose of expressing their concerns about an environmental or other crisis; and what do you think the organizers of this march hope to achieve on April 22nd?

MICHAEL MANN: Well, I can tell you, this is an unprecedented event in my experience. And I think it's very telling, because scientists as a lot... and I come from this world, and I can tell you - that scientists in general prefer to be as apolitical as they can possibly be. They would much rather be left alone in their labs or out in the field doing their research. That's what we really prefer to be doing. That's what we love doing. Trying to understand the world around us, solving problems, investigating the natural world. That's what scientists prefer to be doing.

And when you see them out in the streets marching, it's because they've decided they have no choice.

The attacks against science have become so pronounced here in the U.S., with a president, Donald Trump, who's a science denier - he denies the science of climate change; wants to de-fund science programs across the board; wants to especially de-fund science, like climate change or any area of science, where the findings of science may be inconvenient for the powerful special interests who fund his campaigns.

So we have this attack by the President; and we, of course, have a Congress science committee, for example, led by Lamar Smith, who's a climate change denier, and has looked to try to curtail funding in the National Science Foundation, and other science agencies, to prevent ongoing research into this topic that he and his funders find so inconvenient – the topic of human-caused climate change.

So science is under an assault unlike anything that we have ever seen in this country, and it's only because of that that you are going to see scientists marching in the streets on April 22nd.

It's gotten to that point where scientists feel like they have no choice but to make their voices heard directly; and this is sort of the first act in this ongoing effort I think we are going to see by the scientific community, to fight this anti-science movement that's currently being led by Donald Trump and the Republican Congress.

DIMITRI LASCARIS: This is Dimitri Lascaris. We've been talking to Professor Michael Mann, Distinguished Climate Scientist, about recent efforts of the Republican-controlled Congress to cast out on the science climate change. Thank you so much for being with us today, Professor Mann.

MICHAEL MANN: Thank you. Always a pleasure.

DIMITRI LASCARIS: And this is Dimitri Lascaris for The Real News.




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