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Nov 17 2013

The Hockey Stick rides again

Update: Dr Mann ably answered dozens of reader questions and remarks at Daily Kos here with a facility that should be a case study in any seminar on how practicing researchers can best leverage new media to convey important scientific info. For more great info, read that book!

BookmainThe Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches From The Front Lines
By Dr. Michael Mann, Ph.D
Columbia University Press Nov 2013
New 448 page paperback for $15.38 and on Kindle at $11.79. Click book image or this link to order now

Few scientists have been as viciously slimed as paleo-climatologist Michael Mann. He has been harassed by Congress, investigated by his employer, cyberstalked by the usual suspects, and at one point was the subject of an all-out witch hunt by none other than soon-to-be-unemployed Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli.

Needless to say, there was no wrongdoing found in any of those cases. Indeed, at every step Dr. Mann’s integrity and research was vindicated. And with that success and the intimidation that followed, far from shrinking away, he’s become a sorely needed voice at a time when science and scientists are often under attack, or at best a victim of the false equivalency syndrome afflicting far too many reporters and cable news celebrities. Meaning he’s not only a great scientist, he’s a truly courageous one. Today we’re pleased to have Dr. Mann’s comprehensive answers a couple of the more pressing weather-related questions of the day AND as a special treat, available in the comments below to respond in person to readers Daily Kos and FTB in a few minutes. We’ll also be monitoring the Twitter hashtag #AskTheMann for questions or comments.

The updated paperback version of the Hockey Stick would make a great stocking stuffer for the science junky in your life. Like the original, its well written in layman’s terms but still lays out the ruthless intersection of climate science and conservative politics faced by a small group of researchers who had the gall to succeed in their research and create the foundation on which modern paleoclimatology rests. But the best part for me is the fascinating tour of the science underlying climatology, with a particularly noteworthy focus on the analysis that went into the diagram that caused all the ruckus, first published in Nature by Mann, Bradley and Hughes in 1998: the Hockey Stick.

DS: I have only a couple of questions for Dr. Mann and then I’ll turn it over to you guys in comments. First up, we’ve witnessed the largest tornado and the largest hurricane lay waste to the Earth’s surface just in the last few months. Is it time to say these storms are demonstrating exactly the kind of attributes predicted by climate change and/or a harbinger of things to come as the oceans and atmosphere warm?

Dr. Mann: This is of course the question on everyone’s mind right now, in the wake of the extreme weather we have seen here in the U.S., and all around the world, over the past few years. It’s something I talk about in the new “postscript” chapter in the just-published paperback edition of my book The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars.

It’s really this simple: we predicted decades ago that we would see more frequent and intense heat waves, more widespread drought, more catastrophic flooding events, etc. And now that we are indeed seeing this come true, as we predicted would be the case if we continued to burn fossil fuels and elevate atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations, the burden is no longer on those arguing for a connection, but on those arguing for the lack of a connection. The assumption now has to be that the fundamental changes in the atmosphere that we have caused are modifying every weather event, because every weather event takes place in an atmosphere that is now about 1.5-degrees Fahrenheit warmer, and contains about 4 percent more storm-generating moisture. With hurricanes and typhoons, we know that warmer oceans and more atmospheric moisture leads to potentially stronger and more devastating storms. With tornadoes, we know that a warmer, moister atmosphere leads to a more unstable atmosphere, with greater potential for severe thunderstorms and squall lines, one of the key ingredients for tornadoes.

Now, in both of these cases, there are uncertainties that have to do with certain details about the behavior of the jet stream, etc. in a warmer world. But having witnessed record tropical storms like Superstorm Sandy, Typhoon Haiyan, and the unprecedented 2005 Atlantic hurricane season over the past decade, there is little doubt in my mind that we are witnessing the “loading” of the random weather dice, with double sixes coming up a whole lot more often than they ought to.

Yes, there are uncertainties when we start talking about individual events, but that really isn’t the point. When a baseball player suddenly doubles the number of home runs he has been hitting through his career or season, and he is discovered to have been taking steroids that season, we don’t have to—nor could we ever hope to—prove that any one of those record season home runs was caused by the steroids. It is the wrong question.The right question is, were the steroids responsible for a good number of those home runs collectively? And the answer is yes.

Too often we let the confusionists in the climate change debate wrongly frame this connection so as to blur the connection between climate change and extreme weather. It’s time that we start calling the out the false framing. The answer is, yes—the record heat, drought, devastating wildfires, coastal flooding events, etc. that we are seeing is almost certainly a result of human-caused global warming and climate change. And it will get much worse if we don’t do something to curtail our ever-escalating burning of fossil fuels.

DS: There remain many websites and think tanks pumping out misinformation. How can regular non-scientists like us fight back?

Dr. Mann: A great question. There is far too much misinformation and—indeed—disinformation out there, much of it manufactured by professional climate change deniers funded or connected with polluting interests, such as the infamous Koch Brothers, who have poured tens of millions of dollars into the climate change denial propaganda campaign in recent years. But fortunately, there are many ways we can fight back.

A major part of why I wrote my book was to describe my experiences at the center of the attacks of the climate change denial machine because of the now-iconic “Hockey Stick” curve my co-authors and I published a decade and a half ago. I tell the story of how a science nerd like myself ended up at the center of the larger debate over climate change, how though initially reluctant to enter into the fray, I have grown to embrace that role. I have fought back against the forces of disinformation and denial by using my position in the spotlight to inform the public discourse, to call out manufactured climate change denial, and to hold public officials accountable for their actions.

But everyone can assist in the effort to fight back in a multitude of ways: By writing letters and op-eds for local newspapers, talking with our family, friends, classmates, co-workers, neighbors, etc. to make sure they understand the reality of the climate change threat, the risks it poses, and the importance of doing something about it. By participating in comment threads, news groups, blogs, etc., and debunking anti-science with facts. By engaging in public speaking on the matter, through civic organizations, church groups, public forums, and the like. By voting for policymakers who will reflect our concerns rather than the narrow agenda of powerful vested interests. By writing letters to politicians at all level—local, state, and national—asking them to support climate change action.

No one person alone can fight back the forces of denial and disinformation. They are well-funded, well-organized, and motivated, and they are very effective at manipulating the naive and ignorant into doing their bidding for them. But we have the most powerful weapon of all on our side: truth. And eventually, truth will win out here. We just have to keep fighting and pushing forward.

Michael Mann is a professor at Penn State University, a founding member of the popular science blog Realclimate, and has appeared on virtually every major news and science cable network. He is active on Twitter @MichaelEMann and may be available this morning for registered readers, time permitting, to respond to a few comments below.

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  1. 1
    StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return!

    @ Dr Michael Mann :

    First : Thankyou. Thanks for you work, for putting up with all the rubbish and fighting back against the downright evil lies and rubbish that too many people have spewed forwards for too long.

    FWIW. You have my admiration, respect and support & if there’s any tips you have for how we can help you and your climate science colleagues please let us know.

    Secondly, what do you think about the possible positive contributions of thorium reactors and other preferably non-uranium / plutonium based nuclear energy sources. Could they help or will they just be toolittel, toolate and not yet proven to work well enough?

    Thirdly, what’s your view of some of the geoengineering ideas that have been proposed like biochar, stratospheric sulphur injections, ocena fertilising todraw down C)2 etc .. ? Can we do anything technologically – realistically – that makes enough of a difference fast enough? Along with emissions reductions as well of course.

    Thirdly, Do you agree with Hansen’s asessment of the 350 ppm Co2 limit for avoiding the worst climatic consequences or is that too high or low and if so why?

    Fifth and finally, what do you think of the idea of using the term Global Overheating instead of “warming” because warmth is generally seen as a mild and good thing and thus is misleading -maybe introduce the term HIRGO for Human-Induced Rapid Global Overheating because that’s plain english descriptive and emphasises the key aspects of the problem, i.e. its Rapid its getting too hot and its caused by our emissions?

  2. 2
    StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return!

    Sorry about the typos. Late night here in Australia now.

  3. 3
    mmann00

    Thanks StevoR for your question from down under :-) And for your kind words as well. These are indeed things I touch on in the book. Re nuclear, well it would be nice if we had viable fusion reactors, but that still seems a ways off. So we’re talking fission, i.e .Uranium, Thorium, etc. My understanding is that Thorium reactors are not w/out their risks (proliferation issues, accidents), and so what we’re really talking about here is trading off different risks against each other. Fossil fuel energy has its obvious risks. As does Nuclear. But those risks have very different timescales and footprints associated with them. That makes it difficult to do a truly comparative cost-benefit analysis. Given that it is probably a matter of a few decades until we could scale up renewables to the level they can satisfy projected energy demand, we’ll probably need to find some “bridge” a couple decades long, to a fossil fuel free economy. I’ve often said that nuclear should be one of the options that is “on the table” as we pursue options of meeting growing global energy demand without destroying our environment and planet. But I’m somewhat skeptical that they will be truly cost effective, when we factor in the risks and consider the cost in required infrastructure (it takes about 50 years, as I understand it, for a conventional nuclear power plant, to return enough energy to break even on infrastructure cost), that nuclear will necessary be a key part of that “bridge”. But lets have that conversation–its a worth one–rather than the silly debate we continue to have in some countries (sadly now Australia included) in whether or not the climate change threat even exists. As for geoengineering, except for the mildest options (e.g. open air capture of carbon), I believe that the law of unintended consequences reins supreme. The risk was best summarized in an old children’s song from when I was growing up: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8a13-JbxC98

  4. 4
    mudpuddles

    Hi Stephen, just want to bring to your attention (in case its not noticed or is localised here) but this page – your post and subsequent comments – is full of spam links attached to random words, linking to websites which Web Of Trust tells me are blacklisted and known for malware. Something you might look into.

  5. 5
    Stephen "DarkSyde" Andrew

    Thanks Mud. I don’t see it, but I’ve seen that stuff before. I ran a scan and reposted it just in case.

  6. 6
    mudpuddles

    Well it seems to have worked, looking good now ;)

  7. 7
    dysomniak "They are unanimous in their hate for me, and I welcome their hatred!"

    Stephen: I checked after getting mud’s comment in my email (my first thought was that they might have malware on their machine) and saw the links despite running adblock. Now they’re gone, which makes me pretty sure the problem is on your end, and something that really ought to be looked into.

  8. 8
    StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return!

    @3. mmann00 : Thanks for your answer there – much appreciated.

    Another one I meant to ask last night and forgot if I may (so many questions possible, surprised more people aren’t asking here!) is about the Arctic sea ice which has been vanishing so much more quickly than models predicted. What do you think could explain that faster than expected melt and what do you think the implications are?

  9. 9
    StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return!

    Update: Dr Mann ably answered dozens of reader questions and remarks at Daily Kos here

    Daily Kos? But I thought the Q & A session was going to be taking place here on this thread? I got that wrong didn’t I? D’oh! Guess it explains a bit though.

  10. 10
    mildlymagnificent

    StevoR

    Have a look at Kevin Cowtan and Robert Way’s paper on the recent temperature record for starters. http://www.skepticalscience.com/global-warming-since-1997-more-than-twice-as-fast.html There are a couple of other pieces at RealClimate http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2013/11/global-warming-since-1997-underestimated-by-half/ and a couple of other good sites.

    The other thing about the loss of Arctic sea ice is that IIRC there were “issues” (waaaay beyond my pay grade) about how ocean circulation models link with atmospheric models which might go part of the way to explain part of the discrepancy. My own feeling with absolutely no technical expertise to back it up is that everyone focused so strongly on the extraordinary insolation during Arctic summer without looking hard enough at the slightly warmer water beneath the ice, year in year out eating away at its thickness and strength.

    But you have to remember, even the people who live, eat and breathe Arctic ice were taken by surprise in 2007. Some of them recognised that this was probably a sign of the “new normal”. Others managed to delay the shock to their systems by treating ’07 as an outlier – and then 2012 turned up (down in fact). http://neven1.typepad.com/.a/6a0133f03a1e37970b017744cf5360970d-pi

    Arctic sea ice is really the most stunning visual effect of warming. The really nasty stuff is in the statistics. See Hansen, Sato, Ruedy’s graphs of the decadal change in summer temperature anomalies here. http://www.giss.nasa.gov/research/briefs/hansen_17/ They send chills down my spine.

  11. 11
    Stephen "DarkSyde" Andrew

    No you’re right, it was in both places. But there were dozens of questions there and only yours and the one I fielded in the post suggested by Patrick on FTB. But if you have other queries I can ask him for you?

  12. 12
    StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return!

    @10.mildlymagnificent & 11. Stephen “DarkSyde” Andrew : Thanks both of you.

  1. 13
    Science denial is deadly » The Zingularity

    […] Michael Mann — Too often we let the confusionists in the climate change debate wrongly frame this connection so as to blur the connection between climate change and extreme weather. It’s time that we start calling the out the false framing. The answer is, yes—the record heat, drought, devastating wildfires, coastal flooding events, etc. that we are seeing is almost certainly a result of human-caused global warming and climate change. And it will get much worse if we don’t do something to curtail our ever-escalating burning of fossil fuels. […]

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