Michael Mann is the director the Earth Systems Science Center at Penn State and has published more than 200 peer reviewed papers. He may be best known for a presentation in 1999 that introduced the “hockey stick” — a graph showing how a warming climate is associated with the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. Mann appeared on the CBS television program 60 Minutes last Sunday, where he told reporter Scott Pelley, “There’s about as much scientific consensus about human caused climate change as there is about gravity.”
Mann was responding to an assertion by alleged president Donald Trump that scientist don’t know if there is a relationship between climate change and the recent forest fires on the West Coast. “The president doesn’t know and he should know better,” Mann told Pelley.
According to a report by the Columbia Journalism Review, Michael Mann actually had a bit of welcome news about global warming for the show’s viewers. He told 60 Minutes, there has been “a dramatic change in [scientists’] understanding” of the climate system in recent years. The latest research indicates a reduction in carbon emissions could lead to a corresponding decrease in average global temperatures in as little as 3 to 5 years. The previous thinking in the scientific community was that if all carbon emissions stopped abruptly, it would take 30 to 50 years for cooling to begin.
While that’s the good news, the rest of the story is that to avoid a climate catastrophe, the world community must begin slashing carbon emissions now. In an interview with The Guardian, Mann says, “If we are going to avert ever more catastrophic climate change impacts, we need to limit warming below a degree and a half Celsius, a little less than three degrees Fahrenheit. Another four years of what we’ve seen under Trump, which is to outsource environmental and energy policy to the polluters and dismantle protections put in place by the previous administration … would make that essentially impossible.”
“Whoa,” some people will say. “That’s a political statement designed to affect the upcoming election.” Mann acknowledges that criticism but adds, “It is a political statement because it speaks to the need to enact policies to deal with climate change but it isn’t partisan to say that we should act on this crisis.” He points out the 2018 IPCC report warned carbon emissions would need to fall at least 50% by 2030 in order to avoid a catastrophic climate breakdown that could make the Earth uninhabitable for humans and millions of other species.
The past two years have been squandered, largely because the United States has chosen to withdraw from any concerted action programs and forfeit its leadership role in the world community. The putative president and his minions have encouraged more drilling, more methane leaks, more mercury in thermal generating plant emissions, more lead in drinking water, and more tailpipe emissions from vehicles. Now we hear that ExxonMobil actually plans to dramatically increase its carbon emissions over the next 5 years. Why are these people not in prison for crimes against humanity?
“So now the incline is steeper,” Mann tells The Guardian. “It’s no longer 5% [reductions] a year for the next 10 years. It’s more like seven and a half per cent.” The numbers get unrealistically challenging if Trump gains another four years as president. “Four more years of relative inaction, of flat emissions, means that four years from now that number might be closer to 15% [emissions reductions] a year. And that may be, although not physically impossible, societally impossible. The rate at which we shift away from a fossil fuel driven infrastructure, it just may not be economically possible or socially viable to do it that [fast].”
Last night, the automaton known as Mike Pence was adamant about preserving America’s energy infrastructure as it presently stands. But he has no answer for the cataclysmic harm that will result if the US continues its Drill, Baby, Drill mania. He pretends transitioning away from fossil fuels will lead to massive job losses despite evidence that investment in renewable energy will create far more jobs than pouring money down the same old fossil fuel rat hole.
The Republican Party is a captive of the fossil fuel industry. It does what it is told to do and says what it is told to say. So long as corporations have the status of super-citizens who can overwhelm the political process with massive injections of campaign cash, little will change. Sadly, it is our children, the ones who have no ability to vote, who will suffer the cruelties such oil soaked policies will create.
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