Julia Scheib
News Writer

Dr. Michael Mann, a prominent climate scientist, lectured to a sizeable crowd at Millersville’s Winter Center last Thursday night on the subjects he wrote about in his 2012 book, “The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches from the Front Lines”.

Dr. Michael Mann, distinguished professor of meteorology and director of Earth System Science Center at Penn State University.
Dr. Michael Mann, distinguished professor of meteorology and director of Earth System Science Center at Penn State University.

He explained why and how the scientific consensus that climate change is caused by humans came to be seen by the public as a point of controversy rather than fact. Dr. Mann stressed the imperative for the United States to get past this phony debate so that we can realistically act to mitigate for the effects of climate change and drastically “ramp down” emissions to avoid losing our world as we know it.

In 1998, Dr. Mann and two of his colleagues published the “Hockey Stick” graph, which was the result of their attempts to reconstruct Earth’s temperature record of the past 1000 years. They used “proxy indicators” of temperature such as ice core and tree ring data to approximate temperature measurements of long ago. The result showed a long “shaft” of variable but relatively low temperatures followed by a swift warming that began about 150 years ago, after the Industrial Revolution.

The Hockey Stick graph became a well-known symbol of the science behind human-caused climate change and made Mann into a “reluctant and accidental figure” at the center of the political debate over climate change.

He described the harassment he endured from Republican politicians who sought to discredit him and his colleagues; in one instance, Texas Congressman Joe Barton (the largest recipient of fossil fuel-industry campaign funding in the House of Representatives) sent Mann a subpoena demanding all of his personal communications. Mann refused to comply, and still expresses his gratitude to Republicans who spoke out against Barton and other climate deniers who bully scientists.

Dr. Mann said, “We are about as confident about human-caused climate change as we are that smoking causes lung cancer,” but that, just like Big Tobacco in its campaign to cover up the harmful effects of smoking, the fossil fuel industry “has chosen to try to convince the public that the problem doesn’t exist.” In fact, some of the “scientist advocates” who represent industry-funded think tanks like the Heartland Institute, which come out with reports intended to disprove human-caused climate change, served tobacco companies in the same capacity decades ago.

Dr. Mann lamented the fact that the industry’s influence has had such a heavy effect on Congress. The House Science Committee’s leading members deny both evolution and human-caused climate change. With the House as it stands there is next to no hope of real climate legislation getting passed in this country. But he still finds reasons to be optimistic.

“If we act now to reduce emissions,” he said, “we can still prevent the climate from increasing more than two or three degrees Fahrenheit and prevent the severe blows to water security, land security, national security, biodiversity, and human health that will surely fall if we continue to burn fossil fuels at current levels.

Leaders on the state and local levels are starting to band together to make pro-environment changes. And with a “modest swing” in the House”, Mann said.

A governing majority would be able to pass comprehensive legislation to mitigate for climate change and reduce emissions.

At the end of Mann’s prepared lecture, Jerry Lee Miller of Lancaster’s Citizens’ Climate Lobby posed a question. That afternoon he and some fellow members of the lobby had been in the office of local congressman Joe Pitts to discuss the climate crisis, and hadn’t been able to detect any sense of urgency in the congressman, who is in his ninth term in office. Questions were raised, including how to “spread a sense of urgency about climate change”.

Dr. Mann replied, “We need to keep talking about it and achieve a critical mass to build toward a tipping point, where change will happen.” He praised Miller’s efforts to reach politicians: “We need to make sure that our policymakers aren’t just hearing from narrow interests that don’t necessarily have our civilization’s best interests at heart. The Koch brothers are talking to them,” he said, “so regular citizens should, too.”