112: Professor Michael Mann, The Center for Science at the University of Pennsylvania
Guest Name(s): Michael Mann
Professor Mann, one of the leading Climate Scientists in the US explains very clearly the scientific understanding of historic climate change based on the temperature record of the past thousand years. Make sure not to miss this engaging interview with the Director of the Center for Science, Sustainability & the Media at the University of Pennsylvania.
Episode Audio Links:
#112 – Michael Mann – A Climate Change with Matt Matern
All right. This is a climate change with Matt Matern, but I am filling in for Matt Matern. My name is Harry Berberian. And we have an amazing guest today on A Climate Change. We have Professor Michael Mann, and he is the Director of the Center for Science, Sustainability and the Media at University of Pennsylvania. And I was very curious, Michael, first of all about what exactly is, tell us about, the Center for Science, sustainability and the media because the word media I just was intrigued by and what that what’s that all about? And welcome to the show.
Yeah, thanks, Harry. It’s good to be with you. In the center, you know, which I started when I arrived at the University of Pennsylvania, just last September, after having been at Penn State University for 16 years. And so the joke is that I didn’t have to get new business cards, I just crossed off the state, and I can still use them.
So I’m now at Penn rather than Penn State. And one of the attractions was not just that, you know, there are a lot of great folks in climate, climate science at the University of Pennsylvania, in my department, the Department of Earth and Environmental Science, there’s, you know, important climate research that goes on there. And I’m part of that now. But what I was also intrigued by was the presence of the Annenberg School for Communication, one of the leading schools for communication in the country. And sort of over the years, while I started out really, as a scientist, my experiences sort of pushed me out into the public sphere.
And over time, I’ve really embraced that opportunity to not just do science, related to climate change, but to inform the public discourse, and the often fractious public debate over climate change and what to do about it.
And so at Penn, I had an opportunity to have a joint appointment in arts and sciences, but also the Annenberg School, where I direct the Center that tries to bring all that together, that brings together the science and its implications when it tells us about, you know, climate risk, and the sorts of impacts that we may have to contend with. But the greatest challenge really, today isn’t so much the scientific case, we know enough about the science to tell us that climate change is real, it’s human caused, and it’s already creating all sorts of problems for us.
The real challenge now is communicating that to the public, and to policymakers in a way that’s accessible, and, frankly, in an environment that’s sometimes hostile, because there are some bad actors out there, that have really been working hard to pollute our public discourse with misinformation, and indeed, disinformation, intentional misinformation, that is aimed at sort of creating doubt about the science and thus sort of promoting an agenda of inaction, of climate inaction.
Because if we fail to do anything about the problem, the the big winner there is the fossil fuel industry that would love us to sort of follow a pathway of business as usual, that would love us to remain addicted to fossil fuels, when in fact, we know we have to get off that addiction.
And so that’s really the challenge now is to, is to communicate, the not just the urgency, but also the agency, the fact that we can still make a difference in this very fractious, you know, public sort of political economy that we that we find ourselves in today when it comes to issues like climate change.
But I mean, I mean, how do we truly, though, I mean, so I mean, is it true, then, let’s say, you know, let’s say the right wingers out there denying climate change and whatnot. I mean, truly, the fossil fuel industry is, is behind all this, this, this this dissemination of incorrect information? And I mean, it’s, it seems to be like a monolith of just almost, you know, people that I mean, I could, I don’t know, is it wrong for me to say that I feel that people that are not alarmed about climate change think that that God or something is going to save the day and that there’s nothing to worry about and, and no matter what we do to this earth, you know, is that tied in also with the fossil fuel industries that line of thinking.
Yeah, well, it’s it’s a great question. And you know, and it’s something that I get into a bit in my book, sort of one of my first books was The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars was sort of about my experiences as a scientist, finding myself in this very contentious arena of, again of the public discourse over this issue. So yeah, the fossil fuel industry ExxonMobil. Other large fossil fuel companies for decades have funded a massive misinformation campaign.
And in fact, some years ago, the journalistic outlet, inside climate news, small outfit, but they actually have one Pulitzer Prize for their reporting, and they’re very focused on the issue of climate. And they did sort of investigation into a report it was a Exxon Mobil internal report from 1982, that got leaked into the public domain. And in this report, Exxon Mobil’s own scientists were describing the potential consequences of continued fossil fuel burning as catastrophic. Those were their words, it was the words of Exxon Mobil’s own scientists, but they fired that division, they got rid of it, they hid that report, and instead invested hundreds, literally hundreds of millions of dollars in a massive misinformation campaign, along with other fossil fuel companies to attack the very science that their own scientists had secretly reaffirmed themselves.
In some ways, it’s comparable to what the tobacco industry did hiding, you know, their own internal research that demonstrated the threat of their product. In that case, you know, cigarettes, tobacco. And it’s interesting that you, you know, draw this analogy, sort of with religion, and the idea that, hey, you know, God will save us. There is and I hate to use the, you know, forgive the pun here. But there is this sort of unholy alliance, that has formed over time between what we might think of as the corporate right, tobacco industry, fossil fuel industry, and the religious right.
And, you know, I’ve talked a bit about that, and some of my writings and other you know, scholars have talked about that at length. And it has to do with the fact that there was this political alliance, that sort of the corporate right needed to convince hordes of people to support their agenda, hordes of people whose own interests conflict with the interests potentially, of powerful corporations. And that has been one of the great successes really, on the right side of our political spectrum has been for one of the two parties to marshal a fairly sizable contingent of people to vote against their own interest. And that’s true when it comes to things like climate change.
But religion turned out to be a very important part of that the use of religion as a way to sort of Marshal, if you will, sort of the ground forces in this movement. And, and, and that, you know, that alliance, you know, people like Ralph Reed of the Christian coalition, some years ago, that was decades ago, where he was caught on tape, sort of talking about how clever they were in convincing Christian, you know, large numbers of Evangelicals to support their, you know, anti-tax pro-corporations agenda.
So it’s interesting that you, you say that, you know, that you draw that analogy, because there is this sort of, you know, when you see it on social media, right, you see that there is, you know, when you look at people who sort of branded themselves as Maga Republicans, and they’re almost always climate change deniers and you look at their profiles, they’ll often say, like, God, Jesus guns, you know, this is part of the ideology. Now it is, and it’s, it has created a real obstacle when it comes to things that are about facts, not opinions, not about ideology.
Climate change is a fact. It doesn’t care. It doesn’t care about your politics, the impacts of climate change, don’t care about your politics. The ocean doesn’t care, whether you’re Republican or Democrat, as it inundates your communities, tropical storms, hurricanes, these increasingly more damaging storms and droughts and heat waves and wildfires and floods. They impact all of us they don’t care about our party affiliation.
They’re a good friend of mine and one of the great scientists in our field. Lonnie Thompson, who is a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Science used to say, because he did a lot of research into glaciers and the melting of glaciers, and he would say the ice has no agenda as it melts. And that’s true of the climate writ large.
And so that’s the challenge, right? In this very polarized information age that we can, you know, that we exist in today, where social media, like Twitter had become weaponized, you know, ideologically to advance certain agendas. It’s really difficult to have a conversation about something like climate change, which has become, you know, again, has been weaponized has been politicized.
You know, not by the scientists, the critics like to say, Oh, you guys politicize the science. No, we’re just trying to deliver the message of what the science has to say that message happens to be convenient for some powerful interests. And that’s why it’s become political because it’s become inconvenient to some powerful interests.
Gotcha. Gotcha. All right. We’re gonna wrap here with the first segment. This is you’re listening to A Climate Change with Matt Matern, we have the distinguished Professor Michael Mann, and we’ll be right back.
You’re listening to A Climate Change with Matt Matern. And we have, again, the distinguished Professor Michael Mann, from University of Pennsylvania. And as we were saying, Michael, um, we’re talking, you know, obviously about like the dissemination campaign from, from the fossil fuel industry.
But I mean, let’s say, you know, corporations are truly, you know, throttling our governments out there around the world. And what I mean, if government is going to be a major agency in combating climate change, what do we do about the, you know, the fossil fuel industry having such a grip? On our, our, our, our political institutions? What, what do we do about that?
Yeah, it’s a great question. And it just today, there was an announcement, you know, the Supreme Court has gutted parts of the Clean Water Act. So we’re sort of watching this play out, we’re seeing a dismantling of many of the critical, you know, environmental successes that came about, I would, you know, point out not just from Democratic administrations, but Republican administrations.
Let’s not forget that Richard Nixon, in the Nixon administration gave us the EPA in the first place. George, Ronald Reagan supported the Montreal Protocol to ban you know, ozone depleting chemicals. George HW Bush, actually, was instrumental, his administration actually produced the notion of cap and trade. That was a Republican concept that came about under the George HW Bush administration to deal with the problem of acid rain. And so, you know, for a long time, issues of environmental preservation and conservation weren’t political.
And when you think about if you’re a conservative, well, why shouldn’t it be natural to want to conserve, you know, our, you know, our environment. And it was only really, in the administration of the second George Bush, George W. Bush, where issues like climate change really started to become such a political, politically partisan issue. And in that came about in part because of efforts Dick Cheney and the energy industry and they sort of came in midway through George W. Bush’s first term and actually Wu supported, you know, climate action.
He appointed Christine Todd Whitman, who was an environmentalist, to be the head of the EPA. And she declared co2 emissions, carbon emissions from fossil fuels to be a pollutant under the Clean Air Act. That was under George W. Bush’s administration. Midway through the administration, though it was really Dick Cheney and the energy industry that came in, they got rid of Christine Todd Whitman, they took over the environmental policy, essentially, of that administration.
And they haven’t looked back. And so since then, it really has become a politically partisan issue. And that’s really unfortunate. Now, there are some some conservatives out there, some of them are a good friends of mine, who are true political conservatives, they have conservative ideologies, but they they care about the planet that they leave behind for their children grandchildren. Bob Inglis, former congressman from South Carolina, who was sort of part of the so called Reagan Revolution back in the 1980s, had a nearly perfect lifetime, conservative voting record.
But his children actually convinced him that he needed to do something about climate. He’s an evangelical Christian cares about stewardship of the planet. And and started talking about climate. And then the good ol Koch brothers, conservative funders came in and basically booted him, they primaried him out of his congressional position by giving lots of money to a primary opponent, who defeated him in that election.
And so there are some good folks out there who are Republicans, but they’ve increasingly found themselves somewhat isolated in a party that has formed a very close association with the fossil fuel industry. And that’s sort of where we are now, let me come back to your original question, because I didn’t even answer it. What can we do?
Elaborating on the earlier section? But go ahead, go ahead.
Yeah, I mean, so what can we do about it?
So you know, in the end, the, the obstacles aren’t technological, at this point, they’re not physical, we can still act to avert the worst consequences of climate change. The obstacles are political. And that means we can make a difference through our actions, through voting through union using our voice through doing everything in our power in our means, to put pressure on the political process, and to help elect politicians.
And I don’t care what party affiliation they are, as long as they support action on climate, putting those people, you know, in politics and getting rid of those who refuse to act who have instead hindered efforts to do something about climate, who have acted essentially as rubber stamps for polluters, we got to get rid of them, we got to vote in people who will do our bidding what’s right for us rather than the bidding of powerful polluters.
Right. Yeah, absolutely. I mean, so. So politics is is truly a major force when it comes to addressing climate change. Do you think there and I have heard that you’re hopeful you’re hopeful about combating climate change overall, are you not?
I am part of it comes from, you know, studying the science, knowing what the science says, it tells us that, you know, there’s still time to prevent, you know, three degree Fahrenheit warming of the planet, where we’ll start to see some of the worst consequences of climate change.
What would a three degree planet look like an increase of three degrees?
Well, it’s, we start to potentially move into new territory, where we see not just damage to, you know, coral reefs, but the destruction of all the world’s great coral reefs, we see even more devastating hurricanes. And we’ve already seen the devastating consequences of extreme weather events that have been supercharged by the warming of the planet, in the form of these unprecedented heat waves and wildfires and floods and, you know, droughts that we’ve seen in recent years here in the United States and elsewhere around the world.
So by some measure, dangerous climate change, consequences have already come here, but it gets a whole lot worse. And you know, the climate projections show show that if we warm the planet, you know, but beyond one and a half Celsius, that’s about three degrees Fahrenheit. Right now we’re at about 1.2 Celsius, and we warm it below about one, warm it beyond 1.5.
We’ll start to see, you know, qualitatively more devastating extreme weather events, we may commit to the collapse of large parts of the major ice sheets, the Greenland ice sheet, the West End Arctic ice sheet, where we’re locking in not just inches or feet of sea level rise, but we’re locking in meters of sea level rise and the inundation ultimately of, you know, our great coastal cities that, you know, there’s some uncertainty, but uncertainty isn’t our friend here.
I like to look at it not so much as like a cliff that exists at one and a half Celsius, three degrees Fahrenheit, it’s more like we’re walking out in onto a minefield. And the farther we walk out onto that minefield, the more danger we’re likely to encounter. And so the only smart, you know, action at this point is to stop this forward lurch onto this dangerous climate minefield.
And that’s where the science to me is actually somewhat reassuring, because the developments in climate science over the last decade or so, have actually led to a pretty substantial revision in our understanding of the relationship between carbon emissions and warming. We used to think that warming would persist for decades, even if we stopped polluting, because of what we call the thermal inertia of the system.
This the sluggishness of the oceans that continue to, to warm up even after we stop raising the concentrations of greenhouse gases in That’s true, that’s real. But it’s offset by another factor, which we weren’t really taking into account is that the, the oceans in particular are drawing down carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
So if we stop adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, the oceans, and to a lesser extent, what we call the terrestrial biosphere, forests, and in plants on land, they’re pulling co2 out of the atmosphere, so that co2 level starts to come down, and the warming effect of that co2 starts to come down.
And all of that sort of in the end cancels out the delayed warming that I talked about at the beginning, the thermal inertia, which would cause us continued to continue to warm after we stopped polluting, is offset by this co2 absorption effect, the two things cancel out.
And we basically get a flat line. What do I mean by that? If we stopped polluting right now, global surface temperatures would basically stop warming up, they would, they would stay at the level that they are right now. It would happen within a couple years, two to three years, the planet stops warming up.
And so that means that there is a direct and immediate impact of our efforts to reduce carbon emissions, it really speaks to that agency that I was talking about before. So if we just stop where we’re at right now, with the planet, the planet stops warming up the surface of our planet, which is driving these extreme weather events, starts stops warming up. Now, it’s not that simple. Because the oceans continue, the deep oceans continue to warm, the ice sheets continued to be sort of eroded as the ice shelves are warmed by the warm ocean beneath it.
So sea level rise could actually continue on for some time. There are some impacts that could continue to get worse. But a lot of the impacts those impacts that are tied directly to how warm the surface of the planet is, those would stop getting worse. So that’s a really important finding. And, you know, in reality, of course, it’s hard to slam on the brakes. We have this locomotive, right, that is our global economic system. And we’re not going to make that transition overnight. There’s going to be a certain amount of delay there.
So I want to talk to you something about the oceans. We’re going to wrap up this particular segment about the oceans ability to absorb carbon, but you’re listening to A Climate Change with Matt Matern. We have Professor Michael Mann and we’ll be right back.
You’re listening to A Climate Change with Matt Matern. I’m your I’m your substitute host today, Harry Berberian. And we have the distinguished Professor Michael Mann, and Michael continuing on with the subject of the oceans and how I’ve heard it, like the oceans maybe, correct me if I’m wrong, but they they absorb as much as is it 80% of all the carbon dioxide ideally out there.
I’m gonna give you, I just finished teaching a course for first year students at Penn on climate and I’m gonna give you an A minus. Very close, you get a lot of partial credit there. 90%. But you’re, you’re right. A huge amount of the heating is going into the oceans, about 90% of the heat is going into the oceans.
That’s amazing. But now I also we recently spoke to, do you know, Professor Gaurav Sant?
The name sounds familiar, but I’m not sure I know them.
Well, yeah. He is leading a team of researchers that have developed carbon sequestration from the oceans rim he’s he’s arguing that we have to remove carbon from the oceans because the oceans are much like a sponge. And they’re over capacitated with with with carbon and their ability to remove carbon is is jeopardized because there’s just too much carbon in the ocean. And that we have to remove the carbon to make the oceans more apt to to soak in the carbon. What what is what is your thoughts on that?
Yeah, I mean, that’s why this is sort of the you know, climate change is evil twin, if you like because the carbon pollution we’re putting into the atmosphere is not just warming up the planet in creating climate change. It’s also literally acidifying the ocean. Because the some of that atmospheric carbon, as we’ve already said, some of that CO2 is absorbed by the ocean, when it’s dissolved in water, it forms carbonic acid that literally dissolves the calcium carbonate, skeletons of of shellfish, it dissolves coral reefs. So the ocean is literally getting more acidic.
Now it’s still basic, like it’s got a pH that’s higher than seven than water, which is neutral. So it’s still basic, but it’s becoming less basic, it’s becoming more acidic. And already, it’s become more difficult for these shellfish for corals to create these calcium carbonate skeletons that they obviously need.
And that’s, that’s a real threat to ocean ecosystems, it’s a threat to the food chains that support us. Because obviously, we are very dependent on on seafood 25%, I believe of the population of the world, their primary source of protein is seafood.
And so this is a threat to us as well, but it’s a threat to our ecosystems. And so you’re absolutely right. The CO2, there’s no free lunch, you know, as I said before, some of that co2 that we’re putting into the atmosphere, some of its going to be absorbed by the oceans, but that’s doing damage itself.
So the only real way to make you know, to prevent all of this, from getting worse is to is to stop, you know, the source of the problem, which is our ongoing burning of fossil fuels and the ongoing addition of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
Again, a little bit of good news, we’ve got the technology to do it, we just need the political will. And it’s a tall order, we’ve got to cut carbon emissions by 50% within the next decade, if we are to keep warming below that sort of danger level that I talked about, of three degrees Fahrenheit, one and a half Celsius, but it’s still doable.
Right. Okay, so let’s just say, you know, climate change, you know, what’s going on is it’s dictated by let’s say, the almighty dollar. So everyone, you know, if these corporations, you said the almighty, and now you’re saying the almighty dollar?
Well, you know, what I mean, I mean, the power of economics is driving, obviously, climate change and the fossil fuels industry interest in continuing to promote fossil fuels. So, do you feel that, you know, in our changing automotive, you know, mechanics of, you know, using like electric or hydrogen or hybrids, I mean, and I see like corporations like Aramco.
And, you know, Exxon and whatever here and there, they’re touting, you know, new green energy solutions to, you know. Do you feel like there could be a huge new economic incentive to shift away from fossil fuels for these corporations who are never going to they’re never going to end?
They’re, they’re greedy, you know, fascination with fossil fuels until there’s a true economic. Did you know, incentive to to to make themselves look good, by now, embracing green technologies? I mean, do you see that there’s an economic incentive for them to or is that structure truly not in place?
And you’re absolutely right, actually, in fact, the incentives right now are in the direction of renewable energy, if you look at the levelized cost of different forms of energy and Lazard every year puts out updated you know, estimates of so how much does it cost to produce a you know, a watt of power from different sources of energy taking into account not just the cost of the energy production, but the upfront you know, infrastructure you have to create in obviously, for, you know, a coal fired power plant, you got to build that coal fired power plant for solar.
You got to build those, you know those solar arrays. So the levelized cost takes all that upfront money, and then the marginal cost of producing a unit of power. And so what’s the overall average cost for each source of energy and renewable energy, wind, solar, geothermal beats out fossil fuel energy, it beats out nuclear energy. Nuclear is quite expensive on that scale. And the only reason so you at this point, I can see a puzzled look, and you should be puzzled.
Well, if it’s cheaper, then why aren’t we all just moving in that direction, buying the cheaper energy? Well, the fossil fuel industry, and we talked about the huge power and influence that they have, and they’ve used that power and influence to get all sorts of incentives, all sorts of government subsidies that make them artificially cheap, they’re only able to out compete renewable energy, because they get all of these cheap leases, to sort of drill for oil and natural gas on public lands, all sorts of incentives, direct and indirect, that make them artificially cheaper than they really are. And that’s not even taking into account the damage, right.
Because when we, you know, burn fossil fuels, we’re doing damage to all of us, we’re doing damage to our economy, there’s a real cost associated with the climate change. And that’s not taken into account. That’s not even part of the calculation.
That’s why we need a price on carbon or, you know, permit, you know, carbon, you know, trade, you know, tradable missions, permits or carbon pricing, or some way of internalizing the damage that fossil fuels, burning of fossil fuels is doing to the planet, because if we were to do that, then we would immediately transition, we transition even faster towards renewable energy.
But let’s but let’s say these corporations are able to see like, hey, there’s a, you know, it’s we’re tired of the, you know, the backlash against our industry, we’re going to switch to hydrogen, we’re going to switch to you know, we’re gonna even though there’s, there’s there’s ecological damage when it comes to mining for, you know, lithium batteries and whatnot, to our oceans, and, you know, to the, to nodules and all that and mines across the world. I mean, maybe what is it there?
Is it possible that, like, new cleaner sources of energy would be more potentially just as profitable, if not more profitable, than using fossil fuels?
Absolutely. And we’re seeing companies that are coming in and, and, and going, you know, in that direction, are, you know, are doing very well. And, in fact, the inflation Reduction Act, which was, you know, the most significant climate legislation that’s ever been signed into law by President contained sort of components of what’s known as a clean power standard that provides incentives to utilities who provide a larger and larger fraction of their energy from from renewable energy.
So there are incentives there to help move them in that direction. But here’s the problem. Those new companies that are coming in, they’re incentives for them, and they’re profitable. And they also create a whole lot more jobs because the fossil fuel industry has largely become autom automated, so there aren’t, there just aren’t that many jobs in coal, natural gas, there are a lot more potential jobs in renewable energy building new renewable energy, infrastructure, smart grid technology storage. That’s where the growth potential is.
But the fossil fuel industry has a huge sunk in investment. If we move away from fossil fuels. They’ve got, you know, billions of dollars of fossil fuel reserves that are already on their sheets that are already part of their proven reserves, and they want to monetize that. And they don’t want anything to come in the way of them monetizing all of those, all of those fossil fuels lest they become sunken. what are known as sunk in assets? Got it?
Got it. So they already have a vested interest. invested over years of exactly, so, and reserves and huge amounts of reserves of fossil fuels that they want to drill that they want to recover and sell and, and we have to make sure that those become stranded assets.
Got it? Well, but how do we well, we’re going to be wrapping up the segment but very quickly, how do we ensure that they become stranded assets?
You know, market forces. If we guide them in the right direction, we’ll make it too expensive. That it you know, it’ll be too expensive to drill that increasingly difficult to get to or Al are coal, especially when you’ve got renewable energy companies coming in and providing cheaper energy from clean sources.
So somehow our if our governments can make it more expensive for these fossil fuel companies to operate successfully, then then maybe there could be a true true change. All right. Well, we’re wrapping up this one segment here. We’re listening to a climate change with Matt Matern. I’m guest hosting, Harry Berberian, we’ve got wonderful professor Michael Mann, and we’ll be right back.
You’re listening to A Climate Change with Matt Matern. I am your guest host Harry Berberian, and we’ve we’ve got Professor Michael Mann. And we’re continuing our discussion.
But Michael, you have a brand new book coming out is just about to be released, I see are called Our Fragile Moment. And I know you’ve written a lot of books about the climate, and what is different about our fragile moment? And, you know, differing from all the other books about climate change out there. And tell us about Our Fragile Moment.
Yeah, thanks. So, you know, my, my last book was the The New Climate War, it was really about the sort of the politics of climate and climate action. And the the obstacles that we face today, as we move away from denial. You know, because it’s not tenable. It just isn’t credible anymore. You know, you still have some people out there and Twitter, there’s some there’s amplification of climate deniers.
So you would think that there are a lot of them out there because of how amplified they are uncertain social media, like Twitter, with their new algorithm. But the reality is, there aren’t a lot of climate deniers out there, because we are all seeing the impacts of climate change playing out in real time. That doesn’t mean the battle is over. We’ve moved away from denial. But we’ve moved on to sort of these other tactics that polluters are using. Because they don’t care. Why, you know, what prevents us from taking action, they just care that we don’t take action.
And so if they can’t do that through denial, then they’ll happily use other tech, sort of tactics like deflection. We don’t need policies, we don’t need, you know, legislation, carbon pricing, anything like that. We just need individuals to be better stewards of the environment, we need individuals to change their behavior voluntarily to decrease their carbon emissions.
It’s a classic tactic that we’ve seen used over and over in the past, the beverage industry did this, the tobacco industry has done this, blame it on individuals to take the pressure off of politicians to pass legislation to solve the problems systemically, we’re not going to solve this problem, because individuals decide to change their behavior, we’re going to solve this problem, because the incentives are going to be there for people to change their behavior, they’re gonna want to change their behavior, because there’s a positive incentive for them to do that.
That’s one of the D’s now. So we see no, we move away from denial. But we’ve got deflection we’ve got division, we see that on social media, getting climate advocates fighting with each other arguing about their lifestyle choices, whether they’re vegan, whether they fly these sorts of things, if they can get sort of create division within the climate, the sort of community of climate advocates, then it’s sort of a divide and conquer strategy to prevent the climate community from speaking with united voice demanding action.
We see, delay is another “D” word. Oh, we’ll solve this problem down the road. Well, we’ll invent new technology in the future, trust us. So let us continue to extract and sell fossil fuels now, because well, we’ll come up with a solution down the road delay tactic, but perhaps most significant, most pernicious of all, ironically, is Doom-ism, or despair. If they can come to convince us that it’s too late to do anything about the problem, and you sort of alluded to that earlier in our conversation, then, you know, if we can’t do anything about it, then why bother? And again, they don’t care about the path we take. They just care about the destination.
So whether it’s because of denial, or it’s because of dualism, you just think it’s impossible. We can’t solve this problem. It it still leads us down this, you know, to inaction it sort of moves us off of the front lines onto the side. had lines, which is where they want us. And so this new book was my opportunity to get back to the science. Because I was seeing so much of this dualism on the part of people who would otherwise be pushing for climate action, you know, environmentalists, progressives, people who care about climate who want to do something. But they they become convinced it’s too late that we can’t do anything.
So this book was really, you know, I was inspired to write this book to address that. Because so much of that Doom ism actually comes ironically, from misrepresentations of the science, just like climate deniers misrepresent the science, they miss portray the science, in an effort to discredit the science of climate change, you also have Doomers, who will, for example, say, “well, look, there was this episode in the deep geological past where there was all of this methane that was trapped in the permafrost, and it was suddenly released into the atmosphere.” And that led to runaway warming. And that’s what’s happening. Now we can see it in the Arctic, it’s too late, we’re all going to be extinct, it’s too late to do anything inside of nature.
Yeah. And I was seeing this weaponization of misrepresentation of the science of the very field that I sort of started in, which was paleoclimate the study of past climate. I was seeing that science misrepresented, not to promote an agenda of denial, but to promote an agenda of dualism, which is just as problematic. And so here, what I’ve done is I’ve sort of returned to my roots. Let’s look at the climate record, let’s start all the way at the beginning when Earth was formed four and a half billion years ago. And let’s look at all of the major episodes that happened in the past, and see what they tell us about how resilient versus fragile our planet is, at times, our planet can be fragile.
Two, insults be the natural insults like an asteroid impact that happened and killed the dinosaurs 65 million years ago, or the human insult of increasing carbon pollution today. So the planet in some respects, it can behave as if it’s fragile, under a very large impact, be it natural or human. But there are also examples.
And when you look at the paleo climate record, that there’s a certain amount of resilience in the climate system, that there’s stabilizing feedback mechanisms that sort of return us to where we’re supposed to be when we stop the insult when we stop hitting the climate system with whatever that impact is.
And so it’s really, this book is about looking at the lessons from Earth’s past, starting all the way four and a half billion years ago, and seeing what they tell us about, you know, how fragile and how resilient our climate system is. And in the end, when we take all of that evidence together, it underscores that same message that I was talking about before that message of urgency, yes, we have a problem. And it’s getting worse, the more we pollute. But agency that it is not too late to prevent the worst consequences of climate change. The Paleo climate record tells us that and I wanted to tell that story to people because I think it’s an important message at this particular juncture.
Right, right. Interesting. I just think of, you know, denial and doom, the doom-ism, like you talked about, like, I mean, we’ll we’ll, we’ll end up like the dinosaurs with with this denial and doom, doom and gloom philosophy. I mean, it just seems to be like equating fossil fuels with the dinosaurs. You know, I think that’s something that we can really hit people over the head with in terms.
We have a few minutes to talk about that.
Yes, we do. I’m glad you asked about that. Because this was one of the things I had fun talking about. And I get the sense that maybe you’re the same basic generation that I am. And so I do, you know, maybe you remember the the group the police are, yeah. And back in the 1980s. There was an album synchronicity, and it had this, this was in the mid 1980s, sort of in the heart of the Cold War, the nuclear escalation between Russia and the US during sort of the Reagan era.
And it was also shortly after the discovery of the KT coalition in 1980. Alvarez and Alvarez Berkeley actually demonstrated that basically the dinosaurs had been killed off by the effects of this is asteroid collision with earth that generated a huge global dust storm that actually cooled off the planet and basically killed off every organism larger than a dog with few exceptions.
And so there’s this amazing sort of synchronicity, if you will, the title of that album, between that discovery that was made around 1980, and the Cold War and the escalation, the nuclear escalation in the threat of global Global Thermonuclear War.
And here we had Carl Sagan, a great hero of mine, I talk about him quite a bit in the book was one of the first sort of great popular or the risers of science, I sort of grew up watching Carl Sagan, the PBS series cosmos is part of what got me excited sciences. I was a young child.
And Sagan was talking about the threat of nuclear winter, that a Global Thermonuclear War would basically do, what happened to the dinosaurs. And, interestingly, a year before, Sagan started to popularize that, so the public was really not aware of that connection.
But the police were writing the songs for their next album, synchronicity and one of those songs, walking in your footsteps. If you listen to the lyrics, hey, mighty Brontosaurus, don’t you have a lesson for us? When you listen to those lyrics, it’s about exactly what we’re talking about here. And it was prescient, because sting or Gordon Sumner, the police, at the time wouldn’t have been aware of nuclear winter, that wasn’t really popularized until about a year and a half later.
So they were thinking more of just the destruction of, of, you know, these nuclear warheads. But in fact, the connection was far deeper than even they realize when they wrote that song because it literally was the very same threat nuclear winter that killed off the dinosaurs, and natural nuclear winter. In that case, there were a true synchronicity and synchronicity is about these these causally disconnected in yet somehow related concepts. And that’s what we have here.
Amazing. So let’s, let’s not end up like the dinosaurs and continue with our fossil fuel ways. And, please, that when is when is our fragile moment coming out? It’s coming out.
It’s coming out this September. This September 26, I believe – September 26,
Our Fragile Moment is coming out. It’s gonna be very fascinating. And it’s been a very fascinating talk. I hope. Hopefully, we have you again in some capacity when our Matt Matern comes back. Really happy to come back. Yeah. And we are around the same generation two, which is exciting.
So watch for Our Fragile Moment. We’ve had on Professor Michael Mann and this has been very, very interesting. And I feel like there’s a lot more to be discussed. So you’re listening to A Climate Change with Matt Matern. It has been a terrific terrific segment. And please, again, check out Our Fragile Moment coming out September 26, by Michael Mann.
Thank you so much, Harry. It’s been great talking with you. Thank you so much.
Thank you. Thank you, Michael. This is terrific.
(Note: this is an automatic transcription and may have errors in formatting and grammar.)
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