Transcript: Climate Change... The Madhouse Effect - with Michael Mann - 9 August '16
Thom Hartmann: For tonight's Green Report... UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon has asked world leaders to ratify the Paris climate deal on September 21 during the General Assembly meeting in New York. In no uncertain terms, the secretary general wrote that, "The next step in our collective journey to a low-carbon, climate-resilient future is to ensure the rapid entry into force of the Paris Agreement", in a letter to governments around the world.
On April 22 - officials from 175 countries signed the agreement, but so far only 19 governments have ratified the deal - and in order to go into effect, 55 countries covering 55% of global greenhouse emissions must ratify the agreement.
The good news is that China, India, Brazil, Canada and even the United States have indicated that they plan to formally approve the deal, which would cover nearly 50% of global greenhouse gas emissions.
But as Dr. Michael Mann points out in his new book, "There is a fire in the house, almost a literal one. But even as the evidence has become unmistakable, and even though the alarm has been sounded several times, public policy has been paralyzed - sometimes from ignorance, sometimes from uncertainty, but often from a campaign of deliberate misinformation. This is the madhouse of the climate debate."
For more on this, I'm joined now by Dr. Michael Mann - Distinguished Professor of Meteorology, Director of the Earth System Science Center at Penn State University and author of the new book "The Madhouse Effect: How Climate Change Denial Is Threatening Our Planet, Destroying Our Politics, and Driving Us Crazy".
Welcome back - Dr. Mann.
Michael Mann: Thanks, Thom. Always good to be with you.
Thom Hartmann: It's great to have you. So first, what made you co-author a book with an editorial cartoonist and satirist? And what impact do you hope this book and its illustrations will have? It's amazingly accessible.
Michael Mann: Well, you know, Tom Toles, the Pullizer Prize-winning cartoonist from the Washington Post has really been engaged in some of the hardest-hitting commentary on climate change and climate change denial in our entire media. And, of course, that's through the cartoons that he pens daily for the Washington Post. And for your viewers who might not immediately recognize the name, you'll probably have seen his cartoons. They're those square cartoons with the little guy down in the corner always saying something interesting, always adding some interesting commentary to the cartoon. And that's actually Tom himself.
And so climate change, climate change denial, it's become so absurd, the fact that certain politicians, policy makers, front groups fronting for the fossil fuel industry, their paid advocates, the fact that these organizations and individuals continue to deny something that is so obvious - the fact that our climate is changing, it's caused by human activity - it's so absurd that really the only way to properly frame it is through ridicule, through satire and through humor. And that's what we try to do with this book.
Thom Hartmann: Yeah. I was in France a month or so ago when they were having the terrible floods there. And the evening, I don't speak French but one of the people traveling with us does, and what I was told was that the evening newscast talking about the weather and about the floods and things constantly put it in the context of climate change. To what extent is the media in the United States, particularly the corporate for-profit media, complicit in this still being perceived by many Americans and most Republicans as a "debate"?
Michael Mann: Yeah well, you know, we don't give the media a pass in this book. We do take them to task for having contributed to this atmosphere of false balance wherein you take a climate scientist from NASA announcing the latest findings and you pair him or her up against a, you know, industry-funded climate change denier because climate change is treated as if it is just any other political story rather than the story that it really is. A story about a vast scientific consensus about a problem that represents an existential threat to us and our planet. And one can speculate as to why that's true.
I think it's a more compelling media narrative to have conflict, to have people debating a proposition, that plays into it. I don't think we can ignore the fact that on those same networks that present that sort of false balance when it comes to climate change, you watch the commercials during the commercial break and they're from the American Petroleum Institute or the natural gas industry or Exxon-Mobil. Can corporate media organizations really treat an issue like climate change objectively when so much of their funding is derived from advertising campaigns funded by the fossil fuel industry?
So, there are various things that I think contribute to that. That having been said, I do think that there has been a tendency over the last couple years now towards a more objective treatment of the issue of climate change in our mainstream media and in part it's because it's become so obvious as I've stated before - the impacts of climate change are no longer subtle. We're seeing them play out before us in real time. And given that, it's just become so difficult to deny the problem exists that I think it has forced the media, by and large, to present a more objective picture when it comes to talking about climate change. But still, there is a gulf.
Thom Hartmann: Yeah, or avoid the topic. One of the biggest myths we hear is that climate change might be happening - but that it's a natural phenomenon; there's nothing we can do about it - they hold up the so-called Medieval Warming Period and the Little Ice Age as proof. And in fact, there's a headline on Drudge right now, or there was two hours ago, about, you know, "Earth getting ready for new ice age". What are the major problems with that argument - and why do you think it is so persistent?
Michael Mann: Well, the major problem with the argument is that's nonsense, you know. It's unfortunately too often, you know, the Drudge Report, that's not a serious media organization. But even serious media organizations will often sort of fall victim to what the journalist - the New York Times journalist - Andy Revkin called the whiplash effect where it's much more engaging media to present a headline that seems to conflict with everything your audience was told to believe beforehand.
And so you hear these sort of, you're subject to this whiplash where you seem to be hearing completely different things from day to day when it comes to issues like climate change and that plays into it. But the fact is that generally those talking points are entirely specious. They're based on a cherry-picking of the data. They're based on quoting somebody who's not actually a climate scientist but is a paid advocate for the fossil fuel industry and treating that as if it's reliable objective science.
So no, the fact is, look, we just had the warmest year on record last year after the previous year had been the warmest year on record, and the year we're in right now, 2016, is going to beat out both of those years. So global warming is proceeding much as we predicted it two decades ago with the models that we use to project the future. We are on course to pass a dangerous level of warming beyond two degrees Celsius, three and a half degrees Fahrenheit within a matter of decades if we don't bring our carbon emissions under control. The good news is, there is still time to do that.
Thom Hartmann: Just as a point of reference - the last time you were on you pointed out that we've seen several thousand-year events just this year around the world, and since then we've seen Ellicott City, Maryland nearly washed away in another thousand-year flood event. What are some of the other climate signals that we've seen recently that make it clear that we're seeing the effects of climate change playing out in real time? And would you put this thousand-year event in Maryland in that category?
Michael Mann: I would, and I have relatives who live in that area and observed that event and they said it was like being in a Hollywood disaster movie. It was unlike anything they had ever seen before. And that's what's happening. We are now seeing events that have no precedent. There is no analogue in our past experience for us to be able to even understand or appreciate the truly anomalous nature of these events. They're outside of the range of our past experience. And that's true whether you're talking about record flooding, which is one of the simplest predictions - a warmer atmosphere is going to hold more moisture, so when conditions are favorable for getting precipitation, for rainfall, you're going to tend to get more of it. So that's one of the easiest predictions, is that we will see more of these extreme rainfall events. And we're seeing them, as you know.
Thom Hartmann: Yeah.
Michael Mann: We're seeing thousand year events now several times a month, it seems, when it comes to some of these dramatic flooding events in the U.S., or in France, Europe, in Asia, around the entire world. As the atmosphere warms up, there's more moisture in the air. When it rains, you get more of it.
At the same time, one of the other predictions that's actually pretty robust - it's a pretty straightforward prediction - that as we warm the atmosphere and we change the climate, it turns out that the dry region of deserts that we tend to find in the subtropics - the Sahara desert, the California desert - the deserts of the world actually expand into the middle latitudes - places like North America - as the region of descending dry air expands poleward. The models are pretty clear in that prediction. And we're seeing that happen as well. We are seeing unprecedented drought.
So even in regions where we get more extreme rainfall events, there's a tendency for those rainfall events to become fewer and farther between. And in regions like California or even in Eastern U.S. where we're seeing some fairly severe drought conditions this summer, you tend to see less precipitation - fewer precipitation events, longer stretches without rainfall - and you get warmer soils evaporating more moisture into the atmosphere. That's a prescription for drought. And it's not a coincidence that California, even after a major El Niño event, is still dealing with an unprecedented drought. And when I say unprecedented, I mean that the paleoclimate scientists tell us that it's the worst drought in at least a thousand years.
Thom Hartmann: Wow, wow. Dr. Michael Mann, brilliant as always. Thank you so much for being with us tonight, sir.
Transcribed by Sue Nethercott.