Climate scientist and author Michael Mann believes that skepticism in science is a good thing.
But when some people flatly disregard scientifically proven facts — as in the case of climate change — it can create problems that delay efforts to come up with solutions or additional discussions, he said.
“Too often, we allow contrarians in the climate change debate to frame themselves as modern day Galileos railing at the scientific establishment,” said Mann, Distinguished Professor of Atmospheric Science at Penn State University. “The indiscriminate rejection of overwhelmingly established scientific findings is not skepticism. … It’s a denial of basic science.”
Mann will address these denials and his scientific evidence during the 27th Annual University Senate’s Davis, Markert, Nickerson Lecture on Academic and Intellectual Freedom at 4 p.m. Oct. 3 in the Law School’s Honigman Auditorium.
“The Madhouse Effect: Climate Change Denial in the Age of Trump” is free and open to the public.
The lecture is named for three U-M faculty members — Chandler Davis, Clement Markert and Mark Nickerson — who in 1954 were called to testify before a panel of the House Un-American Activities Committee. All invoked constitutional rights and refused to answer questions about their political associations. All three were suspended from the university. Markert subsequently was reinstated, and Davis and Nickerson were dismissed.
During the last decade, the climate change debate reached a point that any denials had become irrelevant. Many were ready to tackle the problem head on, Mann said. Last fall, he co-authored “The Madhouse Effect: How Climate Change Denial is Threatening our Planet, Destroying our Politics, and Driving us Crazy” with Washington Post editorial cartoonist Tom Toles.
But with the election of President Donald Trump — who rejects the overwhelming consensus of the world’s scientists that climate change is real and human-caused — “the official policy of the U.S. government is distraction, denial and delay, and doubling down on our headlong exploitation of dirty fossil fuel energy,” he said.
Despite this challenge, Mann says he’s cautiously optimistic that “we will prevail in the greatest battle human civilization has ever faced — the battle to avert catastrophic and irreversible climate change impacts.”
One impact involved the damage created by Hurricane Harvey, which hit parts of Texas. Mann said climate change did not cause this hurricane, but what “we can say is that it exacerbated several characteristics of the storm in a way that greatly increased the risk of damage and loss of life.”
“Climate change worsened the impact of Hurricane Harvey,” he noted.
Mann, who directs the Penn State Earth System Science Center, received his undergraduate degrees in physics and applied mathematics from the University of California, Berkeley, a master’s degree in physics from Yale University, and a doctorate in geology and geophysics from Yale.
Honors and awards include the Hans Oeschger Medal of the European Geosciences Union in 2012 and the National Conservation Achievement Award for science by the National Wildlife Federation in 2013. He made Bloomberg News’ list of 50 most influential people in 2013. He is a fellow of the American Geophysical Union, the American Meteorological Society and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
Mann has written more than 200 peer-reviewed and edited publications, and has published three books. He is a co-founder of the award-winning science website RealClimate.org.