By David Loomis
INDIANA – When it comes to translating science for the rest of us, Michael E. Mann follows in the footsteps of Carl Sagan, Bill Nye and Neil deGrasse Tyson — exceptional scientists who convert complexity into clarity.
On Sept. 19, Mann, distinguished professor of atmospheric science at Penn State, worked that magic for more than an hour before a 450-seat capacity crowd in IUP’s Eberly Auditorium. (As students pressed in, one event sponsor worried, “Maybe we should have reserved Fisher,” the 1,450-seat auditorium across campus.)
Mann is something of a science celebrity. His pioneering climate research – including the “hockey-stick graph” – contributed to the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize he won jointly with other scientists, with the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and with Al Gore.
Despite his talk’s subtitle, “Climate Change Denial in the Age of Trump,” Mann soft-pedaled the politics. In a brief interview after his talk, he recounted nasty spats he’s had with Sarah Palin and other like-minded public figures willfully blind to the evidence that Mann and his colleagues have amassed.
But he did single out one Democratic candidate for president – Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren – for her detailed grasp of policy on display in a recent CNN town hall debate over the single issue of climate.
IT HELPS that Mann maintains a satirical sense of humor, backed by Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post editorial cartoonist Tom Toles in illustrated collaborations. Their 2016 book The Madhouse Effect, reviewed such climate-denial greatest hits as “it’s natural,” “it’s a good thing” and other logical fallacies as contrary evidence piles up – record temps, wildfires from the Arctic to the Amazon, record rainfall here in Pennsylvania, and so on.
Mann relishes recounting some of the lamer stunts in Congress, such as U.S. Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., tossing a snowball on the Senate floor to support his argument that global warming is bunk. And then there is U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala., who argued that rocks falling into the ocean explain sea-level rise.
Mann acknowledged that “Republican denialism” has waned. Some Republican lawmakers have broken with their party and their president, who dismisses climate change as hype. These few GOP lawmakers are urging action on climate.
The change is testament to Mann’s steady testimony over the years. And so is “the biggest climate protest in history” that was girdling the globe as he spoke at IUP. A fresh wave of climate strikes swept the planet again on Friday.
CHANGE IN THE political weather also is evident in public-opinion polling. Yale University has been publishing analyses of survey data that show how citizens are responding to climate change from the national level down to the local level.
The 2018 Yale Climate Opinion Maps may include some surprises for U.S. Rep. Glenn Thompson, R-Pa., whose district includes an area around Titusville, the cradle of the fossil-fuel industry, and Indiana County.
In both jurisdictions, supermajorities say global warming is happening, research on renewable energy sources should be funded, fossil-fuel companies should pay a carbon tax, more should be done to address global warming, and environmental protection is more important than economic growth.
Rep. Thompson is out of step with those constituents, judging by the survey analysis. Thompson opposes funding for development of such renewable energy sources as solar, thermal and wind.
MANN CONCLUDED his IUP remarks with a reminder of the “young people striking around the world every Friday for their future.”
Just the facts. No punditry.
The packed house filed out. There were no questions.
David Loomis, Ph.D., emeritus professor of journalism at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, is editor of The HawkEye.
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