I coined the term "Serengeti Strategy" in my 2012 book The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars. It's meant to describe how industry special interests and their patrons in power single out individual researchers or teams of scientists for attack, in much the same way lions of the Serengeti single out an individual zebra from the herd. In numbers, after all, there is strength, while individuals and small groups are far more vulnerable—and the purpose is two-fold: to undermine the credibility of wider scientific consensus and to discourage other researchers from sticking out their necks and participating in the public discourse over matters of policy-relevant science.

When it comes to attacks on climate scientists specifically, this strategy follows a familiar script. On the eve of a critical Congressional vote, hearing or climate policy summit, a late-breaking "scandal" suddenly erupts. Individual scientists are typically charged with claims of misconduct, fraud or data manipulation and soon enough, right-wing blogs, climate-denying websites and the conservative establishment media are trumpeting the accusations. In time, more objective media outlets are forced to cover the uproar, lending it credibility and oxygen, even as it is responsibly dissected.

With the public conversation hijacked, meaningful progress on climate policy is blunted and the vested interests seeking to maintain our current addition to fossil fuels prevail.

The latest example of this strategy began unfolding earlier this month when David Rose, an opinion writer for the British tabloid The Daily Mailknown for misrepresentations of climate change and serial attacks on climate scientists—published a commentary attacking Tom Karl, the recently retired director of the National Centers for Environmental Information at the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and a scientist for whom I have deep respect. Rose accused Karl and his co-authors of having "manipulated global warming data" in a 2015 study published in the journal Science. These charges were built entirely on an interview with a single disgruntled former NOAA employee, John Bates.

Rose's charges and Bates' allegations have since withered under scrutiny by journalists—and by the wider scientific community, which quickly noted that the findings of the 2015 Science paper have been independently and repeatedly, verified by other researchers. Bates' secondary claims that data from the Science paper had not been properly archived and that it was "rushed" to publication, have also fallen apart.

Still, the mission of this latest disinformation campaign has been accomplished and with its mooring in technical details too remote for casual news consumers to fully investigate, the headlines will nonetheless create additional drag on any well-meaning efforts to address climate change.

As a climate scientist, I should know. I've found myself at the center of such episodes more than once, as a result of what's become known as the iconic "hockey stick" diagram that my co-authors and I had published in the late 1990s—a graphic display of the data that made plain the unprecedented rate of global warming. While the hockey stick is hardly the basis of the case for human-caused climate change, the visually compelling character of the graphic has made it—and indeed me—a target of climate change deniers for years.

A version of the so-called hockey-stick diagram, made famous by the author—and attacked by his critics.

In the fall of 2003, just days before a critical U.S. Senate resolution to acknowledge the threat of human-caused climate change, an article in the journal Energy & Environment—regarded by many as a haven for climate skeptics —engaged in unsubstantiated attacks of the hockey stick. A group with ties to the fossil fuel industry published an op-ed trumpeting those criticisms in USA Today on the morning of the Senate vote. Sen. James Inhofe, the Oklahoma Republican who has described climate change as "the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people," gleefully read the article aloud during the Senate floor debate. While the critique on the hockey stick would soon be summarily dismissed, it served the short-term purpose of hijacking the discussion and the bill did not pass.

In just a matter of weeks, we will be confronted with a critical decision. It is not mere hyperbole to assert that we are facing a make-or-break election as far as climate change is concerned.

My co-author Tom Toles (the Pulitzer-winning editorial cartoonist for the Washington Post) and I put it this way in the concluding chapter of our new book, The Madhouse Effect: How Climate Change Denial Is Threatening Our Planet, Destroying Our Politics and Driving Us Crazy.

In the current presidential contest, we could not have a more stark choice before us, between a candidate who rejects the overwhelming evidence that climate change is happening and a candidate who embraces the role of a price on carbon and incentives for renewable energy.

If you care about the planet, the choice would seem clear.

If the appropriate catch-phrase for the 1992 election was "It's The Economy Stupid!," then this time around it ought to be "It's the PLANET stupid!."

A Toles cartoon used in the Madhouse Effect conveys the point masterfully:

Preventing dangerous climate change remains a daunting challenge, but we've made some real progress in the past few years. Global carbon emissions are actually on the decline, renewable energy is dramatically on the rise, and we achieved a monumental international agreement in Paris last December that promises to help steer us onto a path that just may avert dangerous 2C planetary warming.

A pair of Toles cartoons from the Madhouse Effect conveys both the auspicious nature of these developments and their fragility in the current political environment:

In this next election, we need to decide whether we are going to build on the successes of the Obama administration—which has used a combination of bold executive actions and international diplomacy to achieve action on climate change even in the presence of intransigence, denial and outright hostility from congressional republicans—or whether we are going to retreat back into the energy-equivalent of the stone age, continuing to degrade our planet through the profligate burning of increasingly dangerous fossil carbon even as the rest of the world moves forward, embracing the renewable energy revolution destined to be the hallmark of the 21st century.

Once again, the decision comes down to a single election that is now just weeks away. In the first presidential debate, though the moderator disappointingly failed to ask a question about was is arguably the single most critical issue facing human civilization today—human-caused climate change—the Democratic nominee for President, Hillary Clinton, forced the issue herself by calling out Donald Trump for his denial of climate change, noting that he, for example, in a past tweet dismissed climate change as a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese (indeed Trump has posted at least a half-dozen climate change-denying tweets over the past few years).

Seemingly recognizing how self-discrediting it is to deny a phenomenon that people are now witnessing in their everyday lives, Trump denied having made the claim. But realizing that the damning evidence was available for everyone to see (via a tweet that remains in Trump's twitter feed), his campaign sought to quickly clarify the next day that, despite what he might have stated in the past, he no longer believes climate change to be a hoax. Progress, right? Unfortunately not. Consider, for context, this Toles cartoon from the book:

The Trump campaign, it turns out, simply gave us a bait-and-switch, attempting to pivot from one patently absurd climate change denial talking point ("it's not happening!") to a seemingly more palatable, albeit equally indefensible one ("it's natural, not human-caused!").To be clear, Donald Trump and his campaign still firmly rejects the scientific evidence that climate change is human-caused, opposing the only action (a reduction of fossil fuel burning) that can save us from ever-more dangerous climate change impacts. A cartoon drawn exclusively for the Madhouse Effect captures the Trump worldview:

History will judge us by what we chose to do at the crucial moment in time. A group of scientists, including myself, have consequently decided that we must speak out about the irreparable harm that would be done by a climate change-denying, anti-science-driven Trump presidency. We have encouraged other members of the scientific community to join us:

It would nevertheless be a mistake to consider the problem to be limited to the Republican standard-bearer. It penetrates far more deeply. Whether to even accept the overwhelming evidence that climate change is real and human-caused has become a partisan political issue, thanks in large parts to the efforts of bad actors like the Koch Brothers to poison both our atmosphere and our public discourse. In the toxic environment that exists in today's Republican party, even the most conservative Republican incumbents are subjected to well-funded primary challenges if they choose to admit that climate change is real and an issue we must contend with.

The one thing that every American voter can do to try to change that is to (a) vote in the upcoming election, and (b) vote CLIMATE, not just at the top of the ticket, but all the way down.

The future of this planet could quite literally lie in the balance.


Earlier this month, my co-author Tom Toles (the Pulitzer-winning editorial cartoonist for The Washington Post) and I published our new book, The Madhouse Effect: How Climate Change Denial Is Threatening Our Planet, Destroying Our Politics, and Driving Us Crazy.

Some great early reviews of the book can be found here, here, here, here, here, here and here.

Tom and I had a commentary excerpting parts of the book in Sunday's The Washington Post. In addition to calling out the most prominent current climate change denier of them all—Donald Trump, we profiled eight other leading climate change deniers in the world of politics, individuals whom—as the commentary notes—have been responsible for "clouding the climate change debate" and stalling action by participating in "a campaign of deliberate misinformation."

The Washington Post

Among the rogues gallery of leading climate change deniers are (from left to right, top to bottom): Congressman Joe Barton (R-TX), fossil fuel shill Steve Milloy, media mogul Rupert Murdoch, self-styled "Skeptical Environmentalist" Bjorn Lomborg, scientist-turned-denier-for-hire Fred Singer, the inimitable Sarah Palin, conservative funders Charles and David Koch (aka the Koch Brothers), and "swift-boat" architect Marc Morano.

Among other notable honorable mentions is U.S. Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.). Though Inhofe didn't make the rogues gallery above, he gets the attention he deserves in book.

From Chapter 6 of the book, "Hypocrisy, They Name is Climate Change Denial":

Consider Republican Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma, a recipient of extensive funding over the years from the fossil fuel interests including ExxonMobil and the Koch Brothers. He is perhaps best known for declaring that climate change is the "greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people" and for introducing a snowball on the U.S. Senate floor as ostensible proof against global warming.

And Inhofe, of course, gets the full TTT (Tom Toles Treatment):

Tom Toles

When it comes to hypocrisy and irony, Inhofe is truly king. Under the heading of "you can't make this stuff up," there is, for example, this particular episode that we recount in the book:

Back in July 2011, Inhofe was selected as keynote speaker at the Heartland Institute's annual global warming denier "conference." He had to cancel out at the last minute however. He had grown ill swimming in a lake back in his home state of Oklahoma. The lake was suffering from an algal bloom as a result of the unprecedented heat and drought that Oklahoma experienced that summer—an event that scientists have determined was tied to climate change.

Though he quipped afterward, "the environment strikes back," he was obviously undeterred in his climate change-denying ways, remaining one of the most prominent advocates for fossil fuel interests in the U.S. Senate.

Which, finally, brings us to Inhofe's hometown newspaper, The Oklahoman, named the "Worst Newspaper in America," by the Columbia Journalism Review (CJR) for "conformance to the right-wing political views" of the paper's owners and its "alleged racist hiring practices" among other things.

The Oklahoman has an unusually atrocious record on all things environment. As CJR notes:

Where else can you find a big-city editorial page—run by a Christian Coalition devotee plucked from Washington D.C.'s right-wing Free Congress Foundation—that not only demonizes ... environmentalists ...

And it hardly comes as a surprise that The Oklahoman, like Inhofe, is a major promoter of climate change denialism, acting as thinly veiled advocates for the fossil fuel lobby that dominates their state rather than a conduit of objective news for their readers.

So how low could they go, you might ask? This is how low.

Stan Glantz has been called the "Ralph Nader of the anti-tobacco movement." He has led the effort to expose how tobacco interests hid the detrimental effects of their product on human health from the public and has advocated staunchly for policies to reduce smoking.

Glantz has explicitly likened the fossil fuel industry's campaign to deny the science of human-caused climate change to the earlier campaign by the tobacco industry to deny the adverse health impacts of their product. Same modus operandi, even some of the same paid deniers-for-hire, like Fred Singer listed in the rogues gallery above.

Just last week, Glantz published a new high-profile study in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) exposing how yet another industry tried to hide the adverse health impacts of their product. Glantz and colleagues found internal documents revealing that the junk food industry paid scientists to "play down the link between sugar and heart disease and promote saturated fat as the culprit instead."

So, how does The Oklahoman cover this development? You guessed it: by turning the entire matter on its head, attempting to use it as an opportunity to blame the government rather than the powerful corporate interests who were exposed by Glantz's research. And, for good measure, they attempt to use the episode to attack the science of climate change!

Indeed, they attack me specifically, resurrecting untruthful climate change denier talking points about the the discredited 'climategate' affair, and the widely debunked attacks on the famous "hockey stick" curve my co-authors and I published in the late 1990s (if you want to learn the truth behind all of this, consider reading my previous book The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars).

It is possible that such a twisted viewpoint, wherein an obvious example of industry malfeasance is used to attack the scientific community, including climate scientists specifically, could arise purely from profound ignorance, rather than cynicism and malice. Yes, anything is possible.

But in the end, we see that Hypocrisy: Thy Name is Truly Climate Change Denial. Thy Nickname might just be The Oklahoman.

Michael Mann is Distinguished Professor of Atmospheric Science at Pennsylvania State University and author of The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars, Dire Predictions: Understanding Climate Change, and just out in September, The Madhouse Effect, with The Washington Post editorial cartoonist Tom Toles.

Several weeks ago, on June 17, I provided testimony about the threat of human-caused climate change to the Democratic Party Platform drafting committee in Phoenix, Arizona. Fittingly, my testimony was just one day before record heat struck Phoenix.

At the beginning of my testimony, I made the point, using slightly lofty language appropriate for the occasion, that the impacts of climate change are now so profound that we no longer need sophisticated signal-detection machinery to see them:

I am a climate scientist and have spent much of my career with my head buried in climate model output and observational climate data, trying to tease out the signal of human-caused climate change.

What is disconcerting to me and so many of my colleagues is that these tools that we've spent years developing increasingly are unnecessary because we can see the impacts of climate change playing out in real time on our television screens in the 24 hour news cycle.

Regardless of how you measure the impacts of climate change—whether it be food, water, health, national security, our economy—climate change is already taking a great toll. And we see that tool in the damage done by more extreme floods, like the floods we've seen over the past year in Texas and in South Carolina. We see it in the devastating combination of sea level rise and more destructive hurricanes which has led to calamities like "Superstorm" Sandy and what is now the perennial flooding of Miami beach. We see it in the unprecedented drought, like that which continues to afflict California, a doubling in the area of wildfire, fire burning in the western U.S. and indeed, in the record heat we may see this weekend in phoenix.

The signal of climate change is no longer subtle. It is obvious.

My point—that we don't need sophisticated techniques to identify the human fingerprint present in e.g. the doubling of extreme heat or the tripling (in fact) of western wildfire that we have seen in the U.S. in recent decades, ought to be clear to any honest observer.

It would be absurd to conclude that I was arguing that climate models and climate data are no longer necessary in climate science, especially given that they continue to form the bread and butter of my own scientific research (I've published over a dozen scientific articles using climate models and climate data during the past year alone).

So you can imagine my shock—yes, shock—that climate change deniers and conservative media outlets that serve as mouthpieces for them, would seek to convince their readers of just that.

It is an instructive ontological exercise to follow this particular affair—from its inception through the latest developments, sort of like observing a deviant version of the game "telephone" (or "Chinese whispers" for British readers) wherein the participants are actually trying to distort the message as it is passed along from one person to the next.

It all started on Monday, June 27 with Steven J. Milloy and his outlandishly untruthful claim "Michael Mann says there is no need for statistics."

Milloy, who actually calls himself the "junk man" with no apparent sense of irony, is a denier-for-hire who happily takes money from tobacco interests, chemical interests and of course fossil fuel interests to do their dirty work, attacking seemingly any scientist whose findings threaten their financial bottom line.

Milloy frequently publishes columns in the notorious Washington Times. Which brings us to the next stage of the affair ...

Later that same day, the Washington Times—a paper founded by Rev. Sun Myung Moon of the Unification Church, ran a piece by one Valerie Richardson entitled Michael Mann, scientist: Data 'increasingly unnecessary' because 'we can see climate change.'

Somehow "tools" have become "data." It almost seems like they're going out of their way to misrepresent my statements, doesn't it?

Almost as if to demonstrate that they too have absolutely no sense of irony, the Washington Times referred to me in the piece as a "Leading climate doomsayer" (the Unification Church, you see, is often considered a doomsday cult). The Washington Times also happens to be closely tied to ALEC—a Koch Brothers-funded organization that promotes climate change denialism and subverts efforts to incentivize renewable energy.

Next up at bat, Tucker Carlson's The Daily Caller, which later that day pushed the egregiously false headline Famed Climate Scientist Claims Data Now 'Unnecessary' To Measure Global Warming.

Understand that we have now gone all the way from what I actually said (that climate change impacts have become so profound now that we often don't need fancy techniques to see them) to something so patently absurd I couldn't possibly have said it (that we don't need data to measure global warming).

The Daily Caller, incidentally, is so fully immersed in Koch cash that is is listed as a "partner organization" of the Charles Koch Institute.

Witness now, after a two week hiatus, the hand-off from the Koch Brothers to the Scaife Foundations, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, to be specific, which was founded by the now-deceased Richard Mellon Scaife. On July 13, the Tribune-Review perpetuated the smear with a climate change-denying editorial containing the farcical howler "[Mann] says facts no longer are necessary to substantiate the climate change story line." Just when you thought the distortion couldn't get more egregious ...

One day later, on July 14, the execrable Tribune op-ed was republished on the right wing website GOPUSA, a website connected to—you guessed it—Richard Mellon Scaife (though a bit of detective work is required to connect the dots).

Oil baron Richard Mellon Scaife and his empire were behind what Hillary Clinton famously referred to as the "vast right-wing conspiracy" to take down her husband, President Bill Clinton (for the record, she was correct).

Certainly, you're thinking, it must be a coincidence that nearly every player in this latest episode seems to be tied in some way to either the Koch Brothers or Scaife Foundations.

Or maybe not so much ...

Richard Mellon Scaife and the Scaife Family Foundations are, along with the Koch Brothers, the greatest private funders of climate change denialism, having stepped up their funding in recent years as fossil fuel corporations like ExxonMobil have come under increased scrutiny for their funding of climate change denial.

As I discuss in my book The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars about the attacks against me by climate change deniers looking to discredit the iconic "Hockey Stick" graph my co-authors and I published in the late 1990s (p. 64):

Wealthy privately held corporations and foundations with close interests in, or ties to, the fossil fuel industry, such as Koch Industries and the Scaife Foundations, have become increasingly active funders of the climate change denial campaign in recent years. Unlike publicly traded companies such as ExxonMobil, these private outfits can hide their finances from public view, and they remain largely invulnerable to outside pressure. In recent years, as ExxonMobil has been pressured by politicians on both sides of the aisle to withdraw from funding the climate change denial movement, Koch and Scaife have stepped up, contributing millions of dollars to the effort.

Koch funding played a major role in the faux scandal known as "climategate" which involved the misrepresentation of scientists based on out-of-context quotes (sound familiar?) taken from emails of theirs that had been stolen off a university computer server in the UK (p. 220):

One report showed that twenty or so organizations funded at least in part by Koch Industries had "repeatedly rebroadcast, referenced and appeared as media spokespeople" in stories about climategate.

Meanwhile, the Scaifes funded many of the personal attacks intended to discredit me and the "Hockey Stick" (p. 228):

In mid-January 2010, a group known as the National Center for Public Policy Research (NCPPR), which receives funding from the Scaife Foundations, led a campaign to have my NSF grants revoked. The perverse premise was that I was somehow pocketing millions of dollars of "Obama" stimulus money simply because I was a coinvestigator on several recently funded NSF grants. These absurd distortions were--no surprise--promoted by Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, and others of similar persuasion.

and (p. 229):

Two Scaife-funded groups.. the Southeastern Legal Foundation and the Landmark Legal Foundation, had swung into action. The latter had already sued the University of Massachusetts and University of Arizona to obtain copies of my personal e-mails with my two hockey stick coauthors, while in May 2010 the former demanded extensive information from the NSF regarding grants that had been made to me as well as to several of my colleagues at Penn State, the University of Chicago, the University of Washington, the University of Arizona, and Columbia University.

It began to strike me as curious that so many of the demands that I be investigated could be traced back to organizations with ties to the Scaife Foundations. The Commonwealth Foundation, a Pennsylvania organization that is the recipient of considerable Scaife largess, for example, had been pressuring Penn State University to fire me since climategate broke in late November 2009. It managed to get the sympathetic Republican chair of the Pennsylvania state senate education committee to threaten to hold Penn State's funding hostage until "appropriate action is taken by the university against associate [sic] professor Michael Mann." Indeed, it was the Commonwealth Foundation attacks that essentially forced Penn State to launch its initial inquiry into the various allegations against me in December 2009 (similar inquiries and investigations of CRU scientists were initiated in the United Kingdom). The Commonwealth Foundation kept the pressure on for months through a barrage of press conferences and press releases attacking me personally and criticizing Penn State for its supposed "whitewash" treatment of any number of supposed offenses. It also ran daily attack ads against me in our university newspaper The Collegian for an entire week in January and helped organize a protest rally against me on campus. It is likely that these attacks forced Penn State's hand yet again, leading it, following the completion of the initial inquiry in February 2010, to move to a formal investigation, despite having found no evidence of misconduct in the initial inquiry phase.

What is the take-home message here?

As we head into the 2016 presidential election, it is clear that polluting interests and other bad actors are mobilized. They are doing their best to continue the attacks on science and scientists whose findings threaten their bottom line, to distract the public, to promote climate change denial propaganda and to support politicians who will support their agenda of denial and inaction.

The best defense is to study the positions of the candidates and make sure that climate action is at the top of your agenda when you go to the voting booth this fall.


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