Dr. Michael Mann on Climate Denial: 'It’s Impaired Our Ability to Move Forward'
Last month, Climate Reality chatted with world-renowned climatologist and geophysicist Dr. Michael E. Mann, distinguished professor of atmospheric science at Penn State University, ahead of our recent Climate Reality Leadership Corps training in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Climate Reality: We see these impacts—these hurricanes, these droughts and heatwaves, and so much more—but among those not there on the ground, well, some still think of climate change as a far-off problem. How do we change that?
Dr. Michael Mann: We've had enough of these events already to expect to see a tipping point in the public discourse and the public consciousness—I sometimes call it the Cuyahoga River moment. That was the moment in the pollution debate when the Cuyahoga River caught on fire in 1969 that sort of woke us up to the fact that we had a real problem, and we saw, under a Republican administration, under the Nixon administration, the founding of the EPA, the passage of the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts. So we acted in response to this galvanizing moment.
My fear is that we now live in this hyper-partisan media atmosphere, where people are increasingly sort of syphoned off in silos and they get their information from media outlets that simply reinforce their preconceptions and biases. If you watch Fox News, you would think that the laws of physics no longer apply and that climate change is somehow a hoax.
These people are difficult to reach because they're trapped in these media bubbles, and we have this sort of rapid 24-hour news cycle, where when you think you've got a galvanizing moment—let's take the example of the shootings in Las Vegas—all it takes is a couple news cycles and we're on to the next shiny object, as far as the media is concerned. And that doesn't serve us well when it comes to confronting these mounting global environmental problems like climate change.
So I think our media culture today creates real challenges and makes it difficult to have that tipping point. Didn't we have that with Superstorm Sandy or Hurricane Katrina or the unprecedented California drought? Or the wildfires breaking out in California? Not to mention these unprecedented storms that we've seen in the Caribbean and the Gulf Coast and east coast of the U.S.? Shouldn't that all be enough?
There's another problem that I alluded to: the increasingly partisan nature of our media discourse, where you'll have bad-faith actors out there trying to game the conversation in a way that sort of poisons the well when it comes to talking about these issues. … I sometimes refer to this as the "Doctrine of Sandy Silence"—which is to say, whether it is Superstorm Sandy or the shootings at Sandy Hook, there are special interests who have sought to poison the well by trying to convince the media that those occasions are not the right time to be talking about these threats and these challenges, when in fact those are exactly the times to be talking about those challenges ... It's impaired our ability to move forward on issues like climate change.
Climate Reality: The dangers of climate denial were central to your book, The Madhouse Effect. What's the most important thing you wish you could communicate to climate deniers?
Dr. Michael Mann: It would be this: There's room for a policy debate. And conservatives have every right to be at the table, and progressives should be at the table, as we debate how we go about solving this problem. I'm delighted that there are folks like John McCain, Lindsey Graham, Bob Inglis of South Carolina, a former congressman, and now an increasing number of Republicans in the climate caucus in our House of Representatives.
There are a fair number of [conservatives] who recognize that. Who recognize that, look, we have to get past this fake debate about whether the problem exists because that is an unworthy debate, and anyone who adheres to the notion that climate change is a hoax or that it isn't caused by us or even that it's not creating problems already is on the wrong side of science and the wrong side of history.
There is no longer a worthy debate to be had about whether we have a problem. There is a worthy debate to be had about how we go about solving that problem. And the sooner that those conservatives who continue to deny the reality of climate change accept the fact that it's real and it's a problem, the more likely it is that they'll have a seat at the table when it comes to moving forward on policy to solve this problem.
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The Washington Redskins will retire their controversial name and logo, the National Football League (NFL) team announced Monday.
By Alyssa Murdoch, Chrystal Mantyka-Pringle and Sapna Sharma
Summer has finally arrived in the northern reaches of Canada and Alaska, liberating hundreds of thousands of northern stream fish from their wintering habitats.
A Good News Story?<p>On the surface, the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/fwb.13569" target="_blank">results from our study</a> appear to provide a "good news" story. Warming temperatures were linked to higher numbers of fish, more species overall and, therefore, potentially more fishing opportunities for northerners.</p><p>Initially, we were surprised to learn that warming was increasing the distribution of cold-adapted fish. We reasoned that modest amounts of warming could lead to benefits such as increased food and winter habitat availability without reaching stressful levels for many species.</p>
Photo of Arctic grayling (left) and Dolly Varden trout (right). Alyssa Murdoch / Lilian Tran / Nunavik Research Centre and Tracey Loewen / Fisheries and Oceans Canada<p>Yet, not all fish species fared equally well. Ecologically unique northern species — those that have evolved in colder, more nutrient-poor environments, such as Arctic grayling and Dolly Varden trout — were showing declines with warming.</p>
Fish Strandings and Buried Eggs<p>Recent news headlines run the gamut for Pacific salmon — from their increased escapades <a href="https://nunatsiaq.com/stories/article/more-pacific-salmon-showing-up-in-western-arctic-waters/" target="_blank">into the Arctic</a> to <a href="https://www.juneauempire.com/news/warm-waters-across-alaska-cause-salmon-die-offs/" target="_blank">massive pre-spawning die-offs</a> in central Alaska. Similarly, results from our study revealed different outcomes for fish depending on local climatic conditions, including Pacific salmon.</p><p>We found that warmer spring and fall temperatures may be helping juvenile salmon by providing a longer and more plentiful growing season, and by supporting early egg development in northern regions that were previously too cold for survival.</p><p>In contrast, salmon declined in regions that were experiencing wetter fall conditions, pointing to an increased risk of flooding and sedimentation that could bury or dislodge incubating eggs.</p>
Headwaters of the Wind River within the largely intact Peel River watershed in northern Canada. Don Reid / Wildlife Conservation Society Canada / Author provided<p>Interestingly, we found that certain climatic combinations, such as warmer summer water temperatures with decreased summer rainfall, were important in determining where Pacific salmon could survive. Summer warming in drier watersheds led to declines, suggesting that lowered streamflows may have increased the risk of fish becoming stranded in subpar habitats that were too warm and crowded.</p>
The Fate of Northern Fisheries<p>The promise of a warmer and more accessible Arctic has attracted mounting interest in new economic opportunities, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.marpol.2019.103637" target="_blank">including fisheries</a>. As warming rates at higher latitudes are already <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/" target="_blank">two to three times global levels</a>, it seems probable that northern biodiversity will experience dramatic shifts in the coming decades.</p><p>Despite the many unknowns surrounding the future of Pacific salmon, many fisheries are currently <a href="https://doi.org/10.1080/03632415.2017.1374251" target="_blank">thriving following warmer and more productive northern oceans</a>, and some <a href="https://doi.org/10.14430/arctic68876" target="_blank">Arctic Indigenous communities are developing new salmon fisheries</a>.</p><p>As warming continues, the commercial salmon fishing industry is poised to expand northwards, but its success will largely depend on extenuating factors such as <a href="https://www.eenews.net/stories/1060023067" target="_blank">changes to marine habitat and food sources</a> and <a href="https://www.yukon-news.com/news/promising-chinook-salmon-run-failed-to-materialize-in-the-yukon-river-panel-hears/" target="_blank">how many fish are caught during the freshwater stages of their journey</a>.</p><p>Even with the potential for increased northern biodiversity, it is important to recognize that some northern communities may be unable to adapt or may <a href="https://thenarwhal.ca/searching-for-the-yukon-rivers-missing-chinook/" target="_blank">lose individual species that are associated with important cultural values</a>.</p>
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If you get a call from a number you don't recognize, don't hit decline — it might be a contact tracer calling to let you know that someone you've been near has tested positive for the coronavirus.
Interviews With Contact Tracers<p>Contact tracing is a public health strategy that involves identifying everyone who may have been in contact with a person who has the coronavirus. Contact tracers collect information and provide guidance to help contain the transmission of disease.</p><p>It's been used during outbreaks of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), Ebola, measles, and now the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.</p><p>It starts when the local department of health gets a report of a confirmed case of the coronavirus in its community and gives that person a call. The contact tracer usually provides information on how to isolate and when to get treatment, then tries to figure out who else the person may have exposed.</p><p>"We ask who they've been in contact with in the 48 hours prior to symptom onset, or 2 days before the date of their positive test if they don't have symptoms," said <a href="https://case.edu/medicine/healthintegration/people/heidi-gullett" target="_blank">Dr. Heidi Gullett</a>, associate director of the Center for Community Health Integration at the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine and medical director of the Cuyahoga County Board of Health in Ohio.</p>
“You’ve Been Exposed”<p>After the case interview, contact tracers will get to work calling the folks who may have been exposed to the coronavirus by the person who tested positive.</p><p>"We give them recommendations about quarantining or isolating, getting tested, and what to do if they become sick. If they're not already sick, we still want them to self-quarantine so that they don't spread the disease to anyone else if they were to become sick," said Labus.</p><p>Generally, the contact tracer won't ask for additional contacts unless they happen to call someone who is sick or has a confirmed case of the virus. They will help ensure the contact has the resources they need to isolate themselves, if necessary. The contact tracer may continue to stay in touch with that person over the next 14 days.</p><p>"We follow the percentage of people that were contacts, then converted into being actual cases of the virus. It's an important marker to help us understand what kind of transmission happens in our community and how to control the virus," said Gullett.</p>
Why You Should Participate (and What Happens If You Don’t)<p>A <a href="https://www.thelancet.com/journals/laninf/article/PIIS1473-3099(20)30457-6/fulltext" target="_blank">Lancet study</a> from June 16, which looked at data from more than 40,000 people, found that COVID-19 transmission could be reduced by 64 percent through isolating those who have the coronavirus, quarantining their household, and contacting the people they may have exposed.</p><p>The combination strategy was significantly more effective than mass random testing or just isolating the sick person and members of their household.</p><p>However, contact tracing is only as effective as people's willingness to participate, and a small number of people who've contracted the coronavirus or were potentially exposed are reluctant to talk.</p><p>"Contact tracers have all been hung up on, cussed at, yelled at," said Gullet.</p><p>The hesitation to talk to contact tracers often stems from concerns over privacy — a serious issue in healthcare.</p>
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