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Dr. Michael Mann on Extreme Weather: 'We Predicted This Long Ago'
You can't go far in the climate movement without hearing the name of Dr. Michael E. Mann, distinguished professor of atmospheric science at Penn State University and author of The Hockey Stick and The Climate Wars and, more recently, The Madhouse Effect.
Dr. Mann came to public attention back in 1998 when he and two colleagues published the landmark MBH98 paper documenting average global temperatures across the centuries with a line graph whose steep uptick in recent years earned it the name "the hockey stick." The paper—with its inconvenient truth about the consequences of fossil fuels—made him a target for climate deniers, but Dr. Mann refused to be silenced and has become one of America's leading public voices for a scientific and rational approach to climate change.
Because we had a long and fruitful conversation on topics ranging from galvanizing moments and the Clean Power Plan to his own role in the global climate conversation and much more (and because we want you to learn as much as we did), we'll be bringing you the conversation in its entirety, with new installments each Friday for the next few weeks.
Think of it as your primer to what's happening to our climate and what you can do, courtesy of one of the most authoritative voices in the movement. We began by talking about the relationship between climate change and extreme weather.
Dr. Michael Mann: There are various ways in which climate change can make weather more extreme. Some of them are fairly obvious—if you warm up the planet, you're going to have more frequent and intense heatwaves. Warmer planet, you're going to have more extremely hot days. You tend to see more flooding events, because a warmer atmosphere can hold more moisture, so when it does rain or snow, you actually get more precipitation. The rain and snow falls in larger amounts, and that's something we've seen as well in recent years.
Then there are more subtle impacts with human-caused climate change. There's an expansion of the dry subtropical zone to higher latitudes, so regions like California, like Syria, both areas that have seen unprecedented drought, are expected to get drier. The subtropics and the mid-latitudes are supposed to get drier, in particular in summer. And we've obviously seen that as well.
Now, you start to get into even more subtle connections like very persistent weather systems. The fact that we've seen extreme weather systems that just sort of sit in place—like the 2003 European heatwave, the 2011 Oklahoma and Texas drought and heatwave, the 2010 Moscow wildfires, Pakistan's floods. We've seen a number of extreme weather events that are unusual in their persistence. They just hang around for day after day.
There is some science—in fact, we've published in this area—to suggest that there may be a connection between the amplification of warming in the Arctic and how that impacts the jet stream. Jennifer Francis, who is going to be one of the speakers as well at your event, has done quite a bit of work in this area. There is emerging science now suggesting the melting of Arctic sea ice and the amplified warming of the Arctic is actually changing the pattern of the northern hemisphere jet stream. It's changing the jet stream in a way that tends to slow it down and tends to lead to these very persistent weather systems that just sort of get stuck in place.
Finally, we get to the last category of extreme weather, which is sort of a category of its own, both because the science is fairly distinct and the impacts are so profound—and that's hurricanes and tropical storms. For a long time, we've understood, based on pretty simple physics, that as you warm the ocean's surface, you're going to get more intense hurricanes. Whether you get more hurricanes or fewer hurricanes, the strongest storms will tend to become stronger. That's a pretty robust theoretical prediction, [and] we are also seeing it in the observations.
Empirical studies show that there's a roughly 10-mile-per-hour increase in sustained peak winds in Cat 5-level storms for each degree Fahrenheit of warming. And keep in mind that the global oceans have warmed more than a degree Fahrenheit.
That's roughly a 7 percent increase for, say, a Cat 5 storm, a 7 percent increase in wind speed. But the damage done by a hurricane, the destructive potential, actually goes as the wind speed raised to the third power. So that 7 percent increase in wind speed translates to roughly a 20 percent increase in the maximum intensity of these storms.
That's a big signal, and it's a big enough signal that we can see it. And we can see it not just in the data, but we've seen it play out this season in the form of unprecedented storms. That now means, within the last three years, when global sea surface temperatures have been at their highest, we have seen the strongest hurricane globally, the strongest hurricane in the northern hemisphere, the strongest hurricane in the southern hemisphere, and the strongest storms in both the Pacific and the open Atlantic, with Irma.
That's not a coincidence. We predicted this long ago, and we are seeing it play out now before our very eyes.
As Dr. Mann makes clear, there's no mystery to what's happening to our planet.
And there's no mystery about how we solve this crisis by switching from dirty fossil fuels to clean, renewable energy.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) designed America's Clean Power Plan to accelerate this shift and cut the dirty power plant emissions driving climate change. But now, fossil fuel interests leading EPA want to repeal the Clean Power Plan and take us back to the dark days of dirty energy.
We're not about to just sit back and let that happen. If you're ready to act, join us and thousands of others by adding your comment in support of America's Clean Power Plan.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Patti Lynn
2018 was a groundbreaking year in the public conversation about climate change. Last February, The New York Times reported that a record percentage of Americans now believe that climate change is caused by humans, and there was a 20 percentage point rise in "the number of Americans who say they worry 'a great deal' about climate change."
England faces an "existential threat" if it does not change how it manages its water, the head of the country's Environment Agency warned Tuesday.
By Jessica Corbett
A new analysis revealed Tuesday that over the past two decades heat records across the U.S. have been broken twice as often as cold ones—underscoring experts' warnings about the increasingly dangerous consequences of failing to dramatically curb planet-warming emissions.
By Madison Dapcevich
Ask any resident of San Francisco about the waterfront parrots, and they will surely tell you a story of red-faced conures squawking or dive-bombing between building peaks. Ask a team of researchers from the University of Georgia, however, and they will tell you of a mysterious string of neurological poisonings impacting the naturalized flock for decades.
The initial cause of the fire was not yet known, but it has been driven by the strong wind and jumped the North Santiam River, The Salem Statesman Journal reported. As of Tuesday night, it threatened around 35 homes and 30 buildings, and was 20 percent contained.
The unanimous verdict was announced Tuesday in San Francisco in the first federal case to be brought against Monsanto, now owned by Bayer, alleging that repeated use of the company's glyphosate-containing weedkiller caused the plaintiff's cancer. Seventy-year-old Edwin Hardeman of Santa Rosa, California said he used Roundup for almost 30 years on his properties before developing non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
"Today's verdict reinforces what another jury found last year, and what scientists with the state of California and the World Health Organization have concluded: Glyphosate causes cancer in people," Environmental Working Group President Ken Cook said in a statement. "As similar lawsuits mount, the evidence will grow that Roundup is not safe, and that the company has tried to cover it up."
Judge Vince Chhabria has split Hardeman's trial into two phases. The first, decided Tuesday, focused exclusively on whether or not Roundup use caused the plaintiff's cancer. The second, to begin Wednesday, will assess if Bayer is liable for damages.
"We are disappointed with the jury's initial decision, but we continue to believe firmly that the science confirms glyphosate-based herbicides do not cause cancer," Bayer spokesman Dan Childs said in a statement reported by The Guardian. "We are confident the evidence in phase two will show that Monsanto's conduct has been appropriate and the company should not be liable for Mr. Hardeman's cancer."
Some legal experts said that Chhabria's decision to split the trial was beneficial to Bayer, Reuters reported. The company had complained that the jury in Johnson's case had been distracted by the lawyers' claims that Monsanto had sought to mislead scientists and the public about Roundup's safety.
However, a remark made by Chhabria during the trial and reported by The Guardian was blatantly critical of the company.
"Although the evidence that Roundup causes cancer is quite equivocal, there is strong evidence from which a jury could conclude that Monsanto does not particularly care whether its product is in fact giving people cancer, focusing instead on manipulating public opinion and undermining anyone who raises genuine and legitimate concerns about the issue," he said.
Many regulatory bodies, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, have ruled that glyphosate is safe for humans, but the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer found it was "probably carcinogenic to humans" in 2015. A university study earlier this year found that glyphosate use increased cancer risk by as much as 41 percent.
Hardeman's lawyers Jennifer Moore and Aimee Wagstaff said they would now reveal Monsanto's efforts to mislead the public about the safety of its product.
"Now we can focus on the evidence that Monsanto has not taken a responsible, objective approach to the safety of Roundup," they wrote in a statement reported by The Guardian.
Hardeman's case is considered a "bellwether" trial for the more than 760 glyphosate cases Chhabria is hearing. In total, there are around 11,200 such lawsuits pending in the U.S., according to Reuters.
University of Richmond law professor Carl Tobias told Reuters that Tuesday's decision showed that the verdict in Johnson's case was not "an aberration," and could possibly predict how future juries in the thousands of pending cases would respond.