CLEVELAND, Ohio — What happens when you mix climate change, a renowned climate scientist and Case Western Reserve University? You get an in-depth, robust conversation on the all-too-controversial subject.
That’s exactly what happened Thursday when climate and atmospheric scientists presented at the “Perspectives on Global Climate Change” conference at the university.
Three scientists spoke on climate change impacts, but it was famed climate advocate Michael E. Mann who brought the nearly full house to the Maltz Performing Arts Center in University Circle. Stephen Palumbi, a professor of marine sciences with Stanford, outlined the devastating impacts a warming world is having on our oceans.
Venkatachalam Ramaswamy, the director of the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, explored the connection between atmospheric physics and chemistry, and related processes in climate.
But it was the discussion on America’s profound denial around the changing climate that resonated with most, a topic Mann travels the country advocating for.
Mann uses schools, universities and organizations as his stage to speak out about the implications of climate change.
Mann is the director of the Earth System Center at Penn State University, and has an extensive resume and his own plethora of climate change research, including the notable hockey-stick graph in 1999 that visually displayed the dramatic rise in temperature in the Northern Hemisphere in recent decades.
When politics started meddling with the science behind climate change, Mann knew he had to step up.
“This is not controversial science, this is long-established physics and chemistry,” he told cleveland.com in an interview. “The reality of…the impacts that humans are having on the greenhouse effect…our climate, and our planet – that is undisputed within the scientific community.”
Mann continued to discuss the science he says proves the majority of the effects of climate change are not natural, it’s caused by us, and needs to be addressed pronto.
“We’re seeing [climate change effects] played out in real time on our television screens [and] newspaper headlines in our community,” pointing to events such as California’s historic drought and Hurricane Harvey’s devastating flooding in Houston.
Climate change doesn’t directly cause these extreme weather events, he explained, but it can contribute and worsen impacts. Scientists have determined a warmer planet, contributing to sea-level rise, led to an additional 25 square miles of flooding caused by Superstorm Sandy, exacerbating the damage price tag by billions.
“It’s going to cost a lot to deal with climate change,” Mann said. “It’s going to cost a lot more to not deal with climate change.”
Confusion and misunderstanding is the heart of climate change denialism in the United States.
One popular source of doubt comes with the relationship between climate and weather, said Mann. “It’s still possible to get frigid cold air outbreaks in the Midwestern United States, and in places like Cleveland in the winter, and that does not in any way contradict the overall warming of the planet.”
Another potential cause of denying the science behind climate change is deliberate misinformation campaigns, Mann said.
“The actual people who come out to events like this and are confused about the science is in part because there has been a deliberate campaign to misinform the public, and so there are a lot of misconceptions,” he said. “Some have been created by those hoping to sow confusion and doubt.”
You might have the urge to pin the misinformation campaigns on one side of the political spectrum, but as Mann points out, “The science doesn’t care if you’re a Republican or Democrat. Ice sheets, as they continue to retreat, don’t care whether you’re a Republican or Democrat. The negative impacts of climate change… they don’t care.”
The no-longer subtle impacts of climate change, such as increasing wildfires, droughts and superstorms, demand action by both sides of politics.
“We need to get back to a place where people on both sides of the aisle can reach across the aisle and accept the reality of the threat, and again, engage in that worthy debate about what we do about it.”
That’s when Mann circled around the idea that America needs to stop the non-scientific debate on whether the climate is changing, and who’s to blame, and focus instead on the “worthy debate.” Which, in Mann’s eyes, and many other scientists’, is the debate about what to do about it.
If America steps up, if people act on this problem immediately and stop emissions within the next decade, Mann explained to the conference audience, we could keep the warming below the tipping point.
“We need to increase our resiliency and adapt,” he said. “But if we don’t mitigate the problem, we will exceed the adaptive capacity.”
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