Op-Ed

Climate change isn’t a debate. It’s already here, whether deniers like it or not.



Last month, I tweeted that people should ignore climate change deniers on twitter, block them, and move on with their lives. Because for years now, those who deny the damage that burning fossil fuels is doing to our planet and ourselves have demanded to be taken seriously, despite the increasingly ridiculous nature of their claims.

With extreme weather events including superstorms, droughts and heat waves worsened by climate change, and sea level rise regularly inundating coastal communities, the impacts of carbon pollution can already be seen all around us. One of the first lines of last year’s National Climate Assessment, the US federal government’s summary of climate research, reads that “the impacts of climate change are already being felt in communities across the country.”

But apparently my tweet pointing out the pointlessness of climate deniers was an invitation for one of them to prove my point in an op-ed in the Lexington Herald-Leader. In that piece, Phillip Goggans, a general contractor, misrepresents the original exchange (which involved climate misinformation from a conspiracy theorist who posts under a fake identity and not only denies evidence of climate change but subscribes to reprehensible “truther” conspiracies about the tragic Sandy Hook massacre of schoolchildren.)

Goggans rattles off long-debunked denier talking points. He claims “many eminent scientists” reject the science of climate change. In an attempt to rebut a survey showing 97% of climate scientists agree climate change is caused by human activity, he cites a survey of the American Meteorology Society, also from 2013, showing only 52% of respondents agree that climate change is real and human-caused.

But AMS is more than just meteorologists, meteorologists aren’t climate scientists, and most importantly, the 2016 replication of the survey found that 96% of them recognized warming was happening, and only 5% thought it was from natural causes. Not exactly 97%, but pretty close!

The high degree of consensus among experts has been established by a number of independent studies. One article about the consensus among climate consensus papers found that at least 9 in ten experts agree humans are causing climate change. It’s been downloaded over half a million times, so I suggest Goggans make it half a million and one.

As for those 3% of “dissenting” studies that contrarians cite, researchers tried to replicate them and found they were rife with errors.

The op-ed cites “climategate,” the 2009 hack of climate scientists’ emails that were taken out of context, doctored, and otherwise misrepresented. Something like 10 different investigations all cleared scientists of any of the wrongdoings of which we had been accused. Anyone who read the emails in good faith quickly realized they had been had by a deliberate misinformation effort to use stolen emails to influence the political debate. (Sound familiar?)

He cites the supposed ‘70’s cooling scare, a myth that’s been debunked for over a decade. Scientists were unsure back then whether the regional cooling effect of certain pollutants or the warming effect of greenhouse gases from fossil fuel burning would ultimately win out. But we’ve since passed laws to limit that pollution, while greenhouse gasses have escalated. The planet has steadily warmed as a result. The real story is the exact opposite of what Goggans claims.

He then concludes that we’ll look back on climate “hysteria” with “a mixture of embarrassment and amusement.”

The only thing embarrassing about the climate conversation today is that people like Goggans are willing to argue things that don’t stand up to the slightest bit of scrutiny. Given that the science shows the difference between fighting climate change now or listening to people like him and ignoring it is saving millions of lives and hundreds of billions of dollars, it’s hardly amusing.

It is time for a serious conversation about climate change and what we’re going to do about it. And it’s time to listen to serious people, not carnival barkers.

Michael E. Mann is Distinguished Professor of Atmospheric Science at Pennsylvania State University. His most recent book, with Tom Toles, is The Madhouse Effect: How Climate Change Denial Is Threatening Our Planet, Destroying Our Politics, and Driving Us Crazy (Columbia University Press, 2016).

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