Welcome Michael E. Mann (RealClimate.org) (PennState – Director ESSC), and Host Kevin Grandia (Founder, Center for Democracy in Government)

The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches from the Front Lines

A Book Scientists Shouldn’t Have to Write

The late Andrew Breitbart once stated outright that the United States should put to death a climate scientist. The loudmouth of the right-wing tweeted: “Capital punishment for Dr. James Hansen. Climategate is high treason.”

Shortly after, Dr. Michael Mann, renowned climate researcher and author of the new book, The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars, received this death threat in his Penn State University email inbox:

You and your colleagues who have promoted this [climategate] scandal ought to be shot, quartered and fed to the pigs along with your whole damn families.

Science is under attack on many fronts and it has never been this personal. At the center of this hate lies a single study published by Dr. Mann and his colleagues Raymond Bradley and Malcolm Hughes that has become know as the “Hockey Stick.” In a nutshell, the hockey stick is a graph that shows a relatively stable global average temperature over the past 1,000 years. The blade of the hockey stick graph is an abrupt jump up in temperature in the last 100 or so years as human civilization embraced the industrial revolution and began pumping tons of greenhouse gas pollution into the atmosphere by burning oil and coal.

Burning fossil fuels such as oil and coal releases carbon dioxide, and this carbon dioxide traps heat in the atmosphere – it’s simple science and not a new finding at all. In fact, the discovery of the greenhouse effect was made in 1896 by a guy named Svante Arrhenius.

Mann’s Hockey Stick study was published in 1998, and 14 years later right-wing anti-science ideologues (many of the same people who think dinosaurs roamed the earth 6000 years ago) still attack it. But it is not just the hard-right that attack Mann’s study; in fact, they are more an outcome of a much more nefarious and deliberate plot by some very large corporations who have a lot to lose if we stop burning oil and coal.

Mann details this campaign in The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars and it is a campaign more insidious than the war leveled against cancer science by tobacco companies in the 1970’s – that war only cost millions of lives. The war against climate science, sponsored by major fossil fuel companies like ExxonMobil, Koch Industries and Peabody Coal, puts the entire existence of the human race as we know it in jeopardy.

Strategizing on how the tobacco industry could fight back against the science linking cancer to cigarettes, a tobacco executive wrote in 1969 that:

Doubt is our product since it is the best means of competing with the ‘body of fact’ that exists in the mind of the general public.

The parallels between the attack on cancer science and the attack on climate science is exact. As Mann writes in his book:

Rather than concede the potential threat climate change posed and the necessity of ultimately reducing fossil fuel use, they [oil and coal companies] would instead engage in a massive, media-savvy public relations campaign. The strategy was simple: While presenting a seemingly forward-thinking, pro-environmental face, oil companies and allied economic and political interest would, behind the scenes, use various means to sow doubt about the underlying science on climate change.

The method of science is quite simple: a scientist proposes a theory, he or she tests the theory and then presents evidence proving or disproving that theory to colleagues. If the colleagues agree that the process of testing was rigorous then it is published in a scientific journal. This simple process is how, for hundreds of years, we as a human race have advanced our understanding of the world.

Notice that in that process there is no media analysis, opinions of politicians or religious institutions? That’s because none of them are involved in advancing the scientific understanding of the world around us, they can’t be because:  a) they have not been formally trained, and b) they are tainted by ideology and personal bias. It is irrelevant whether politicians, media or religious leaders “believe” in a scientific finding because science is not about belief, it is about discovering and documenting reality as we know it. Quite frankly, I have always found the statement that “I believe global warming is happening” to be one of the stupidest things I have ever heard.

If science had not been subjected to this deliberate attack and this manufactured requirement that we “believe in global warming,” Mann would never had to write The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars, and most likely we would be much further along in creating a carbon-free economy.

But here we are with scientists like Dr. Mann getting death threats and having to defend their science in the public realm instead of in the annals of science. The attacks are not over, groups like Americans for Prosperity, who receives millions a year from the profits of fossil fuel giant Koch Industries fighting against regulations on greenhouse gas emissions, and right-wing nut jobs still attacking the realities of global warming, despite mass drought and wildfires.

With no end in sight, I have no doubt that 500 years from now high school kids will be reading about the vicious attacks on Michael Mann and other climate scientists much like today they read about the attacks on Galileo in the 1600’s.

Mann’s book, The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars, chronicles the attack on him and his colleagues; and while it is depressing that he even had to write it in the first place, it is so important that his story be documented in the hope that maybe, just maybe, someday in the future we humans will begin to learn from our past mistakes.


[As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book and be respectful of dissenting opinions.  Please take other conversations to a previous thread. – bev]

Kevin Grandia

Kevin Grandia

Director of Online Strategy for Green Peace