Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Mann's Madhouse Effect

Michael Mann recently tweeted this:

It's dumb luck that I chanced to do just that!  (Thoughts on Wallace-Wells here.)

This book a comprehensive exploration of the issues mixed with clear examples and Tom Toles's cartoons. It could easily be used as a climate change primer in a high school or middle school, and it comes with an index and lots of useful endnotes too!

Mann clarifies the problem of which, by now, we're all painful aware:
"This is the madhouse of the climate debate. We have followed Alice through the looking glass. White roses here are painted red, and words suddenly mean something different from what they used to mean. The very language of science itself, of 'skepticism' and 'evidence,' is used in a way opposite of how science really employs it.  Not everyone wants the facts to be known. We have run squarely into what Upton Sinclair famously warned us about: 'It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it'" (xi).

He starts with a primer in science, which is unfortunately a necessary place to start. People think that if there's any margin of error or any room for questioning that it means we can throw out the whole idea, but that's not how it works. Scientists are always questioning previous findings; that's their job.
"Good-faith skepticism--that is, skepticism that attempts to hold science to the highest possible standard through independent scrutiny and questioning of every minute detail--is not only a good thing in science but, in fact, essential" (1). 
In the scientific process, they question findings to make sure that,
"the manuscript represents a positive contribution to the existing scientific literature. . . . The fact of the matter, however, is that there is a weakness in the scientific system that can be exploited. The weakness is in the public understanding of science, which turns out to be crucial for translating science into public policy. Deliberate confusion can be sown under a false pretext of 'skepticism.' And the scientific process is continually under assault by bad-faith doubt mongers" (2-3). 
The climate change issue is similar to the tobacco issue in which, "'Doubt is our product' read one internal tobacco industry memo" (9).  Policy makers "act as though unless there is 100 percent unanimity among scientists, nothing can be known" (9).  If we were wrong about the harm tobacco causes or about the potential threat climate change brings, we would know by now.

Nay-sayers act like they're poking holes in the arguments, but they're just misunderstanding, or intentionally misrepresenting, the science:
"The cherry-picking of the starting year in the sequence betrays the lack of sincerity of those advancing this argument" (10).  "Instead, we got a decades-long stream of increasingly far-fetched hypotheticals intentionally designed to obscure a rather straightforward set of facts. . . .  Where there is doubt . . . go with the preponderance of evidence. It's not all that hard" (12). 
Then he explains the basic of how climate change works, all the chemistry and physics, starting with Joseph Fourier and Svante Arrhenius. Here's the upshot of it all:
"Before the Industrial Revolution, there were about 280 parts CO2 per million parts of atmosphere (ppm). We have now passed the 400 ppm mark. . . . At the current rate that we are burning fossil fuels, we will have doubled CO2 concentrations (that is, approached around 550 ppm) by midcentury" (16). 
We all know that will bring more extreme heat, shifting wind patterns, rain that comes too fast to be absorbed into the ground, flooding droughts, rising seas, and then much more migration, food insecurity and starvation, species loss, and conflicts over resources (i.e. war). "Foreign wars we are fighting to keep oil flowing from dangerous regions of the world such as the Middle East. Think of these wars as a $100 billion subsidy to the fossil fuel industry" (46).

That are many tipping points, and we've hit one already with the melting of the Antarctic. AND we passed the 415 ppm mark last May. If we reach 450 ppm,
"it would almost certainly create dangerous, potentially irreversible changes in our climate. . . . Another decade of business-as-usual fossil fuel emissions could commit us to that 2 degree Celsius 'dangerous warming' threshold. . . . We might have already crossed at least one key tipping point: most, if not all, of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet now appears on course to disintegrate no matter what we do. . . . We are the blindfolded man who is told he is nearing the edge of a cliff. Is he three steps away? Four? Ten? Regardless of the distance, his only safe course of action is to stop lurching forward" (28-29). "It is the rate of warming, not the warmth itself, that poses a threat" (43). 
Species can't adapt fast enough: "We are now asking plants and animals to migrate at unprecedented rates and with brand-new obstacles such as cities and highways standing in their path" (44).

He explains the problems with fossil fuel extraction: coal, tar sands, and fracking, but gets into issues with nuclear as well. Land use has to be better managed. We all KNOW this already, but it really needs to be said again and again.
"When economists consider this cost of inaction and weigh it against the cost of taking action--that is, combating climate change by reducing global carbon emissions--they conclude that taking action is a no-brainer. The cost of climate change damages are already greater than the cost of reducing emissions" (48). 
But the machine to stop action has the financial resources to continue. Citizens for a Sound Economy, a front group now called FreedomWorks was founded by the Koch brothers to block governmental regulations (71).

Much like Nathaniel Rich, Mann gets into the details of the players who stopped the ball rolling, but with far less detail. It didn't used to be like this:
"Republican presidents Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and George H.W. Bush all supported regulatory solutions to emerging global environmental problems despite considerable pushback from industrial special interests. . . . environmental protection wasn't always the partisan political issue that it has become" (72). 
But now people like Steven J. Milloy, lobbyist and lawyer, "rails against what he calls the 'junk science' on DDT, ozone depletion, and all matters of 'environmental extremism' . . . got his start in tobacco . . . accepted payments from Philip Morris, ExxonMobil, and Syngenta for his advocacy efforts" (80-81).  Yup. News magnate Rupert Murdoch is part of the problem, as is the "Saudi royal family, the world's leading oil barons and the same folks who used the manufactured Climategate scandal to sabotage the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference in 2009" (107).

What can we do? Mann puts all his chips on renewables.
"At present, the most viable solution is for states to decommission coal plants and introduce a larger share of renewables--solar, wind, and geothermal--into their energy portfolios to make up the difference. Additional strategies include reducing energy consumption and, finally, entering into regional carbon-trading consortiums" (134). 
I really really hope that the Planet of the Humans film just released, all about how renewables don't significantly decrease GHGs and that environmental movements are all corrupt, is full of holes and quickly debunked before it gains a following. (ETA: debunked here.)

Mann is clear about what needs to be done:
"Support renewable energy and a price on carbon, and vote for representatives who will do the same. . . . Solar panels, paired with batteries to enable power at night, can produce several orders of magnitude more electricity than is consumed by the entirety of human civilization. . .. . Join an organization with a good track record on climate. . . . Help facilitate the next stage of evolution in the battle for environmental sustainability" (147-149). "It is increasingly clear that some influential people simply will not be part of the solution. We can and must move forward without them" (170).
Suggesting that it's not real, or not human caused, or that it's all too late all impede direct and sustained action, and we need to act right now to save our lives.


The Mound of Sound said...

Elizabeth May is urging Canadians to vote as though their lives depend on it. Hard to get more blunt than that. Yet most of us will vote Liberal or Conservative, those whose political fortunes depend on feigning not to understand what's happening. If the Liberals are okay with it and the Tories are okay with it and a decisive chunk of the Canadian voting public is okay with it we'll remain in the grip of 'creeping normalcy' the flaw in human behaviour that will bring us down just as it has many past civilizations.

Marie Snyder said...

It's a hard thing, right now, to put an X beside Greens or NDP knowing that so many others won't because they're going for a chance to win the second worst option rather than risk losing the best option. If that makes sense! Anything. But. Conservative. might give Liberals another win, which is a win for pipelines and expanded tar sands. I wish the Greens and NDP could unite at least to get a bit more collective power. And I really with Jack Layton could rise again to lead.