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6 Feb 2013

An interview with Michael Mann: “There’s reason to be optimistic”…


I am very honoured to be able to present to you an interview I conducted recently with climate scientist Michael Mann.  Michael is Distinguished Professor of Meteorology at Penn State University, with joint appointments in the Department of Geosciences and the Earth and Environmental Systems Institute (EESI). He is also director of the Penn State Earth System Science Center (ESSC).  He is author of recently published ‘The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars’ which I can highly recommend.  In our interview we discussed the Hockey Stick, the state of play of climate science, and how it was being in the eye of the ‘Climategate’ storm of a couple of years ago.  Here is the interview as a podcast, or below is the transcript, lightly edited for brevity.

When you came out with The Hockey Stick, what was such a departure about it? What was it that represented such a leap forward in our understanding of climate change? 

It was an incremental step forward, in reality. Our work built on the efforts of decades of careful work by other paleoclimatologists. It’s a point I try to convey in my book. We had extended what had been done before.  We not only provided a more confident reconstruction of how temperatures had varied over the past thousand years (initially the first 600 years and then in a subsequent publications we extended it to the last 1,000 years), but framing the estimates within an estimated margin of error allowed us to begin to draw certain conclusions about the recent warming: that not only is it warming but the warming appears to be unusual in this longer term context.

There were other reconstructions of this sort that had been done in the past and there are many others that have been done since. Our work was part of that larger body of work. I think part of the reason the Hockey Stick became an icon in the climate change debate just has to do with chance circumstances. We published the work in the late 1990s when the climate change debate was really starting to come to a crescendo. the science was becoming increasingly certain with respect to the proposition that we are warming the planet and changing the climate.

The publication of the Hockey Stick curve almost served as an exclamation point. It occurred in the wake of the warmest year we’d ever seen in recorded history, 1998. But that recorded history only went back a century or so. We were able to provide a longer term context. The curve told a simple story. You didn’t need to understand the physics or mathematics of how a theoretical climate model works to understand what it was telling you.

Mann's first version of the 'Hockey Stick' curve, 1999.

Mann’s first version of the ‘Hockey Stick’ curve, 1999.

It portrayed, in a very transparent way, the unusual nature of the recent warming and by inference the relationship that warming has with human activity, the burning of fossil fuels. But ultimately it is the fact that it was featured in the summary of policy makers in the third assessment report of the IPCC in 2001 that secured its status as an icon in the climate change debate. And once it became an icon in the climate change debate, there was a target on our backs.

We’ve had a year of extreme weather all around the world, Hurricane Sandy and so on and so on. What’s your analysis of where we’re at now in terms of climate change?

The scientific evidence is in. There is no serious debate any more, not just about whether climate change is real or it’s due to us, but whether we are seeing the impacts of climate change. The impacts are in fact playing out in increasingly damaging ways, whether it’s Hurricane Sandy which was the largest storm, hurricane (and then hybrid system) that we’ve ever seen, and the lowest central pressure north of Cape Hatteras in the US.

It led to record-breaking flooding in New York City, in part because there was a foot of sea level rise already built into the coastal storm surge, and that foot of sea level rise is in substantial part due to warming oceans. We saw record-breaking drought and wildfires in the western US, which had a hugely damaging impact on our crops, on grain production in the US and food prices. I think we’ve now got to the point where people can see climate change happening with their own eyes, and it becomes increasingly less credible when you hear cable news commentators claim that it’s an elaborate hoax, that it’s not real.

The more recent revision of the 'Hockey Stick' curve (2008)

The more recent revision of the ‘Hockey Stick’ curve (2008)

People are no longer getting fooled by that sort of rhetoric because they’re seeing it play out. Especially older people who’ve been around for a while, who know that things are happening with our weather and climate today that just never happened when they were growing up. I think we’ve reached that point where climate change denial is no longer even superficially credible. That means that opponents of taking action are turning to increasingly desperate measures.

The rhetoric is becoming louder and more acerbic, the attacks are becoming more fierce. They’re not just attacking the science of climate change, they—for example the Koch brothers–are funding attacks against clean energy, against wind, against solar energy.

in my book I talk about the ladder of climate change denial: over time climate change deniers have retreated down this ladder. First there’s no warming … well, OK, there is warming but it’s not due to us … OK, well maybe it’s due in part to us but much of it is natural … OK well maybe most of it is due to us but the impacts aren’t that bad and we can adapt … and so on.

We’re seeing climate change deniers retreat down that ladder, towards a position that it’ll be too expensive to do anything about it so we can adapt, or we can engage in so-called geoengineering. That seems to be where they’re going, they’re withdrawing their troops from the front lines of contesting the science and repositioning them along a new front that has to do with economics and policy. They descend down that ladder slowly.

But the fact is we can’t afford that if we’re going to avert potentially catastrophic changes in the climate. We’ve got to get our fossil fuel emissions under control within a matter of years, not decades.

You talked about how it’s increasingly clear to more and more people that this is what’s happening but is it too late? There seems to be an increasing number of studies coming out that are saying there is no way really that we can avoid 2ºC. What’s your sense? Can we still avoid  2ºC or are we inevitably going to exceed that?

mann_treeringWe can. I would contest some of the studies that argue that we can’t do it. If you work through the underlying assumptions all they are really saying is we won’t have the will to do it. There’s no evidence that it’s physically impossible to avoid  2ºC warming. It is certainly true that with each year of inaction, that curve that describes how soon we have to bring emissions to a peak and how quickly they have to decline, that curve becomes steeper and steeper. It’s now the case that we will have to bring our emissions down far more quickly in the decades. We could have made a soft landing if we had got our emissions in hand a decade or two ago.

The fact is now we really have to undergo that transition quite rapidly and that means we’re going to have to make some difficult choices if we’re going to avoid 2ºC warming. In all likelihood that means keeping CO2 concentrations below 450 parts per million CO2. There are almost 400ppm now, so if you do the math it means we’ve got to bring fossil fuel emissions to a peak within a matter of years and begin ramping them down quite dramatically.

That means we have to be transitioning more rapidly to alternative sources of energy. There is an important debate that is going to have to take place about the role that nuclear power will have. The role that natural gas, a so-called ‘transition fuel’, might have in this debate, although there are all sorts of caveats. With natural gas come a whole number of other risks and complications and obviously nuclear power has very serious risks that it poses as well. We were reminded just a year and a half ago with Fukushima.

The fact is, we are now in a position where we have to trade off risks. John Holdren, the Presidential Science Advisor has a good way of framing it: “we will engage in some combination of mitigation, adaptation, and suffering”. The discussion now is really about how much of each of those we’re willing to tolerate, and the relative emphasis we have to put on each of those options.

I talked a while ago to Kevin Anderson at the Tyndall Climate Centre. His analysis is basically that we need a 10% cut in emissions starting now. He was quite critical in the interview that I did with him of some of his colleagues where he felt that within the community of climate scientists there were people who were happy to tell our leaders what they wanted to hear or to give a more sanitised version of the reality of things. How easy have you found it to really hold on to telling it like it is when the temptation must sometimes be to say “Oh well it’s not that bad…”?

Obviously we have to balance a number of considerations in the way that we communicate science and its implications to the public. I’ve seen colleagues present such a pessimistic picture that it runs the danger of the opposite of the intended response. Rather than people saying “wow, this is really a problem, we need to do something about it, find a solution, work towards solving this problem”, they just throw up their hands and say “it’s too late to do anything so I’m just going to drive my Hummer and live a profligate lifestyle because there’s nothing we can do about it anyway”.

I think it would be extremely harmful if that was the response we were to see in the public, so it’s important to present optimism where it’s justified, because there are some reasons for optimism here. We’ve faced environmental problems before and mitigated them, dealt with them before they became an even worse disaster, whether it’s acid rain or ozone depletion. So there’s historical precedent for believing that we could be up to the challenge of solving this problem too.

There are important developments that have taken place in the area of renewable energy in recent years. There are credible calculations by scientists from NOAA (the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration) here in the US. About a year ago they published a study that showed that we could likely meet 70% of our energy needs within 20 years or so through a combination of solar and wind energy.  Potentially as high as 85% if you begin to factor in geothermal and other renewable energy sources. We can see there’s light at the end of the tunnel. We can see a future a couple decades down the road where we are able to get the energy we need cleanly here in the US and throughout the rest of the world.

The fact is though that we need to build a bridge to that future, and that means making some tough decisions, but there’s reason to be optimistic. We can get there if we engage in a good faith discussion of the risks we need to trade off in building that bridge to a renewable energy future. The problem here in the US and elsewhere is that we’re not having the good faith discussion that is there to be had about the solutions to the problem because we still have politicians who are acting essentially as mouthpieces for fossil fuel-interest who continue to deny that the problem even exists. If we can get past that then there is light at the end of the tunnel. We can see our way to solving this problem before we do indeed commit ourselves to truly dangerous changes in our climate. 

In the book you have a chapter called something like ‘The Fight Back Begins’, in the aftermath of ‘Climategate’ [the theft of emails from climate scientists and subsequent well-co-ordinated attempt to argue that they showed a concerted attempt to falsify science and deceive the public, an attempt subsequently discredited]. How is that fight back going do you think? Do you feel in the arguments that the science is coming back strongly and gaining a much stronger foothold?

I think so. I think where you see that most clearly is the way the media treat the issue. Take so-called “Climategate”, which is a terrible term, because in fact the only crime was the criminal theft of the emails! Ironically Watergate was a scandal because of the theft. It wasn’t because of the materials that Nixon found!  So there was a cruel irony in the framing. The forces of denial were very effective in framing that issue within the media.

Early on they helped frame the narrative and many in the media just uncritically adopted their narrative. But that was in part due to the fact, as I argue in the book, that there was already a context, an environment where the media was receptive to that contrarian message, perhaps because there was a feeling after the success of An Inconvenient Truth, the coverage of the Hurricane Katrina aftermath,  the near saturation coverage of the climate change issue. It’s almost as if there was a sense that the problem had been overstated, exaggerated.

060403_DomCNNL3R1Back in 2005, 2006, many of my colleagues were saying that the debate over the science was over and from here on it was just going to be a matter of debating policy and impacts, and I knew that that wasn’t true. I knew that there would be an opportunity for the forces of denial to retrench. There was this euphoria, a false complacency, within the scientific community. There was also  an opportunity among climate change deniers to exploit the fact that the media had almost gone over the top on the way that they had covered the issue – front page cover stories, like Time Magazine with polar bears on the front and ice drifts with huge lettering ‘BE WORRIED, BE VERY WORRIED!’

That almost created a caricature of the climate change issue. And media narratives sometimes become stale. Just saying climate change is really bad, it’s a real threat, people become numbed to the message.  And so journalists felt they had to find a new narrative, and that new narrative was one that they ironically had helped create, i.e. that the science had somehow been overstated, that concern has been overstated.

To the extent that had a grain of truth, it would only be because there was some over-the-top media coverage of the issue. But nonetheless that became the new narrative and the pendulum of the Overton Window–what’s acceptable in public discourse–swung back in the other direction. The forces of denial seized upon that. The stolen emails, the bad faith, disingenuous attacks against the IPCC, seizing on a cold winter in the US, as if that alone has anything to do with ongoing global warming and climate change, it all came together as a perfect storm that allowed the forces of denial to retrench. In the book I frame it as a ‘Battle of the Bulge’. It was a last stand. I think we will look back and say that was the last stand for climate change denial.

We’re moving beyond that now, but not without a cost.  The cost of that 5 or 6 or 7 years of inaction that was bought with a cynical disinformation campaign potentially translates to billions if not trillions of dollars of losses in the areas of food and water resources, damage to the economy because of severe weather impacts like Hurricane Sandy, the 11 greater than 1 billion dollar weather and climate related disasters we saw in the US in 2011 and even greater damages in 2012. So there was a huge cost to society of having delayed getting control of our fossil fuel emissions. The years of inaction mean it’s going to be much more expensive to deal with the problem now.

It’s deferred maintenance. It will cost us a lot more now because of the more rapid transition we’re going to have to undergo away from fossil fuels. It’s for all these reasons that disinformation campaign by vested interests to delay action was not just a crime against humanity but a crime against the planet. I think we’ll look back at it that way.

Did you start your career with a thick skin, or where did your thick skin come from? When Climategate all started did you feel you had a thick skin at that stage? If not, what was the process of developing one? You would have had to develop one in quite a hurry, how was that?

I think it’s a two-way street. It’s a learning experience for many of my colleagues–I would even say for the scientific community at large–to recognise that this strategy was being deployed against scientists. They had seen it before, with climate scientists such as Steve Schneider and Ben Santer. But nobody had really framed it this way. I tried to do that in my book and when I speak out about this.

I suppose to some extent part of what I’ve been trying to do in my outreach efforts, in my book etc. is to educate my fellow scientists to the fact that, as the journal Nature said, we’re in a street fight with those who are looking to discredit us and our science, who are looking to fool the public.  And we have to recognise that these are the tactics that are being used against us. That doesn’t mean that we should be using the tactics of street fighting ourselves, but we have to have effective strategies to combat these attacks.

Again, the best defence is a good offence, so if we can use these opportunities to do positive outreach, to get tout he positive message of what the science has to say, about what we need to do to meet the challenge. If we can turn those situations into opportunities to promote that positive message then not only are we defending ourselves against the attacks, we’re defeating our detractors because we’re actually turning the tables on them.

I’d like to think that we’ve seen some of that in recent years. For example, with the Heartland Institute and the meltdown that they experienced last year when their tactics were exposed to the public, when they got a lot of bad press. Similarly, with the Koch brothers who fund so much of organised climate change denial here in the US.

Obviously here in the US the Murdoch media network is a major player in the climate change denial campaign. But also folks like the Koch brothers. For the longest time they were operating under the radar, and they were getting away with funding front groups engaged in attacks on the science and attacks on scientists and bad faith, propaganda efforts.

For the longest time they were able to do this without repercussions. Over the last few years now we’ve seen media outlets who are willing to expose the climate change denial campaign. You may have seen a series of pieces recently in The Independent by Steve Connor. He won an award last year at the American Geophysical Union for his coverage of climate science and the politics of climate science. He has a series of two or three recent articles, about how these vested interests have been funding a stealth campaign to discredit climate science, and to discredit renewable energy.

There’s another recent article describing how fossil fuel special interests have been paying individuals to protest renewable energy $20 per hour. Its almost certainly just the tip of the iceberg. We know its been going on at an even larger scale, but the media is only just starting to catch on. On the internet, in news groups and blogs we know there are individuals who are being paid by vested interests to post contrarian comments, to help create an illusion of a broad-based opposition to clean energy. It’s classic astroturf, and it’s starting to be exposed in a way that it hadn’t before.

There’s a term used in the book a few times, what you call the ‘Serengeti Strategy’ about how people are targeted and picked off one by one. Before that happened did you feel you had that kind of support or did you feel you needed to build a stronger support between everybody and how did you do that? 

Mann_HockeyStickClimateWarsI was battle-hardened by that point. I was attacked heavily by the usual suspects – front groups, industry-funded front groups and their paid advocates. More than a decade ago, once the Hockey Stick became an icon in the climate change debate. I became subject to increasingly harsh and disingenuous attacks, not just on my science but on my character.

In that situation you either sink or swim, and fortunately I had friends and colleagues who’d been through this sort of thing before, folks like Steve Schneider and Ben Santer, who were there to give me support and provide advice on how to deal with the attacks. So there was a support network that was there for me. Part of what I’ve tried to do now, now that folks like Steve Schneider are sadly no longer with us, is to provide support and advice to a whole new generation of younger scientists who are being subjected to the same sorts of smears and attacks. I like to think that I’m now part of a new support network for younger scientists.

If you were to give advice to somebody who for the first time sat down and opened an email from somebody being very aggressive and unpleasant to them out of the blue, what would your advice be to them?

It would be don’t reply to that email. That’s the first thing. In fact one of the most important things is to not make early mistakes. One of the tactics used by our detractors is to expose scientists who have never had to deal with anything like this to a sudden onslaught of venom vitriol in the hope they will respond irrationally, will make mistakes, say things they shouldn’t have said in the heat of the moment.

So its extremely important not to react. Don’t do anything rash. Talk to some of your more senior colleagues who may have been through this sort of thing before, and can provide advice about how to defend oneself from the attacks and smears. Use the network of scientists and organisations who are there to help scientists deal with these attacks.

The Union of Concerned Scientists comes to mind. They have been out there over the past few years doing workshops at scientific conferences, writing how-to documents, doing everything they can to assist scientists–especially young scientists–in dealing with hostile circumstances, circumstances that scientists unfortunately increasingly find themselves in, because there are some powerful interests who don’t like the message of our science.


Categories: Climate Change, Energy, General

Comments are now closed on this site, please visit Rob Hopkins' blog at Transition Network to read new posts and take part in discussions.


Brian Cartwright
6 Feb 4:12pm

I would not at all discount the importance of CO2 in changing climate. I’m interested, though, in recent results on the more immediate (and remediable) effects of BC (black carbon) as in increasing glacial melting. There’s potential to get short-term improvements by reducing BC, but this should not provide an excuse for denial.

Dr Norman Page
6 Feb 5:05pm

There has been no net warming for 16 years with CO2 up +/- 9%. The PDO is in a cooling trend which will last for another 20 – 30 years and solar data suggests the possibility of a Maunder minimum in the near future. SST data show that the warming trend peaked in about 2003 and the earth has cooled since then.For an estimate of the timing and amount of cooling see my post
Global Cooling- Timing and Amount(NH)
I’m afraid that in his eagerness to drive policy Dr Mann has ignored the structural uncertainty inherent in the IPCC climate Models.

6 Feb 5:41pm

That’s completely misleading, Dr. Page:

Mr. Mann has ignored nothing.

To say nothing about what happened last year all over the world (and what’s still happening, as in Australia)

6 Feb 6:22pm

“There has been no net warming for 16 years”

That assertion is, of course, a lie (i.e., not a mistake).

1993 0.19 20
1994 0.28 19
1995 0.42 18
1996 0.32 17
1997 0.45 16
1998 0.61 15
1999 0.39 14
2000 0.4 13
2001 0.52 12
2002 0.6 11
2003 0.59 10
2004 0.52 9
2005 0.65 8
2006 0.59 7
2007 0.62 6
2008 0.49 5
2009 0.59 4
2010 0.66 3
2011 0.54 2
2012 0.56 1

Global average temperature increase:

y = 0.0163x + 0.3279
R^2 = +0.5498

This shows a very sharp increase in global temperature in the past 20 years. In the past 20 years 17 were the highest on record (years 1988 1991, and 1990 being the other three). How do you explain these facts?

6 Feb 10:06pm

Sycophantic naïveté.

To the interviewer: did you enter journalism to investigate, or just to fawn?

Doubting Rich
7 Feb 1:51am

“The scientific evidence is in. There is no serious debate any more, not just about whether climate change is real or it’s due to us, but whether we are seeing the impacts of climate change”

It’s just comical when people on one side of the debate say “there’s no serious debate any more” and other people actually believe them. Logic and sceptical thought is just thrown out of the window.

“OK, so the Muslims say there is no serious debate that Mohammed was the last prophet of Allah who is the only god, and to whom we should submit. That sounds great. That’s settled then. People! There’s no serious debate any more. There is only one god. His prophet called him Allah. He makes the world from second to second, and causality is just an illusion due to the consistency of the will of Allah. That evolution thing? That’s junk too, sorry zoologists, you’ve been wasting your time, but hey, it must have been the will of Allah, eh? And we get up to four wives, and no rights for women so we can tell the mothers in law to shut the f up, so it ain’t all bad.”

Hmmmmmmm. Something tells me it wouldn’t go like that if someone you disagreed with says there is no serious debate. So in fact all you are saying is “I believe Michael Mann, despite the huge debate and dispute over what he says, so I will accept his outrageous assertion that the debate is over in spite of all the evidence to the contrary, in spite of the scientists who disagree with him, in spite of the climate scientists who disagree with him, in spite of the statisticians who disagree with him”.

“The impacts are in fact playing out in increasingly damaging ways, whether it’s Hurricane Sandy which was the largest storm, hurricane (and then hybrid system) that we’ve ever seen …”

These are, simply, bare-faced lies. There has been no increase in extreme weather events. Corrected for economic growth and population density in vulnerable areas, monetary value of losses to extreme weather has not increased. Sandy is not even the most powerful storm to hit New York!

Brian Cartwright
7 Feb 12:22pm

This article was about whether there is “reason to be optimistic”, not railing against the deniers who pop up all the time. I was asking a serious question about black carbon at the top. Is that perhaps a reason for optimistic?

Dr Norman Page
7 Feb 3:04pm

Desertphile- If you cross a mountain summit the last 10 steps up and first 10 down will be the highest. Earth crossed the temperature summit in about 2003.
If you check various posts on my website you will see that ,as in the post above, and because of the thermal inertia of the ocean, I refer to SSTs as the best temperature metric.Here are the NOAA SST data for the last 16 years.
1997 0.4571
1998 0.5160
1999 0.3312
2000 0.3526
2001 0.4493
2002 0.4902
2003 0.5207
2004 0.4885
2005 0.5007
2006 0.4792
2007 0.4052
2008 0.3850
2009 0.4953
2010 0.5027
2011 0.4017
2012 0.4509

Note that I forecast cooling based on those SSTs TOGETHER WITH the PDO and Solar data

Why would anyone lie about something so easily checked?
Mssimiliano Mann certainly plays down the model uncertainties in his public statements. He said so himself in an interview with Nate Silver
he says scientists should “not have our statements be so laden in uncertainty that no one even listens to what we are saying”
I’m sure he himself is well aware of the uncertainties in the climate models.He just doesn’t care to talk about them much at public forums.

John Mason
8 Feb 9:39am

Dr Page – never had you down as a Transitioneer. I thought you were a geologist and an oil industry consultant, unless I’m mixing you up with another Dr Norman Page?

Cornelius Breadbasket
8 Feb 11:03am

Well spotted John.

Dr Norman Page
8 Feb 3:17pm

Rob John and Cornelius It’s is always easiest for AGW believers to attack the messenger rather than look at the message in the data.You will find that many geologists got into geology via a love of the mountains and hiking places like the Lake District ,Dartmoor etc. My main interest in climate is scientific- its a highly complex and fascinating problem. If you go to my blogpost Global Cooling – Climate and Weather Forecasting on 11/18/12 at

You will see that my intention is to give links to the data so that readers can draw their own conclusions.- Only the data is of interest – motivations – qualifications etc are entirely irrelevant on either side.
No matter how well intentioned Transitioners are – and I’m sure they are – their efforts can be counterproductive if they are wrong on the science.

Glenn Tamblyn
8 Feb 4:01pm

The problem Norman is that your are wrong about the science. If your main interest in climate was scientific you would be interested in all the data associated with climate, all parts of the system.

Principally that the main warming is occuring in the oceans – 30 times as much heat has gone into them in the last 50 years compared to the atmosphere. And the oceans are warming as fast as ever. What does appear to have changed in more recent years is that some what more heat is being moved down to the mid levels of the ocean and less being retained near the surface. This reduced warming of the upper ocean due to enhanced warming of the middle ocean is almost certainly a significant contributor to the reduced atmosphericwarming in recent years.

If we were being scientific we might ask what time scale is appropriate for assessing atmospheric warming, that lets us avoid confusing trend with natural variability, signal with noise.Luckily the World Meteorological Organisation has alread looked at that question. Their standard for assessing climate is to look at trends averaged over 30 years.

If we were being scientific we might ask what insights we can gain from the magnitude of the ocean warming. Over 2 * 10^23 Joules over the last 1/2 century, Over 2 Hiroshima Bombs per second for most of my adult life. So if we apply the 1st Law of Thermodynamics we then have to ask what couldhave been the source of this heat; where could it have come from.

And the only conclusion we can reach is that it must be extra-terrestrial in origin. There is no heat source here on Earth large enough to have supplied that heat. The colsest terrestrial contender, the largest heat source down here on Earth is Geothermal heat. And that is too small by a factor of 4 or more.

And it can’t have been increasd output from the Sun. We have had the Sun under observation 24/7 for decades. It’s heat output has if anything declined slightly.It certainly hasn’t increased. Additionally the temperature data also tells us that the warming in the atmosphere hasn’t been concentrated during daylight and Summer – what one would expect if it was a warmer Sun or perhaps less clouds reflecting less sunlight. Becausethe warming has actually occurred as much andperhaps even slightly more during the night and Winter.

Next we have the observattion that the lower atmosphere has warmed while the stratosphere has cooled. This is expected with an increased Greenhouse Effect but is not what one would see if the Sun was the source of the warming.

If one were being scientific one wouldlook at rising sea levels and ask what causes seas to rise. Two main causes. Melting ice,which requires heat. Or warming sea water that expands, again requiring extra heat. To put it more colloquially, the oceans are the Earth’s thermometer. If they are rising, the Earth is warming.

This is the basic concept at work here. Looking at all the evidence is scientific. Looking at selective evidence is un-scientific.

8 Feb 4:11pm

The only way to be right on the science is to follow the scientific method and the peer-reviewed papers written and reviewed by researchers. Here is what the peer-reviewed literature says about climate change:

Are they all stupids or paid for? I repeated this so many times before: if you want (not just you, Dr. Page) to change the current paradigm on climate, it’s not with a blog you can do it (even if you can mislead the public this way), but with peer-reviewed papers. That’s the scientific method, sorry. All the rest is biased thinking. As you said, probably well intentioned, but biased.

As we all know, the thinking of the researchers counts, that’s the reason why peer-reviewed literature exist.

I don’t know you and I don’t want to argue anything about you. But, in general,I just want to say that if you’re paid from an oil company, or a financial trust, even if you are a good scientist, it counts. Or if you have economic interests on claiming climate change (or peak oil, or raw materials depletion, etc.)isn’t real. It’s difficult to argue something if you’re paid not to do that.

Moreover, there are differences between the two points of view: taking action on climate change, even if it will be proved wrong (at the moment, science fiction), will not cause damages to mankind (in fact it could solve many other sistemic issues of our time like energy, pullution, even happiness), and if it will be proven right (it already is, of course)it could save the very mankind. But… what about inaction? Who’s going to take that responsibility?

(Sorry for my english, i’m definitely not accustomed to write in this language…)

John Mason
8 Feb 4:28pm

Norman, I’m a geologist too. One behind you – I’ve only got an MPhil. Have worked in the exploration industry before doing other things.

In order to fully assess what is going on, you need to consider the globe as a whole. That means not only examining SSTs: SATs (all datasets thereof); shallow and deep ocean temperature data; furthermore you need to examine them over a minimum of thirty years to get anything meaningful climatologically-speaking. You also need to consider the causes of noise over shorter-term periods, for example ENSO (the 1990s strongly featured El Nino events, including the off-the-scale one of 1997-8 whereas the 2000s featured La Nina events – the former cause warming and the latter cooling, readers).

Readers may be interested in this video that the team at Skeptical Science made recently:

Dr Norman Page
8 Feb 5:44pm

John Why do you consider El Nino’s and El Ninas “noise”? They are part of the signal – Ninos are more commom during warming spells and Ninas more common during cooling.Skeptical Science is in fact a warmist site – they are throwing out the baby with the bath water.The NOAA data posted above give a good indication of what’s going on.

Massimiliano- You have altogether too much faith in the peer review process. But this Powell survey is a fine example of setting up strawmen to knock down.
First do you really believe that in about 10 days he reviewed 13,950 papers to determine what they said.? Then there is no -one who doesnt think the earth warmed about 0.8 degrees in the 20th century so everyone will say the earth has warmed.
Everyone agrees that fossil fuel burning has added CO2 to the atmosphere.There is however no empirical evidence that CO2 is the main or even an important climate driver relative to solar and orbital effects.Mankind has always flourished during warm epochs and suffered famine and strife during cold spells.It is the latter we should beware of and prepare for.

Dr Norman Page
8 Feb 6:14pm

Glenn If I accept your 30 year definition here’s what the NOAA SST data show
From 1982 – 2012 trend O.092/decade or O.9 degrees/century
From 1983- 2012 trend.0645/decade or 0.645/century
Either would be very acceptable if it continued.

John Mason
8 Feb 7:06pm

Well, Norman, we at SkS work with two centuries of science in this particular field as the baseline. If that’s ‘warmist’, then so be it!

Rob Honeycutt
8 Feb 7:22pm

Norman… Mankind has never flourished on an Earth that is even 1C warmer than today. Mankind has certainly never flourished on an Earth that is 4-6C warmer than today. Neither has any living species today.

Dr Norman Page
8 Feb 7:47pm

John You would do better looking at the Holocene or at least a couple of thousand years scroll down to Christiansen’s 2012 Fig5

John Mason
8 Feb 7:54pm

Sadly, Norman, we are already looking at the Pliocene!!!

Dr Norman Page
8 Feb 8:08pm

Hey John – lets not get too carried away- thats really too far back to be very pertinent.

John Mason
8 Feb 8:11pm

On the contrary – it is pretty damned relevant!

Foo Manchu
8 Feb 10:16pm

Most geologists, even PhD geologists, are ill-equipped to understand climate systems and climate modeling. They are outside their field. They may have the rudimentary understanding that a meteorologist might have, but not much else. I say this as a geologist. Dr. Mann on the other hand is comes from a physics background and is much better equipped. Norman Page is outside of his field and is a partisan hack who’s tired old theories have to be disproved again and again lest we let the forces of ignorance delay us further from what must be done.

Glenn Tamblyn
9 Feb 2:09am


If you put yourself forward as someone who looks at data scientifically, then what the ‘frack’ was that last comment about.

You do realise don’t you that you don’t calculate a trend by taking the difference between the start and end points and divide by the number of points!! That is a nonsense. A statistical nonsense.

To calculate a trend from a data series one uses linear regression (conveniently available in something like Excel).

From Linear Regression:
Trend from 1982-2012 is 0.11103 DgeC/Decade
Trend from 1983-2012 is 0.11024 DgeC/Decade

Oh, and the use of 30 years isn’t my definition. It is the World Meteorological Organisations definition. Your acceptance or mine isn’t relevent.

And you haven’t responded at all to my point that just focusing on SST’s for example is focusing on the tail rather than the dog.

Michael Mann in the interview made reference to AstroTurfing. Demonstrate that you aren’t a part of that. Engage with all the science rather than cherry-picking the science as some sort of point-scoring exercise

Dr Norman Page
9 Feb 3:23am

Everyone would be quite happy at 1.1 degrees /century – we can all stop worrying about GHG’s

Glenn Tamblyn
9 Feb 5:22am

Small problem with that Norman, just one of many.

These are global average sea surface temperatures you are looking at. Not land temperatures. Because of the moderating influence of the oceans the sea surface warms less than the land. The global average temperature rise over the same period for land and sea is more like 0.17 per decade over the same period.

Then if we look at the Northern Exa Tropics, above 23.6 Northit is closer to 0.3 Deg C per decade over the same period.

Warming proceeds faster on land and at higher latitudes.

And that is what we have seen so far. But all the warming still to occur in the oceans has acted as a brake on atmospheric warming. Once the oceans have caught up to the atmosphere the atmosphere can warm further.

And that is just with current levels of CO2. CO2 is still rising. Although there has been some progress on curbing that, not much. We are still on track for a CO2 level of 550 ppm or more by later this century.

At current CO2 levels, we are only at 1/2 the radiative forcing that a full doubling of CO2 will cause. And we haven’t even seen all the warming that the current CO2 levels willultimately produce.

Oh, and that is before we factor in the warming that melting permafrost will produce – you know, the permafrost in the Arctic that has already started melting and out-gassing Methane.

Then add in declining summer Snow cover in the Arctic and the demise of the Arctic sea ice,al changing the Earth’s albedo, adding more warming. Scientifically speaking you should go and have a look at the PIOMAS data on Arctic Sea Ice Volume. If the current trends continue, the Arctic will be ice free at the end of summer within a handful of years. Ice free for 6months of the year within a decade.

Dr Norman Page
9 Feb 2:59pm

You are basing your thoughts on the model derived mean climate sensitivity of about 3 degrees. The models are simply structured incorrectly on the mere assumption that CO2 is the main climate driver. It isn’t
See section two of the post Global Cooling Timing and Amount (NH) at
The real sensitivity is 1 degree or less.
see Lindzen or

Glenn Tamblyn
10 Feb 12:26am

No Norman

I am basing ‘my thoughts’ on the observed data.

And one of the best ways to estimate Climate Sensitivity is to actually measure it based on past climate. Take a look at this paper Norman

A synopsis of nearly 40 separate Paleo Climate studies looking at past climate for periods as short as the last 10,000 years through to the last 420 million years. Not a climate model in sight.

Conclusions from all those studies?

CS between 3.1 & 3.7

And you cite Lindzen, although your link doesn’t make any reference to him, just standard ‘the Greenhouse Effect violates the 2nd Law of Thermodynamic’ nonsense. Since you don’t clarify otherwise I can only assume you are referring to Lindzen & Choi 2009.

Which is laughable. LC09 has so many methodological flaws in it you could drive a truck through them.

18 Mar 3:44am

Dear Rob, Since you are in contact with Professor Mann, perhaps you can assist with the following:
1) The procedure for calculating the confidence intervals for his 2008 paper in PNAS have not been disclosed . It would be a great help to science if you could reveal the calculation.
2) In the MBH 1998/1999 papers, the confidence intervals shown for the 11th-19th centuries (from temperatures estimated from tree rings) are narrower than the confidence intervals calculated for the period 1851-1980 (measured by thermometers). If you can ask Prof. Mann to show the calculations for the 11th-19th century reported confidence intervals that would be helpful for science.

Rob Honeycutt
18 Mar 11:46pm

Geoff… Perhaps it’s a better idea to just look at the broader body of science and quit obsessing over one or two papers.

19 Mar 2:42am

Dear Rob, Thanks for posting my comment. Big pictures are important but details matter (For want of a nail…). I don’t think it’s an obsession but just responding to issues arising from the first paragraphs of this current interview.

It’s important for science to review questions from the published literature. In a comment “in press” at the Journal of Climate, Jason Smerdon states “Rutherford et al. (2012) confirm the errors that were identified and discussed in Smerdon et al. (2010) that either invalidated or required the reinterpretation of quantitative results from pseudoproxy experiments presented in Mann et al. (2005, 2007) and several subsequent papers….

“Timely corrections to pseudoproxy tests are therefore vital for avoiding the perpetuation of errors and inconsistencies in the published literature”.

Scientific procedural questions about confidence interval calculations have been made about the papers discussed in the first paragraphs of this interview. It would be good for science if these issues are addressed by the person who knows the calculations.

Rob Honeycutt
19 Mar 2:52am

Basically, Geoff, you have no concept of how science actually works.

Science is an iterative process. It’s a job of peeling back the layers of the onion. Any given scientist or research paper will be wrong to one extent or another. No one scientist or paper is a perfect description of what is being investigated. BUT taken as a whole, the work of many scientists and many research papers gives us a broad understanding of the world around us.

If you take the time to read the full body of research on climate change, the picture is clear. We are warming the planet through emissions of atmospheric CO2 and other GHG’s.

The only question that remains is the climate’s sensitivity to emissions, and those figures are (at this point) well constrained. Well constrained enough that, even if sensitivity is low, we still have a deep crisis on our hands if we can’t get out emissions under control. And if sensitivity turns out to be on the slightly higher end, then we have an even bigger crisis.

19 Mar 3:38am

Hi Rob, Actually I do have some idea of how science works (my first scientific paper will be published in a few months, not in climate though). Details matter, especially on complicated issues. You can see from the example I cited that the published literature is full of papers addressing issues in earlier papers. It would be useful to have answers to the questions I’ve raised.

I don’t think it’s useful in the context of this thread to debate all global warming issues (but you may have seen the recent comments by Myles Allen (Oxford) and Piers Forster (Leeds) saying that high levels of warming are now less likely). However, I will comment on one big picture issue – emissions. Whatever the impact would be of higher carbon, no US actions affecting only the US will have any significant impact. As you know, US emissions are significantly down over the past decade, now down to the levels of the mid 90’s. In fact, the emissions of the entire OECD countries are more or less flat since the 90’s. All emission increases are coming from non-OECD countries, and those are large.

Undertake a thought experiment – suppose US emissions were reduced to zero – not an absence of increase from today but actually zero. If China’s emission would increase at the current rate, they would make up this reduction from the US in 7 years. That is to say, if the US went through 100% reductions in CO2 emissions, the delay in whatever changes may happen would only be 7 years (or less if India and Africa accelerate their emissions as expected). You can see the figures on emission in the report from the Dutch environmental agency at .

My conclusion is simple. Reductions of CO2 in the US of 10-20% (or more) will do nothing measurable to change climate as long as the developing world maintains their present course. I work extensively in the developing world and I see nothing that indicates any liklihood of emission reductions. Poor people need low cost energy to make progress. If technology can provide alternative low cost options (nuclear, thorium?) there may be a change, but not easily otherwise. Spending billions to subsidize wind and solar farms in the US will not change the big picture.

Rob Honeycutt
19 Mar 4:03am

Well, I’m certainly glad you’re not a world politician because that would be the worst thinking possible if the goal were to actually reduce emissions.

What you might consider is that, per capita, we are still the world’s highest emitter. BY FAR! If we are to get other nations to address their CO2 emissions, we better damn well be ready to take some tough action on our own emissions.

On the scientific issue, yes, details do matter. But you’re getting lost in the details and missing the big picture. Even if Mann were to have completely messed up his research, it would have no bearing on the larger body of research. THAT is the nature of science. It’s the broad conclusions that matter.

But, the fact remains, there have been over a dozen other research projects addressing the same issue as Mann’s work (millennial multiproxy reconstructions) and each has come out with nearly the exact same conclusions as Mann’s work. AND, the fact remains, there have been no similar studies that have come to conclusions that are anything other than what Mann’s original 98/99 work showed. Those subsequent studies have refine his methods a great deal but they’ve not changed the overall conclusions regarding global temperature over the past 2000+ years.

If you have specific questions about his research you should contact him. He will certainly honestly answer polite, thoughtful and even challenging questions. In fact, I’m certain that he enjoys helping people to understand his work.

Regarding the developing world, I happen to be married to a Chinese woman, and have spent a great deal of time in China. The individual emissions of any single person in China is a fraction of any single person in the US. And most of the emissions attributed to them is actually them producing goods for us.

And yes, poor people do need energy. Being that many of the world’s poorest people also live in tropical regions, it makes sense to be working to get them solar energy and make them energy independent, rather than trying to get them addicted (infrastructure-wise) on fossil fuel sources that we’d end up having to take back from them once the world fully realized the magnitude of the climate change crisis.

John Mason
19 Mar 9:57am

Rob has it right. If Mike Mann had never existed, the situation would be the same as it is.

By means of a demonstration, I’ll offer readers the following:

Two Centuries of Climate Science: part one – Fourier to Arrhenius, 1820-1930

Links to parts 2 and three, bringing us through the 20th Century and up to the present day, are provided on the page in question.

There’s a lot more to climate science than the half-dozen individuals targeted on a regular basis by the political opposition!

Doubting Rich
19 Mar 10:37am

Rob Honeycutt

“What you might consider is that, per capita, we are still the world’s highest emitter.”

If by “we” you mean the USA then you are wrong. The USA has not been for some time, if it ever was which I don’t know. Canada has higher per-capita emissions. Having said that, what is the relevance? If you are saying that each person must take responsibility for his own emissions, then I reckon Al Gore should be looking to his own first, don’t you? Maybe Michael Mann should look at flying to fewer conferences, and in fact get rid of the car and the house to live in a small apartment.

Of course Mann therefore cannot himself believe there is any panic.