By Ashley Maisano
Dr. Michael E. Mann is an American physicist and climatologist at Pennsylvania State University. He has been front and center in the climate change debate and has faced various attacks because of it.
As author of his book detailing the infamous “hockey stick graph,” a dramatic representation of estimated temperatures stretching back 1,000 years that shows a sharp uptick the past century, Mann became a target of those who sought to discredit his work.
Mann attended the University of California Berkeley, and received an A.B. in applied mathematics and physics in 1989, graduating with honors. He then went on to study at Yale University where he obtained an MS and MPhil in physics in 1991, an MPhil in geology and geophysics in 1993, and a PhD in geology and geophysics in 1998.
Mann went on to become a teacher at the University of Virginia from 1999 to 2005 in the Department of Environmental Sciences. Soon after, he took his career to Penn State University and in 2009 was promoted professor at PSU in the Department of Meteorology and Earth and Environmental Systems Institute, and has been director of the university’s interdepartmental Earth Systems Science Center since 2005.
Many people know Mann for his work on the temperature record of the past millennium, where he has studied climate changes based on evidence from tree rings, ice cores, corals and more. Based on his studies and hard work, Mann won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007.
1n 1998, Mann co-wrote a study called Global-scale temperature patterns and climate forcing over the past six centuries, which included a graph showing the rapid increase in global temperatures in the late 20th century.
In 1999, he broadened this study and decided to cover ten centuries instead of just one, in their paper called Northern hemisphere temperature during the past millennium: inferences, uncertainties and limitations. The graph from this paper got its named the “hockey stick graph” for its shape. This graph became an iconic symbol of the scientific consensus on climate change and was reproduced in many people in their scientific papers.
“I agree with his work but what is far more important is that his paleoclimate research known as the “hockey stick” temperature reconstruction has been duplicated by many international scientists using different types of climate data and various data analysis techniques,” explained Scott Mandia, professor of Physical Sciences. “The fact that the planet is warmer now than at any time in the previous 2,000 years is very well-accepted in the climate science community. The science is solid.”
As the graph was getting more and more popular, it also became the focus of controversy. People opposed to the scientific consensus have attempted to use this debate to advance their views. Mann has said that his findings have been “independently verified by independent teams using methods and alternative date sources.”
In November of 2009, hackers acquired several of Mann’s emails with climate researchers at the Climatic Research Unit of the University of East Anglia, and published them on the Internet, which eventually started the Climatic Research Unit email controversy. PSU appointed two reviews related to the emails and Mann’s research and he was then cleared of misconduct, stating there was no substance to the allegations, but criticized him for sharing unpublished documents with third parties.
“I am very disturbed by the politically-motivated attacks on Dr. Mann and others like him who have produced science that is inconvenient to some people’s political or financial position,” Mandia said. “People should never shoot the messenger because they dislike the message.”
The attacks did not stop there. Mann has received death threats, anthrax scares, and has been put in dangerous situations many times.
“I’ve been attacked in just about every way imaginable, whether it’s by climate change deniers, advocates for fossil fuel industry, powerful politicians, right-leaning media outlets in the U.S. and abroad,” Mann explained. “I’ve been called all sorts of nasty things; I’ve been accused of fraud; I’ve been called a criminal. It’s using the tools of character assassination to discredit the science by going after the scientists.”
Soon after, a Virginia attorney attempted to attain documents relating to several Mann grant applications in the Attorney General of Virginia’s climate science investigation, but the case was defended and the court ruled that the attorney didn’t have the authority for his demands.
“Science has informed important decisions that have moved this great country forward so I am saddened to see one major political party [Republican] and some energy industry interests openly attacking science,” Mandia explained. “These attacks are un-American and are threatening the future of this country”
In October of 2010, Mann began to publicize all of these attacks and wrote an opinion editorial in the Washington Post, where he explained several past, present, and projected attacks on climate science and scientists by politicians.
During the course of these events, Mann made sure he wrote everything down.
“I have huge folders on my computer where every time there’s a development. I’ve been saving the articles, I’ve been taking notes, because I knew that at one point I would want to tell my story,” Mann said.
In his new book, The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches from the Front Lines, Mann talks about his battle with climate change deniers.
“I had been encouraged by friends and colleagues to write about my story for some time,” explained Mann, “because my experiences do have some salience in what I refer to as the ‘Climate Wars,’ this concerted attack over the past two decades against the science of climate change.”
“Hopefully I can use that as a vehicle to examine some of the issues involved: the reality of human-caused climate change, the evidence for it, the origins of the attacks against the science and what drives those attacks, and finally a look forward,” Mann added.
Reliving these experiences as he wrote his book brought back many emotions.
“In many ways, writing the book was therapeutic,” Mann explained. “It was cathartic, because some of the most relevant, most important events unfolded as I was already writing the book, including the hack of the Climatic Research Unit…Part of what helped me get through those experiences was being able to write about them and knowing that I would ultimately get to tell the true story behind the attacks against me.”
Despite the controversy and all of the attacks, Mann has stayed motivated to continue with his work. He has a 6-year-old daughter and is concerned about how the planet will eventually end up for her future.
“To me, it’s very much a question about the planet we leave our children and grandchildren,” Mann said. “Decisions we make will impact earth for decades and centuries to come. We have to decide what sort of legacy we want to leave our children. It isn’t futile; it isn’t too late. There’s a lot of pessimism, and the problem is urgent, but there’s still time to confront it.”
Mann is not the only one who is taking action to prevent further damage to our planet.
“Because of these attacks, I co-founded the Climate Science Legal Defense Fund (http://climatesciencedefensefund.org) and we are helping Dr. Mann and others with their legal bills and questions,” Mandia said.
Since Mann is so concerned for the future of our planet, he travels around to teach his studies to students and to get people involved.
Mann will be speaking at the Ammerman campus on Tuesday, May 8, 2012.
“It was my idea to bring Dr. Mann to SCCC. I chose him because I know him personally and had a feeling he would agree,” Mandia said. “Dr. Mann is one of the top climate scientists in the world and is also an outstanding climate science communicator.”
Mann’s first talk is open to students and faculty only and is being held in the Smithtown Science Building in room T-109 between 12:30 and 1:45 p.m. His second talk will be open to the public at 7-8 p.m. in the Shea Theatre.
“I have seen Dr. Mann speak many times and it has been impression that the audience leaves understanding that humans are warming the climate and that there is no debate among the experts,” Mandia said. “He also shows the audience how politics has undermined the scientific endeavor and is causing this country to delay required action.”
The bookstore will also be offering a book signing one hour before each presentation on location. Mann’s latest book The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wards: Dispatches from the Front Lines will be available for purchase at these times.
For more information contact professor Mandia at firstname.lastname@example.org or 631-451-4104.