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Dec 6, 2016

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In this week’s episode of America Adapts, host Doug Parsons gets a visit from legendary climate change scientist/activist, Dr. Michael Mann, Distinguished Professor of Atmospheric Science at Pennsylvania State University. Doug and Mike talk about a wide range of issues: from the publication of his new book, The Madhouse Effect: How Climate Change Denial Is Threatening Our Planet, Destroying Our Politics, and Driving Us Crazy; the Presidential Election; the history of climate denialism; to science communication in general.  We discuss Randy Olson’s influence, the scientist turned filmmaker, who connected Doug and Mike, which led to a discussion on effective science communication and the use of storytelling in science.  Regarding Mike’s new book, The Madhouse Effect, in an innovative twist, Mike collaborated with Tom Toles, long time cartoonist with the Washington Post. The book focuses on climate change and the long running battles climate scientists have had with the denier movement. Tole uses his cartoons to encapsulate each chapter with a relevant and biting cartoon.  The book deftly uses humor to reach a different audience with hopes of educating them about climate science. 

The conversation then pivots to some climate science history, where Mike vividly describes what the political and scientific world was like when he first released his now iconic ‘hockey stick’ research paper.  Mike explains some of the key moments of constructing that paper and that “uh oh” moment when they realized humans were behind the recent warming around the globe. Mike then walks us through his many battles with the denier movement, from the time he was sued at the University of Virginia, through the infamous Climategate “scandal.”  Doug and Mike discuss the difficulties of communicating with the public when scientists are held (and hold themselves to) a much higher standard of information sharing, whereas the Koch Brothers' funded opposition has no such standard.  We discuss the ‘fake news’ issue and how that has been present in the climate change world for years. Finally, we talk about what will happen during a Trump administration.  An overall theme of our Trump discussions is the wildcard nature of his policies. President-Elect Trump even recently met with Al Gore to discuss climate change.  Doug and Mike anticipate bad things in addressing climate change, but also recognize that President Trump might surprise his detractors.  Mann acknowledges his book is much more relevant with the election of Donald Trump since the book deals so much with climate denial. Doug asks Mike, hypothetically, what if President Trump asked Mike to come to the Oval Office to brief him on climate change: what would he say to President Trump?  Without giving too much away, it involved invoking Lincoln, recruiting Bill Nye the Science Guy, and playing to Trump’s very large ego.

 Some key quotes from the podcast interview:
“Climategate was a rear guard, battle of the bulge, full frontal assault on the science of climate change.’ “If trump does move forward with the agenda he’s threatened to pursue...then it could be game over for stabilizing temperatures at 2 degrees..”
“The forces of anti-science are very mobilized, and trained to be very great communicators and in many cases...they are cleaning our clocks…”
 “If we are to actually make America great again, then we’re going to have to be part of the clean energy revolution.”
“We now have for the first time in history, a president who denies that climate change even exists.”
“It’s in the realm of possibility that Trump could flip on the issue of climate change if there was a concerted, good faith outreach effort, to him,  by the scientific community.”
“Donald trump doesn’t get to decide if the world moves ahead on climate change, the world is moving ahead.”

We discuss the upcoming 20 year anniversary of the hockey stick and opportunities to acknowledge that anniversary as way to highlight the issue of climate change in a potentially future hostile political environment.  The conversation with Mike was fascinating, informative and downright inspiring. So have a listen, there’s much much more that’s said!

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Additional Resources for Dr. Michael Mann