Mann to Doomers: Not so Fast

July 10, 2017


There is a cottage industry online of over-the-top predictions of imminent human extinction from climate change – something I always have pushed back on.

To those that warn of imminent human extinction, I say, “We’re not getting off that easy.”

Meaning, we’re actually going to have to deal with and solve this problem, and to a degree that we don’t – live with and adapt to the consequences.

A new piece in New York Magazine follows this playbook – which is unfortunate, because a sense of hopelessness is not what we need to solve this problem, and plays nicely into the hands of deniers like the Koch Brothers.

A sampling:

It is, I promise, worse than you think. If your anxiety about global warming is dominated by fears of sea-level rise, you are barely scratching the surface of what terrors are possible, even within the lifetime of a teenager today. And yet the swelling seas — and the cities they will drown — have so dominated the picture of global warming, and so overwhelmed our capacity for climate panic, that they have occluded our perception of other threats, many much closer at hand. Rising oceans are bad, in fact very bad; but fleeing the coastline will not be enough.

Indeed, absent a significant adjustment to how billions of humans conduct their lives, parts of the Earth will likely become close to uninhabitable, and other parts horrifically inhospitable, as soon as the end of this century.

Michael Mann has a timely take this morning.

Michael Mann PhD on Facebook:

Since this New York Magazine article (“The Uninhabitable Earth”) is getting so much play this morning, I figured I should comment on it, especially as I was interviewed by the author (though not quoted or mentioned).

I have to say that I am not a fan of this sort of doomist framing. It is important to be up front about the risks of unmitigated climate change, and I frequently criticize those who understate the risks. But there is also a danger in overstating the science in a way that presents the problem as unsolvable, and feeds a sense of doom, inevitability and hopelessness.

The article argues that climate change will render the Earth uninhabitable by the end of this century. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. The article fails to produce it.

The article paints an overly bleak picture by overstating some of the science. It exaggerates for example, the near-term threat of climate “feedbacks” involving the release of frozen methane (the science on this is much more nuanced and doesn’t support the notion of a game-changing, planet-melting methane bomb. It is unclear that much of this frozen methane can be readily mobilized by projected warming:…/2012/01/much-ado-about-methane/).

Also, I was struck by erroneous statements like this one referencing “satellite data showing the globe warming, since 1998, more than twice as fast as scientists had thought.”

That’ just not true. The study in question simply showed that
one particular satellite temperature dataset that had tended to show *less* warming that the other datasets, has now been brought in line with the other temperature data after some problems with that dataset were dealt with.

Ironically, I am a co-author of a recent article in the journal Nature Geoscience (see e.g. this piece in The Guardian:…/climate-scientists-just-debun…), using that very same new, corrected, satellite dataset, that shows that past climate model simulations slightly **over-predicted** the actual warming during the first decade of the 21st century, likely because of a mis-specification of natural factors like solar variations and volcanic eruptions. Once these are accounted for, the models and observations are pretty much in line–the warming of the globe is pretty much progressing AS models predicted…which is bad enough.

The evidence that climate change is a serious problem that we must contend with now, is overwhelming on its own. There is no need to overstate the evidence, particularly when it feeds a paralyzing narrative of doom and hopelessness.

I’m afraid this latest article does that. That’s too bad. The journalist is clearly a talented one, and this is somewhat of a lost opportunity to objectively inform the discourse over human-caused climate change.

Working on a piece that will outline the way forward, post-Paris – but that will have to wait till I get back from Greenland.



36 Responses to “Mann to Doomers: Not so Fast”

  1. gasbuggy Says:

    Millions of Americans have convinced themselves that all these global climate change warnings must be part of a massive conspiracy scheme run by ‘globalists’ and money-hungry scientists. It has become quite fashionable to believe such things among certain segments of this population. It also brings joy to them to join with like-minded believers. These folks choose to source most of their information from sites specifically set up to reenforce their deeply entrenched worldview and political leanings. They have become convinced that all the countering information is subversive and therefore not worth examining. This is a bit like some cult leaders telling their followers that outside influences will ruin their happiness.

    These folks are typically short term thinkers with little to no formal academic backgrounds in the physical and biological sciences. They often resent egg-head scientists that make them look ignorant in comparison. Their primary focus is on issues such as taxation, tyranny, terrorism, immigration and federal government over-regulation. That leaves them blind to the trashed environment our offspring will be inheriting.

    Such people can be presented with mountains of evidence, provided by a broad spectrum of scientific disciplines studying Anthropogenic Climate Disruption (ACD) effects, and will still reject it all off-hand as corrupted. They often do this with great pride, fully convinced this is the right approach. The more opposition they get the more they are convinced they become that they are right. This is the approach they typically take with the following information.

    The climate science denialists, who post here, will feel an obligation to either ignore or reject all the following information.

    Climate change: How do we know

    The Cook et al. (2013) 97% consensus result is robust

    List of Worldwide Scientific Organizations

    What’s Really Warming the World?

    The three-minute story of 800,000 years of climate change with a sting in the tail

    The Crazy Scale of Human Carbon Emission

    There’s No Science Behind Denying Climate Change

    Earth sets heat record in 2016 — for the third year in a row

    This Graphic Puts Global Warming in Full Perspective

    This Animation Lets You Watch Global Warming Heat Up Over 166 Years

    New study confirms the oceans are warming rapidly

    Climate models have underestimated Earth’s sensitivity to CO2 changes, study finds

    From pole to pole, twin sea ice records have scientists stunned

    Watch 26 Years of Arctic Ice Disappear in Seconds

    Ice Free Arctic? Thom Hartmann with Prof Peter Wadhams (June 2016)

    Melting Permafrost Is Turbocharging Climate Change

    How the Earth will pay us back for our carbon emissions with … more carbon emissions

    America’s TV meteorologists: Symptoms of climate change are rampant, undeniable

    Climate: What did We Know and When Did We Know it?

    How Reliable are Satellite Temperatures? (Director’s Cut)

    Major correction to satellite data shows 140% faster warming since 1998

    Surveilling the Scientists

    AP FACT CHECK: On climate science, most GOP candidates fail–election.html

    Climate change escalating so fast it is ‘beyond point of no return’
    New study rewrites two decades of research and author says we are ‘beyond point of no return’

    New research may resolve a climate ‘conundrum’ across the history of human civilization

    Steven Chu Shares Some Sobering Climate Change Math

    Scientists “too frightened” to tell truth on climate impacts

    The Earth Itself Is Now Accelerating The Demise Of The Human Species

    Climate change could plunge tens of millions of city dwellers into poverty by 2031

    A Horrifying New Study Found that the Ocean is on its Way to Suffocating by 2030

    March against madness – denial has pushed scientists out into the streets

    The Threat of Global Warming causing Near-Term Human Extinction
    Temperature, carbon dioxide and methane

    CO2 Concentration – Last 800,000 years

    CO2 Concentration during the last 316-years

    Atmospheric CO2 Rocketed to 405.6 ppm Yesterday — A Level not Seen in 15 Million Years

    World on track to lose two-thirds of wild animals by 2020, major report warns

    Humanity driving ‘unprecedented’ marine extinction

    Climate scientists just debunked deniers’ favorite argument

  2. redskylite Says:

    I like “The Atlantic’s” story and comment on the New York magazines article. One thing it has stimulated much controversy and discussion among those who are concerned about Climate Change, and that can’t be bad.

    “Over the past decade, most researchers have trended away from climate doomsdayism. They cite research suggesting that people respond better to hopeful messages, not fatalistic ones; and they meticulously fact-check public descriptions of global warming, as watchful for unsupported exaggeration as they are for climate-change denial.

    They do this not because they think that climate change will be peachy. They do it because they want to be exceptionally careful with facts for such a vital issue. And many of them, too, think that a climate-changed world will look less like a starved wasteland and more like our current home—just more unequal and more impoverished.”

  3. Kevin Hester Says:

    How is it that Michael E. Mann et al came up with the “Hockey stick theory” and now that it has manifest in nearly all our graphs he can’t see it?
    One of the many reasons I support Professor McPherson’s work is his expertise as a Evolutionary biologist. His speciality is species and extinctions.
    Lets not forget such luminaries as Dr. James E. Hansen once said that 1C was the upper safe limit and that we might one day go Venus!
    I am obliged to follow the precautionary principle and my instinct after 16 ocean passages at sea in small yachts and both tell me that the most likely scenario considering our crack like addiction to carbon is the exponential unraveling of the biosphere is well and truly underway. Way are past time to show some urgency and stop downplaying the severity of the crisis.

    • gasbuggy Says:

      A difference, in these two perspectives, might have something to do with Dr. Mann having borne offspring and Dr. McPherson not having such connections. I’m a firm believer that such familial connections serve as a strong vested interest that can shape one’s reasoning abilities.

    • J4Zonian Says:

      McPherson is to hopelessness what the Denying Delayalists are to vain hope (in both senses). He uses the same techniques–false dichotomies, false certainty, conspiracy theories, etc. and above all, cherry picking. He chooses only those facts, factoids, distortions and outright falsehoods that support his thesis. I’ve heard he at least has some humor about it, a quality each of his foollowers [sic] I’ve run into seems to lack.

      Certainly the situation is dire. Obviously we have an astoundingly huge task ahead for civilization and millions of threatened species to survive. As far as we can tell, with the combination of ongoing climate catastrophe, ongoing toxicity of industrial civilization, and the possibility of social collapse and war, including nuclear war, the situation is more dire than any we’ve faced. But there’s no technical, logistical, industrial, resourcal, or otheral reason that we can’t reverse course at least enough to buy civilization time to fix its longer term problems, including population and psychology. One is pretty much taking care of itself already and the other is the root of all our political, economic, religious, philosophical and many other problems and can be fixed, one person at a time while it’s fixed whole nations at a time. Just the Republicans have warped and twisted US society in the Great Goldwater Revenge Plot since 1964, using symbols disseminated by media they own to conservatize the country, the world and most individuals, we can take back media and government, redefine corporations and re-educate people using symbols and reality and get back to living healthy relationships with each other and the rest of nature.

  4. […] the above dire climate predictions point to extreme examples if we do nothing. This piece mitigates the doomsday scenario . . . but it just gives us a little room to breathe, not to breathe […]

  5. jimbills Says:

    This is a good example why I don’t follow this blog anymore. But, I saw the New York Magazine article elsewhere, and thought, Peter’s going to have a reactionary response to it, and sure enough….

    Please actually read the article. The author several times states that the article is merely what could happen under a worst-case scenario. Everything he says in it, with the exception of one minor error about current satellite data, is supported by current science. Mann pinpointed that satellite data error, and then conspicuously failed to point to any other part of the article, especially the future possibilities under a worst-case scenario, as wrong. He’s more worried about an article like that scaring the public.

    But, I’ll tell you what Mann’s knee-jerk response to that article is, also. It helps to defuse a lot of anxiety that could actually motivate people into action. Instead, the New York Magazine is just another “doomer” and “alarmist” rant.

    Who is actually playing the Koch brothers game here?

    Here’s an interview with Mann by the article’s author conducted a month prior to the article’s release. In it, Mann basically agrees with everything in the article:

    Here’s a non-reactionary, and actually thoughtful, response to the article:

    “Part of that is because envisioning the best-case scenario is easy — it looks just like now! — while envisioning the worst-case scenario is very difficult. It’s especially difficult because the worst-case scenario is treated by the very few people who understand it as a kind of forbidden occult knowledge to which ordinary people cannot survive exposure. Nobody can talk about it without getting scolded by the hope police. ”

    You know how bad things are when the people who truly care about climate change, as Peter does, start policing the language of others who also care about climate change. Again, who is playing the Koch game here?

    • jimbills Says:

      We can’t talk about the worst that might happen. That could scare people! Oh no! Instead, let’s just talk about the little hopeful stories about people building what essentially amount to sand castles as the world continues to delude itself on multiple fronts about what might actually work.

      Lastly, this article should not be conflated with people like Guy McPherson. Everything (with the one minor satellite data error) in the New York Magazine is supported by current science, and the author repeatedly says these things “could” or “might” happen under a worst-case scenario, and he also says the future human response is largely unpredictable. The author never says the methane bomb “will” happen. He never even actually writes that it could. He never says the Earth will become uninhabitable. He says that parts of the globe currently inhabited could become uninhabitable – namely, the Middle East, and again, that’s supported by current science.

      McPherson, on the other hand, states things like all animal and plant life in North America “will” effectively melt by 2035. No one in climate science supports that.

      One “should” be able to spot the difference.

  6. Thanks for sharing this! I agree, we should not over-dramatize the issues surrounding climate change. Energy should be put into proactive responses and education. We are likely past mitigation alone though. So start thinking adaptation AND mitigation.

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