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. Tom Bates Says:

    This is the same guy who got his hockey stick by leaving off 80 years of contrary data from one proxy and relying on a single tree in Siberia in another proxy. That just shows you how reliable his comments are.

    • andrewfez Says:

      Maybe you prefer your friends, the Koch Brother’s BEST study administered by an actual skeptic, Richard Muller.

    • ubrew12 Says:

      Mann’s hockey stick is pioneering work done around 1998. Was it perfect? Is pioneering work ever perfect? It illuminated a promising research path, other people took it, and it led to a much better understanding of Earth’s paleoclimate history since the birth of Christ. Unfortunately for you, that still resembles a hockey-stick. Say it with me: “Hockey-Stick!!” We can get through this together!

    • mboli Says:

      This is the same guy who did pioneering work that has held up over time in multiple other studies.

    • stephengn1 Says:

      The graph has been affirmed by the National Academy of Sciences And reproduced many times using different proxies. Further, it has been affirmed by climate change itself as time has march forward .

    • lesliegraham1 Says:

      Here are 75 other temperature reconstructions other than Mann’s original compiled by hundreds of different scientists using hundreds of different proxies and all working independently of each other in dozens of teams in many different countries.
      Together with the average of all of them.
      Oh look!
      It’s the same Hockey Stick.

      You’re truly pathetic.

    • Gingerbaker Says:

      Good grief. Tom Bates calling Dr Mann dishonest.

      Does irony come in higher titer?

  2. andrewfez Says:

    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.

    At what point do they replace UHA staff with more competent people?

  3. stephengn1 Says:

    Fatalism is the perfect counterpart to denial….
    “It’s not happening, but if it is, it’s too late to take action on it”

  4. Tom Bates Says:

    Why not google MODTRAN, and run the program yourself to determine a models CO2 warming estimates. You will have to look up the rate of CO2 increase and determine for yourself when that will double the CO2. Using the last three years I got about 130 to 150 years. At that point the temperature will be about 0.67F higher. If you look up studies of past temperatures that will be about what it was in 1000 AD and less than 4500-6500 BP when the arctic may have been ice free in summer per some NASA studies. I noticed we are still here so apparently the world did not end when it was a bit warmer.

    • ubrew12 Says:

      “Using the last three years I got about… 150 years” Ha! Is there something special about the last three years?

      Also, MODTRAN isn’t a climate model, it’s radiative heat transfer only. So if you double CO2, H2O remains the same. But, you already knew this…

      • lesliegraham1 Says:

        As you know human emissions have leveled off over the last three years even as net CO2 ppm in the atmosphere have risen at record rates.
        This obviously suggests that the carbon sinks are absorbing less of our Co2.

  5. andrewfez Says:

    MIT’s model said ~5% chance of 6C by 2100. 6C isn’t compatible with 10B people living in modern civilization conditions; we’ll start nuking each other for arable land to continue our addiction to cheap food.

    In the 50’s/60’s we had a food crisis where the population growth rate was exceeding the food production growth rate. This led to all the factory farms, Round Up, and GMO stuff happening now. In 2005, we again hit the point were population growth is exceeding food production growth. OXFAM said food prices will double in real terms by 2030. Banksters started buying up arable land around the world. We had big investors like Jim Rogers pull out of corporate equities and start investing in commodities under the thesis of supply scarcity driven inflation.

    If you’re not putting plans into action right now on minimizing your long term monthly expenses (power bill, food bill, &c.), the 80’s/90’s middle class lifestyle we’ve all become accustom to may not be there in 30 years.

  6. Ron Benenati Says:

    Mr. Mann’s comforting comments on man’s extinction not being necessarily unavoidable probably falls short on those experiencing 128+ degree heat this year, the millions of dead corals on the great barrier reef, the 100s of thousands (if not millions) of people combined who have died in climate-related/exacerbated conflicts …Syria, Yemen, Somalia, etc….the rapidly vanishing species both occurring now and in the near future.
    Who can predict the results of a collapsed coastal market and resultant displacement around the world…crop failures, famine…?
    Hell, just an economic downturn in various demographics as brought us Trump!
    So much to look forward to. Who gets to choose who survives?

  7. ubrew12 Says:

    I read the NY Magazine article and also found it a bit alarmist, but in fairness the author did mention that most of the climate scientists are optimistic of the future, they just feel the public needs to get a good jolt of climate reality and they’ll start coughing up the money to geoengineer, go green, etc. I’m not a luke-warmer, I’m not as alarmed as the author of the NYmag piece, I’m somewhere in the middle. Also: really angry that the fossil fuel corporations (funding people like someone on this comment thread who will remain unmentioned), have forced the rest of humanity to speculate on whether ‘we’re all going to die’ or ‘only some of us are going to die’ (I think the latter).

  8. Betty Harris Says:

    stop bitching and move to all renewables and start planting trees and your own food. NOW.

    • mboli Says:

      Ummm… You seem to be suggesting the proper response to climate change is to ditch modern civilization and go all-in survivalist.

    • All renewables are dependent on fossil fuels and mining for creation and maintenance….There is not enough land to create food for 10 billion people when most land is used for either housing or animal ag (housing them and growing the food for them), and as for planting trees…all I can say is educate yourself from you delusion.

      • J4Zonian Says:

        Renewables are built by fossil fuels now because that’s most of what we use to do everything now. As renewables have ramped up, the amount of renewable energy used to build renewables has ramped up, and Elon Musk, the Chinese and others are vying to see who builds the first 100% renewable-powered gigafactory to produce solar panels and batteries.–partner/27683/

        It’s very unlikely we’ll ever be 10 billion. We’re widely expected to level off at about 9 in 2050 and then decline. Even that’s unlikely as death rates from climate change are already rising and the effects are accelerating with no short-term reverse in sight. Most land is not used for housing, and the amount of meat we eat along with the good land used has to decline as we equalize, which we need to do if we expect to survive. Plant-centered diets are more efficient than meat-heavy ones everywhere except where it’s too dry, too high or too cold to grow a plant-centered diet, and since those places are very low in productivity no matter what they grow, most of humanity needs to eat plant-centered diets, with animals used only as much as they need to be to recycle waste and assist the plant production in permaculture systems.

        It’s technically, industrially, logistically possible to transform global society in time, with a global US-WWII level citizen and industrial mobilization to build efficiency, wiser lives, clean safe renewable energy, reforest the planet and transform chemical industrial agriculture to small-scale low-meat local organic permaculture. The only thing stopping us is politics, which means the only thing stopping us is the psychology of the worst among us. It’s up to the rest of us to change that.

  9. Paul Magnus Says:

    I actually think most ppl (n policy mkers) dont realize how bad things are and will get. To look at the possibility that things could get as bad as extinction is not wrong. I think it is necessary for ppl to realize it will get much worse than they think, even possibly fatal. Then step back and go for it in seeing how we can address this.

    This seems to be the way humans work. They leave things as long as they possibly can before having to act.

    Here is a useful perspective which I found helpful…

  10. The impending Extinction of Us is the last thing to worry about. That will go unnoticed by the universe as the millions of other extinctions were. I am much more worried about THE END OF THE AGE OF SHOPPING. This comes between Biznez as Usual and Extinction and will be a really crappy experience… Re-watch THE ROAD; after the Survivors come the Scavengers. Guy McPherson for your breakfast cartoon.
    The Ruling Reptiles will do and say anything to continue Biznez as Usual and ‘we’ will go along for the ride; unless of course you are already experiencing TEOTAO’Shopping as they are in Iraq, Afg,Libya,Sudan,Yemen,Syria etc.
    The Reptiles will hang on until their last act: Pushing the Button. The only thing that will save ‘us’ is the End of the Age of Capitalism. If you can’t imagine that then you are going along for the ride.
    Ciao fer now. ps:
    The Space People are up there and they are laughing their asses off at ‘us’.

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