Memo to Climate Science community:  When illegal email hackers give you lemons, make some lemonade.

In a Physics World article, “Publicize or perish,” I pointed out “The scientific community is failing miserably in communicating the potential catastrophe of climate change.“  Of course, that isn’t entirely the scientific community’s fault.  The media — especially senior editors who decide what stories to pursue — tend to take the view that they covered climate science back in 2007 with the IPCC report, so it’s been hard to get the media interested in another story on climate science.  Well, now they are very interested.

For that reason, I helped organize a press call today for with three leading climate scientists:

  • Professor Michael Mann, Director of the Penn State’s Earth Systems Science Center, author of more than 120 studies in professional journals and a new book, Dire Predictions.
  • Dr. Gavin Schmidt, climate modeler at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies.  He is the author of more than 60 studies, and author of Climate change: Picturing the Science.
  • Professor Michael Oppenheimer, Director of the Program in Science, Technology and Environmental Policy  at Princeton.  He has authored more than 100 articles

You can listen to the full audio here:

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Some excerpts below (transcript here):


Michael Mann:“Decades of research [has been conducted.] There is a very robust consensus that humans are warming the planet and changing the Earth’s climate.”

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“There are a handful of people and organizations who have tried to cloud the debate….  They have engaged in this 11th-hour smear campaign, where they have stolen personal emails from scientists, mined them for single words or phrases that can be taken out of context to twist their words, and I think this is rather telling….  Those advocating inaction don’t have the science on their side, so they turn to this last minute smear campaign.”

Gavin Schmidt:

“When you add up what [humans] have done, and what impact that is likely to have, we end up with scenarios for climate change in the future that put our planet in a position it hasn’t been in for, maybe, million of years.”


“From my point of view, the most important issue is whether anything has been added to or subtracted from the scientific picture of global warming. The answer is simple. Nothing has changed.  It remains true that the Earth has warmed more than a degree F over the past century, largely due to the human-made buildup of GHGs.  It remains true that global average sea level has risen about 7 inches over the past century, enough to erode and submerge about 60 feet of sand along the typical east coast beach.  It remains the case that both major ice sheets are losing ice at their peripheries rapidly, making a substantial and surprising contribution to sea level rise.  And it remains true that the ocean is more acidic than it used to be because of the build up of carbon dioxide.”

Q: Are there lessons that can be learned from the email hacking?

Mike Mann:

“In response to the accusations that we have something to side—which we don’t—the community has become much more forthcoming in providing as much information as anyone could possibly want.”

Schmidt: “Once all the gotcha stuff has worn out and the context has been established, there’s not going to be any scientific misconduct associated with this, there’s not going to be any fraud or any hoaxes.  What there will be is a record of how science is actually done.  Scientists talk to their colleagues, argue with their colleagues, being critical of each other’s papers, both directly and indirectly.  [People can see] how the process of putting together these assessments actually works.”

And from me:

“As NOAA’s climate monitoring chief pointed out in October, “the last ten years are the warmest ten year period in the modern record. Even if you analyze the trend during those years, the trend is positive, which means warming.” “

“These observations are unequivocal, and the question is, what will happen in our future, and that is still in our hands…  the latest science tells us one thing with high confidence: if we stay on our current emissions path, of more and more emissions, then greenhouse gases will stay on high levels.”

Serious impacts like ocean acidification are quite impervious to political rhetoric and can only be addressed by sharply and quickly reducing emissions.

The media is interested in talking to you.  So, talk to them!

And yes, a climate scientist or anyone talking to the media runs the risk of being misquoted or having their remarks taken out of context, but the alternative  is much worse.

As I wrote back in October, the fate of perhaps the next 100 billion people to walk the Earth rests with scientists (and those who understand the science) trying to communicate the dire nature of the climate problem (and the myriad solutions available now) as well as the ability of the media, the public, opinion-makers and political leaders to understand and deal with that science.

I believe that the major scientific bodies and leading scientists in the US must come together immediately to develop and quickly implement a serious communication strategy. We are again at the precipice. Indeed, it is, as the current Presidential Science Advisor and physicist John Holdren has said many times, too late to avoid dangerous anthropogenic warming of the planet. Now the only question is whether we can avoid unmitigated catastrophe.

And always, “To stop a climate catastrophe … Scientists must stop sanitising their message,” as the UK Guardian put it earlier this year.

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