Randy Olson, who made a great little movie about the “intelligent design” creationism movement called “Flock of Dodos: The Evolution-Intelligent Design Circus,” interviews climate scientist Michael Mann about the barrage of recent trumped up climate change “controversies:” MIKE MANN Part II: INTERVIEW – Who will provide communication expertise and leadership for the science community?
RO - Did you feel embattled at times? Like in the bunker?
MM - We are in a battle — the scientific community. I mean the climate science community has been in battle for years. There’s an organized, well-funded effort to discredit us. And not just our science, but individuals. There’s been an increasing effort towards, so called “Swiftboating” of individual scientists. Smear campaigns run against scientists for the sole purpose of discrediting them, so as to discredit the science. So I think it is very clear that this is the method of attack that the climate-denial-lobby is using.
RO - Do you remember the first instance you realized there was this effort at work?
MM - Within a year or so of publishing our Nature article in 1998, our work was being criticized in what I would describe as a highly non-scientific way, on a website called The World Climate Report, that in fact was run by Patrick Michaels of the University of Virginia, with funding from the fossil fuel industry.
RO - When you spoke with the Senate — was that the next increment in your awareness of it?
MM - I didn’t actually speak at the Senate hearings held by James Inhofe until 2003. By then it was four years after we had published our Nature article and there had been many such attacks against our work on an increasingly heated and increasingly high profile and increasingly well organized level. I had become very much aware of the climate change denial machine because I was an object of their attacks. It came to somewhat of a crescendo by 2003 when the climate change denial effort was really stepping up. There was a memo that had come out — the infamous “Luntz Memo” that basically telegraphed this attack campaign of trying to discredit climate science and climate scientists. It appeared in 2002 and it warned the climate skeptics that there was a closing window of opportunity — that the public was becoming aware of the nature of the scientific evidence showing global warming, and that if the climate change denial lobby didn’t do something quickly they were going to lose their window of opportunity to discredit the science and to forestall policy action. So in those next couple years that effort was stepped up, and we were in the middle of that effort. Of course at the same time there were things going on. In the E.P.A. — Christine Todd Whitman, the first EPA Director in the first Bush Administration was basically forced out because the climate change contrarian contingent within the Bush Administration felt she was too proactive in recognizing the legitimacy of the climate change threat. And as we later learned through articles in the NY Times and elsewhere there were various climate change reports produced by government scientists which were being edited and altered by political appointees to downplay the climate change threat. So our own experiences were taking place within the context of a larger anti-climate science effort.
RO - Why do you think Al Gore didn’t make much mention of the skeptics movement in his movie?
MM - Well, you’d have to ask Al in the end, but I think at the time frankly, when that movie came out, there was perhaps a sense that we had moved past the false notion of there being a debate on the reality of climate change. I think in some sense the public discourse had moved past that. In the past there had often been an effort by journalists to find a contrarian to give the other side a quote for every interview about climate change. I think there was a feeling at the time that we were finally moving past this.
RO - And in retrospect do you think the feeling that we’d moved past the debate was naïve?
MM - Absolutely. I can tell you, having communicated to many of my colleagues my deep concern that there was a false complacency. I felt that there was a very dangerous complacency — that the community had decided that the discourse had moved past the idea that there was a debate about the problem. I think many in the scientific community felt that way, and many in the policy arena felt that way. But there were warning signs. Those of us who were looking saw them. There was still a very well-funded, well-organized campaign. Much money and effort had been invested by the fossil fuel industry. They weren’t just going to roll over. So many of us knew that it was coming, and frankly I did warn colleagues about the complacency that they had, their view that the public discourse had moved on, that the discussions would now would be about what climate policies should be enacted — that was misplaced. The debate over the reality of climate change was still alive and well. And now there is such a poisonous atmosphere being created by the climate skeptics — similar in many ways to that poisonous atmosphere we saw last summer in those healthcare town hall meetings — irrational sort of conspiracy-driven lunatics, frankly, entering into the fray — where the discourse has been so skewed to the point where those extreme voices are a substantial component in the debate. It makes it difficult to have a rational discussion. And when you have people who will dismiss the National Academy of Science as some sort of “activist” organization simply because N.A.S. believes in science … then how can you engage the other side in meaningful discourse?
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(Hat tip: freetoken.)