Column: Recent article on climate change is misguided

An individual named J. Mike Byrd did a disservice to your readership by spreading falsehoods about the topic of human-caused climate change in his misguided recent commentary (“31,000 scientists say no evidence of climate change”, 5/26/16).

The very title of his piece is false, as it refers to the notorious “Oregon petition” still peddled by climate change deniers today despite having been exposed a sham years ago. Few of the signatories were actually scientists let alone experts on climate science, many were no longer even alive at the time of the petition, and the Spice Girls and actors from the TV series MASH amusingly somehow found their way onto the list.

Fake petitions aside, there is an overwhelming consensus among the worlds’ scientists that climate change is real and human-caused. That is the conclusion of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the national academies of all other industrial nations, the more than 30 science organizations in the U.S. that have weighed in on the matter--and yes, more than 97% of scientists who have published on the topic.

In his attempts to refute the scientific consensus, Mr. Byrd offers up a litany of untruths, specious factoids and lame sound-bites from industry-funded climate change deniers. His ‘authorities’ are organizations like the “Heartland Institute” which have long fronted for the tobacco industry, the fossil fuel industry, and any other vested interests that will pay them to engage in unseemly attacks on science and scientists.

Mr. Byrd also attempts to malign the well-known “hockey stick” temperature curve which demonstrates that recent warming is unusual over at least the past 1000 years, falsely claiming that it has been “thoroughly debunked”. As I recount in “The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars”, this work has been attacked by industry-funded climate change deniers for more than a decade owing to the simple, undeniable message it conveys about the dramatic impact human activity is having on Earth’s climate. It has nonetheless stood the test of time.

Mr. Byrd fails to note that the highest scientific body in the U.S., the National Academy of Sciences, affirmed my research findings in an exhaustive independent review published in June 2006 (see e.g. “Science Panel Backs Study on Warming Climate”, New York Times, June 22, 2006).

In the decade and a half since our original published work, dozens of groups of scientists have independently reproduced, confirmed, and extended our findings, including most recently an international team of nearly 80 scientists from around the world, publishing in the premier journal Nature Geoscience. The most recent report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the most authoritative assessment of climate science available, concluded that recent warmth is likely unprecedented over an even longer timeframe than we had concluded (at least the past 1400 years). Of course, the “hockey Stick” is only one of numerous independent lines of evidence that have led the world’s scientists to conclude that climate change is (a) real, (b) caused by the burning of fossil fuels, and (c) a grave threat if we do nothing about it.

Readers interested in the truth behind the science, rather than the falsehoods and smears perpetuated by dangerously uninformed individuals like Mr. Byrd, should consult scientist-run websites like skepticalscience.com, or books on the topic like my own “Dire Predictions: Understanding Climate Change”. Let’s get past the fake debate about whether the problem exists, and on to the worthy debate about what to do about it.

Michael E. Mann is distinguished Professor of Atmospheric Science and Director of the Earth System Science Center at Penn State University