Q1. Rituraj Phukan: What is context of your latest book, “The New Climate War?” Is alarmism and doom-mongering emerging as a threat comparable climate denial?
Michael E. Mann: (Answer)Yes, in a phase, the theme is “urgency AND agency”. Yes, it’s urgent we act now. But there still IS time to act. We can still avert the worst impacts of climate change if we act boldly and immediately. There is some reason for caution optimism that we will rise to this challenge, given the renewed leadership coming from the Biden administration and the heightened sense of urgency given the devastating climate-fueled extreme weather disasters playing out this summer.
Q2. Rituraj Phukan: The times have changed and scientists, who were earlier blamed for exaggeration, are now sometimes accused of understating the risks. Why has the perceptions changed and what does it mean for inspiring decisive action on the climate crisis?
Michael E. Mann: (Answer)Yes, it’s rather ironic that those who were first sounding the alarm are now accused of somehow understating the risks. Doomists often overstate things to claim it’s too late to act and they accuse climate scientists of understating the risks because we won’t defend or promote their exaggerated claims. As I stress in The New Climate War, the truth is bad enough. We don’t need to exaggerate the climate crisis to make the case for urgent action.
Q3. Rituraj Phukan: I always say that “Water is the local issue of global climate change, for people and for biodiversity.” As a Climate Reality Leader, I have developed a presentation “Connecting the 3 W’s- Warming, Water & Wildlife,” and delivered it to audiences hundreds of times. What are your thoughts about communicating climate science?
Michael E. Mann: (Answer)I agree that we must bring the discussion home, emphasizing how climate change isn’t some distant far-off threat. It’s impacting us now, and already causing shortages of food, freshwater, and space, leading to greater competition for resources, and increased conflict. So once again, my philosophy is that we must communicate both the urgency and the agency. Yes, it’s bad. But it will get far worse if we fail to act. And there is still time to act.
Q4. Rituraj Phukan: Why is carbon pricing important and how can developing countries like India benefit from a carbon fee and dividend policy?
Michael E. Mann: (Answer)Carbon pricing is one important tool that we have at our disposal, but it’s not a magic bullet. We need to use all of the tools availble—carbon pricing, subsidies for renewables, blocking new fossil fuel infrastructure, climate-friendly land management and agriculture, etc. When it comes to developing countries like India, it is essential that the industrial countries, who had the advantage of two centuries of cheap access to dirty fossil fuel energy, provide incentives to help countries like India leapfrog past the fossil fuel stage, developing energy infrastructure based on renewable energy instead. At the G7 meeting earlier this summer, there was emphasis in the importance of the U.S. and other major industrial countries providing cheap financing to countries like India to help them in this effort.
Q5. Rituraj Phukan: Do you foresee the application of technologies like solar radiation management and carbon dioxide removal to avert the worst impacts? What will be the implications for the Global South?
Michael E. Mann: (Answer)As I argue in the book, geoengineering is a very dangerous road to go down. So-called “solar energy management” (I consider that a euphemism for dangerous tampering with our atmosphere) are fraught with great peril, and are used as a crutch today to justify continued fossil fuel burning. Certain technologies, like carbon removal, might prove necessary in the future, but they cannot be allowed to be a substitute for the immediate actions we need to take now,, i.e.decarbonizing the global economy and rapidly moving toward renewable energy. There are a number of studies that suggest we have the technology now to decarbonize our economy. We don’t need to wait for a “miracle”, as some, like Bill Gates, unhelpfully continue to insist.
• Dr. Michael E. Mann is an acclaimed climatologist and geophysicist who was also the Lead author on the IPCC Third Assessment Report. He is the director of the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University. Dr. Mann has written several books on climate change and authored over 200 peer- reviewed publications, contributing to the scientific understanding of historic climate change based on the temperature record of the past thousand years.
•Rituraj Phukan is an environmental writer, adventurer & naturalist based out of Assam with personal experience of the climate change impacts across the polar regions, the Himalayas and across India. He is the Founder of the Indigenous People’s Climate Justice Forum and serves as the Vice-President of the US-based Grassroots Coalition for Environmental and Economic Justice, National Coordinator (Biodiversity) for The Climate Reality Project India and also heads the India branch of Citizens Climate International.
[ First Published in The Assam Tribune (Op-Ed 1st August, 2021)]