Interview with Scientist Michael Mann

Leaked UN Climate Report Reveals Ominous Implications of Climate Change

September 15, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper |


The following interview is from The Michael Slate Show, KPFK, 90.7 fm Los Angeles; 98.7 fm Santa Barbara, worldwide.


Michael Slate: Just recently, the latest report from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was secretly leaked to a number of news organizations and what it says is that runaway growth and the emission of greenhouse gases is swamping all political efforts to deal with the problem, raising the risk of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts over the coming decades. Here to talk with us about this is Professor Michael Mann. Michael Mann is Distinguished Professor of Meteorology at Penn State University and the author of The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars. Michael, welcome back.

Michael Mann: Ah, thanks. It’s great to be with you, Michael.

MICHAEL SLATE: When we last spoke back in April, we talked about another climate report that had just been issued by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and that one itself was pretty alarming, and I understand that this draft report that was just leaked is a synthesis report combining a number of separate previous reports on different aspects of the crisis. But, what’s the difference between these reports in terms of content?

MICHAEL MANN: Yeah, so some of it is just sort of technical. The IPCC—the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which is an organization that operates under the auspices of the UN, but literally represents hundreds of the leading climate scientists around the world who get together and put together these extremely rigorous and comprehensive reports every five to six years summarizing the state of our scientific understanding of the problem of climate change. So this is the latest round, the fifth assessment report.

The way they proceed, they start out with what’s called the “Working Group One” report, which is just the basic science, It's the fundamental physical science of climate: What have we learned over the past few years, from climate models from new observations that we compare to the models? What do the models project for the future, given different potential policy pathways that still are in our hands? Depending on what fossil fuel emissions scenarios we pursue, the models can tell us what are the likely changes that result from that. So, that’s the Working Group One report.

The Working Group Two report comes out a few months later. It describes projected impact. If the climate changes in some particular way, what is the impact likely to be on food, on water, on human health, on national security, on our economy, etc.? And then the final installment of the report, of the three-part report, the Working Group Three report, is on so-called “mitigation,” solving climate change. What can we do about this problem, technologically, economically? What are the feasible solutions that are available to us to try to mitigate potentially dangerous and irreversible climate change? That’s really what the IPCC had been tasked to do back since 1990, when the United Nations framework convention first tasked the IPCC to assess, to not prescribe the solutions, but to assess prospects for dangerous human interference with the climate. And so the IPCC has been doing this now for more than two decades.

The synthesis report is basically just taking all that information from the three different working group reports and summarizing collectively what it all says and what it all means when it comes to contending with the problem of human-caused climate change. And as you noted, the language in this latest synthesis report is quite stark. It’s pretty remarkable because this is a very conservative document and the IPCC documents by nature are conservative documents, they are consensus documents, where the final wording has to be agreed upon by hundreds of scientists with differing viewpoints. It’s sort of a lowest common denominator in a sense because of that. It often, to some extent, understates the true potential threats because there is a range of viewpoints, and often the IPCC sort of ends up taking a somewhat centrist line between scientists who tell us that climate change is proceeding even faster than we might have guessed and critics, contrarians, skeptics who deny that climate change even exists. And so, there are still a few of those folks within the scientific community. They have some involvement in the IPCC process.

So that necessarily ends up watering things down a little bit. So if anything, the IPCC is a conservative body. Scientists tend to be conservative. They don’t like to stick their necks out with questionable hypotheses, untested hypotheses, dubious conclusions. Scientists by their nature are conservative. And so what’s so remarkable in this latest synthesis report is that a conservative body like the IPCC would use the sort of stark language that you were quoting earlier about the fact that we are now contending, already, with dangerous and potentially irreversible, on human time scales, on time scales that matter to civilization, irreversible changes in our climate that will be increasingly detrimental if we continue with business as usual, which is ongoing reliance on fossil fuels for energy.

MICHAEL SLATE: I was thinking about this study that was done on the state of the ocean a little while ago, and it was really interesting because one of the things they said in doing that is that there has been all these scientists working on separate aspects on what’s happened to the oceans, and when they all came together it just blew their minds because it was sort of, so evident that basically the situation was much worse than the sum of its parts; that the whole was much worse than the sum of its parts. So that’s similar to what you’re talking about here, right?

MICHAEL MANN: Absolutely. Scientists increasingly sort of carve off some little niche, some little set of problems that we work on because science has become a huge enterprise. There are thousands of scientists. There are so many things that we are investigating, that to really be at the forefront of modern scientific research, unlike back in the 1600s and the 1700s, when you had scientists like Joseph Fourier and these sort of citizen-scientists who might end up solving four or five of the biggest problems in science of that century alone.

That’s not the way it works any more. Scientists tend to be working on small parts of problems, making incremental progress towards our understanding of the way the world works. That’s the nature of the modern scientific discipline. Because of that, the sort of situation you described can easily arise in the lack of sort of multi-disciplinary approaches to looking at problems. When you take a problem like the oceans and you break it up so that you’ve got marine biologists maybe studying certain aspects of ocean ecology, fish population decline, but you may have geochemists who are studying the impact of ocean acidification. The CO2 [carbon dioxide] we are putting into the atmosphere isn’t just warming the planet and changing the climate. It’s also acidifying the ocean, which is a major problem. It’s already a threat to coral reefs. Literally, they will begin to dissolve. They will not be able to maintain their coral structure as the ocean becomes more acidic. Then you talk to people who study the effect of pollutants on animal life in the ocean. So, what happens is that you’ve got all these different sort of communities of scientists studying different problems and as you say, you bring them all together and it may be the first recognition on their parts that “Hey, we’re looking at a bigger problem than we realized, because this isn’t just a system that is being stressed by one factor.”

We all understand this in the way we live our lives. You know, if one bad thing that happens to you over the course of the day, you’ll deal with it. A couple bad things, it’s a bad day. But if everything in your life is going wrong simultaneously, it's devastating. The whole is much worse than the sum of the parts. That’s true with living organisms. If they are subject to multiple stresses at the same time, they have far less adaptive capacity than if they’re dealing with just a limited number of stresses. When you hit coral reefs with warmer ocean water, which is causing coral bleaching, you hit them with higher CO2 levels leading to ocean acidification. You hit them with pollutants: effluent that runs off into the coastal regions of the oceans and that adversely impacts coral communities. Even ozone depletion has been shown to already have had a negative impact on coral reefs. So, they’re being hit by all of these simultaneous insults at once and it’s far more difficult to be resilient. It’s far more difficult to adapt to sort of an onslaught of negative impacts. We’re seeing that with coral reefs.

We’re seeing that with Arctic ecosystems, with ecosystems where they’re being stressed by climate change, but they’re also being stressed by development, over-hunting, over-fishing, all of these things coming together in sort of a perfect storm that represents a far greater challenge for our environment, for ecosystems, for human civilization. The same is true with us. We are dealing with so many simultaneous problems right now. Climate change is just one of them. We’re dealing with pollution issues, water pollution. We are dealing with loss of habitat, of biosphere. We are, in essence, like the coral reefs dealing with simultaneous insults to our environment and that makes the problem far more of a challenge, than if we were dealing with just one thing.

MICHAEL SLATE: Now, one of the things I wanted to ask you is: This report indicates that there is a series of irreversible ecological and economical catastrophes if something isn’t done quick. I wanted to talk about what some of these things are, the symptoms of all of this, what’s actually happening. What are these marks, these scars on the planet right now and see if we can just get a deeper understanding of this. In 2009, countries across the globe set a goal of limiting global warming to about 2 degrees Celsius above current levels. What does this report indicate about how that’s going, man? What are the consequences of what’s happening?

MICHAEL MANN: Yes, the number typically cited is 2 degrees Celsius [2° C], close to 3½ degrees Fahrenheit, relative to pre-industrial time. But these numbers are somewhat subjective anyway. Even 2 degrees Fahrenheit may very well put us in the danger zone when it comes to impacts on food and water and human health. I mean, we’re already seeing significant negative impacts of climate change especially being felt in certain regions. People who live in the Arctic are sort of seeing climate change ahead of schedule because of the faster warming taking place there. Island nations, low-lying island nations, Pacific Islanders are already dealing with flooding because of global sea level rise. So, we’re already seeing dangerous climate change.

But, as we go down this fossil fuel highway, we become subject to potentially more and more dangerous impact. You allude to these essential tipping points we may cross, where we warm the planet enough that we set in motion some changes that we can’t undo. It’s the irreversibility you were talking about. The climate doesn’t always behave as smoothly as we might like, which is to say, you can warm the climate enough that instead of seeing just a gradual response, you’ll trigger something, that warming will trigger something very sudden and potentially irreversible.

One of the examples that we’re dealing with right now is the issue of the potential loss of ice from the major ice sheets, from the West Antarctic ice sheet and the Greenland ice sheet. We think that there is enough ice that is vulnerable to melting and to calving into the ocean from those two continental ice sheets to potentially give us as much as 10 meters of sea level rise, 30 feet of sea level rise is not out of the question. We’d be talking about of course, flooding of the major coastal cities of the world, island nations, large parts of coastal U.S. and Europe. We don’t know how long that will take because one of the uncertainties is: How long it will take for these large pieces of the ice sheet to collapse and ultimately yield that global sea level rise?

The fact is there is uncertainty. But the uncertainty in this case isn’t necessarily our friend, because we are learning that, to some extent, things are actually proceeding faster than our models told us they should. That is true if you look at how much melt is occurring during the summer over the surface of the Greenland ice sheet. We saw just a couple of summers ago something we had never seen before. There was melt occurring over the entire continent of Greenland. Everywhere in Greenland, even the most northern and the most high-elevation regions of the Greenland ice sheet, there was melt taking place at the surface. We didn’t expect to see that for decades.

There has been a spate of recent studies in the leading journals showing that the West Antarctic ice sheet may be far more vulnerable already than we realized, because it is literally being melted from beneath by the warming ocean. That warming from beneath is actually destabilizing the ice sheet. It’s melting the locations of the ice sheet that were in contact with the bedrock that sort of keep the ice on the land and prevent it from calving into the ocean. Those points of contact now appear to be getting eroded by the warming oceans from underneath. We may be already seeing far faster rates of melting of the West Antarctic ice sheet and the associated contribution of that to global sea level rise. I could go on and on.

There are a number of aspects of the climate system where we may pass a point of no return. We may have done that already, in the sense that we may have warmed the planet now enough that we cannot stop a large part of the Greenland ice sheet and the West Antarctic ice sheet from eventually collapsing and contributing to sea level rise. It may be too late to stop that, but it may still not be too late to prevent other things. The lesson here is that there is no one tipping point. It isn’t like if we warm the planet 2° C, we can’t prevent a warming of more than 2° C, we just give up. That’s not the way it works. If we don’t achieve a two degrees Celsius stabilization we still want to achieve 2½ degrees and if we miss 2½ degrees we still want to stabilize below 3 degrees Celsius because the more we warm the planet, the more we change the climate, the more likely it is that we see more and more of these potentially irreversible and truly catastrophic changes in our climate unfold.

MICHAEL SLATE: Now, tell us something—just out of curiosity—they’re talking about that there could be ice-free summers in the Arctic in the not too distant future.

MICHAEL MANN: Yeah and it’s another example. If you look at the climate models, what the climate models have been telling us in general is that at current rates of warming, ongoing fossil fuel burning, sort of business-as-usual fossil fuel burning, if we follow that scenario into the future that we would potentially see ice-free summers in the Arctic at the end of the century. Well guess what? We’re already almost there. So it turns out that the observations show that summer Arctic sea ice has been declining far faster than the climate models predicted it to, and we’re still trying to figure out exactly why that is. What may be missing from the models that is preventing them from capturing, for example, the dramatic loss in 2012, where the Arctic sea ice dropped to less than 50 percent of what it was just a couple decades ago.

We’re already pretty close now to ice-free conditions at the end of the summer at the Arctic. If you just sort of extrapolate the current trajectory, it really looks like we’ll be there in a matter of a decade or two, an ice-free Arctic at the end of the summer, something the models say shouldn’t happen for many decades.

It isn’t just academic. It isn’t just a scientific curiosity, because as goes Arctic sea ice, so goes the populations of polar bears that rely on that environment, so this iconic species of the polar bear is now established as a threatened species by the U.S. government because we are literally destroying its environment. We’re melting the sea ice environment that it requires for its hunting. That’s just one example. I mean, if we lose that Arctic sea ice, then we fundamentally lose an entire unique set of ecosystems that rely on that environment: the Arctic ecosystems of polar bears and walruses that rely on that environment and all the other animals and plants that are part of that system. If we melt the Arctic, we lose a unique ecosystem that won’t be replaced.

MICHAEL SLATE: And that does emphasize that whole point about the interconnectedness of this all. I wanted to raise something else in relation to this point in particular—not the loss of this unique ecosystem in the Arctic, but something related to the connectedness of all these problems. When we spoke last spring, we talked about what people were postulating then as a possibility, which was that as these ice sheets melt, that there's organic material that has been frozen for a long time that becomes exposed and begins to rot, and that there's the possibility of the release of really large amounts of methane, and that can have very dire and different consequences to the atmosphere, to the climate. And apparently, just recently they have discovered the release of some methane in that Arctic region.

MICHAEL MANN: Yeah, one of the things that we've known for some time is that there's a large amount of methane that exists in a frozen form, either in the permafrost, the Arctic tundra as permafrost in the ground, or along the coastal shelves of the oceans. And it's stable. At certain temperatures and pressures, that methane is stable in sort of a crystalline form. But if you warm the coastal shelves, or you warm the permafrost even a little bit, you can potentially destabilize all that methane that's frozen.

Methane, as it turns out, is an even more potent greenhouse gas than CO2. On timescales of a couple decades, it's almost a hundred times as potent as CO2. Over a time frame of a century, it's about thirty times as potent as CO2.

So there had been this worry—this is another one of these potential surprises, these potential tipping points, something that can be triggered that we didn't really fully account for, that the models don't really account for. If we warm the climate and we destabilize that methane, then suddenly we get even more warming because we're putting all of this methane greenhouse gas into the atmosphere. That's another example of what we call a “positive feedback,” which sounds like a good thing, but a positive feedback in this sense is a bad thing, it's an amplifying factor. It means we get even more warming than we otherwise would have.

So the sort of $64,000 question then is: How much of this methane really is close enough to the point of destabilization where it could be released on a massive scale in a short period of time in such a way that it would substantially aggravate the climate change problem, the problem of global warming? And there is a debate within the scientific community. It's important to recognize that there isn't a consensus yet among scientists that this methane feedback problem is a major problem. If you talk to experts in this field, some of them will point to the fact that we are observing methane being released from coastal shelf environments. There was a crater that opened up recently in the Siberian permafrost that we believe was a huge belch of methane being released into the atmosphere as the ground, as the permafrost, is warming. But if you do the math, and you calculate how much of that we're seeing, it's not yet to the point where it's a serious competitor with the warming influence of the CO2 that we're putting into the atmosphere with fossil fuel burning.

So it's something to keep an eye on, and it could potentially be another one of those aggravating factors that kicks in and makes the problem worse than we had originally envisioned. But at this point, it's potentially a distraction from really the fundamental source of the problem, which is our ongoing burning of fossil fuels and the increase in CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere.

MICHAEL SLATE: Now, the report indicates that if nothing is done, then the effects of climate change will be irreversible. Related to that, it says that even if we act now, there's a risk of abrupt and irreversible changes. It points to, for instance, the idea that carbon released by burning fossil fuels will stay in the atmosphere and the sea for centuries, even if we completely stop emitting CO2 as soon as possible. What does that mean? What are the consequences of that?

MICHAEL MANN: By some measures, we're already seeing potentially irreversible changes. That appears to be true with the melting of the ice sheets. There's quite a bit of evidence that's mounted now that we have already committed to substantial loss of the West Antarctic ice sheet. We've passed the point of no return. It isn't like we could cool the climate back down, bring the CO2 levels back down and drive that process backward. That's not a possibility. It'll proceed no matter what we do. So we may have passed that tipping point.

But as I alluded to before, there are other tipping points: the collapse of the North Atlantic Ocean circulation. There are all sorts of these potential abrupt changes in climate that could take place, but we don't think we've yet approached the point where those tipping points are a threat. But certain tipping points we've already potentially crossed. And so by that measure, we have already ventured into the realm of irreversible climate change.

Now, as you say, the other irreversible aspect of this is just the CO2 that we're putting in the atmosphere. It takes the oceans, and ultimately the sediments at the bottom of the ocean, which slowly absorb carbon; it takes these processes thousands of years to play out. So if you put a lot of CO2 into the atmosphere very suddenly, it's going to take the earth's systems thousands of years to remove that CO2 from the atmosphere. What that means is that we have already committed to an elevation of CO2 concentrations well above pre-industrial levels for more than a thousand years.

If you talk to some of my colleagues, like James Hansen, former director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, one of the leading climate scientists in the U.S., Hansen has argued that probably even 350 parts per million CO2, which is where we were several decades ago, even that is too high. If we allow CO2 to persist even at the level that existed during the late 20th century, that that would lock in potentially dangerous climate changes.

So we're already too high. Forget about trying to avoid 2° C warming. We've already warmed the climate enough to put in play, to allow to unfold, some of these more potentially catastrophic changes in our climate. There are scientists who believe that to be the case. And if that's true, if we are already above the sort of safe limit of CO2 in the atmosphere, and the CO2 we put into the atmosphere will take centuries, if not millennia, to come back out of the atmosphere through natural processes, then the implication is that not only do we have to stop fossil fuel burning and other human activities that are elevating CO2 in the atmosphere, we actually have to be implementing technological schemes, if you will, to actually draw CO2 down from the atmosphere, to literally suck the CO2 back out of the atmosphere.

That's an expensive endeavor. It's feasible technologically, but it's expensive to do. And yet, it may be necessary if the expense of not doing that, if the consequences of allowing CO2 levels to prevail at current levels, if that indeed has potentially catastrophic implications, we may have to turn to these technologies, carbon capture and sequestration technology, to literally pull some of the CO2 we've already put into the atmosphere back out of the atmosphere.

MICHAEL SLATE: I have two more questions. One is the droughts. Particularly in California there's a big question of the drought and the way it's impacting people. But I've also read things like across the Southwest and in New Mexico, they're talking about intense desertification actually beginning to spread. What about this? They said this could all result in a mega-drought that's worse than anything in the last 2000 years.

MICHAEL MANN: I saw that article, and whether or not one frames it in terms of mega-droughts or not—I'm not sure that's the most helpful framing. Frankly, I think the more relevant question is just the average drought conditions in the desert Southwest, the West Coast of the U.S., is climate change making that worse? That's a more basic question. And the answer seems to be overwhelmingly, yes. The California drought is a record drought—not just a record, but it broke previous records by a very large amount. It's by far the worst drought conditions that California has ever seen. They essentially had to create a new color on the drought map that they use to communicate the deep severity of this current California drought.

We know that climate change contributed to that. We know that climate change is leading to warmer conditions. California also had near-record heat, if not record heat, this summer in at least large parts of California. So you've got this heat. You've got earlier and earlier melting. You've got less accumulation of snow in the winter, earlier snowmelt from the mountains. You've got decreasing precipitation in many cases. So it's all sort of coming together, again in a sort of perfect storm, to give us unprecedented levels of drought in California, but also more broadly in the desert Southwest of the U.S.

This is something that the climate models have predicted for some time. So what we're seeing happen, the desertification of the desert Southwest, is something that the models have predicted, but we're actually learning that it may be worse than we thought: another example of a surprise, some new aspect of the science that we didn't understand before that's coming into play, and is potentially making this problem worse.

There have been a number of studies now that suggest that this really odd jet stream pattern we had last winter, where it was extremely dry, relatively warm on the West Coast, and then we had the jet stream sort of crash down into the central U.S. and the East Coast, giving us unusually cold conditions over a large part of the winter. So we had this huge contrast between the West and the East in the shape of the jet stream. The jet stream was basically going north into Alaska, rather than traveling through California and Oregon, which normally get all that rainfall in the winter. A lot of that was going north into Alaska. So the rainfall turned into snow at higher elevations.

So that pattern, that particular pattern of the jet stream that led to those conditions, there are some studies now that suggest that climate change may indeed be favoring that pattern of the jet stream. So the climate models already said that drought was going to get worse in California and the desert Southwest without taking that factor into account. Now, with this additional factor, which we saw play out in real time last winter, with the possibility that climate change is having some role in that as well, the problem may be worse: another example of, yes, there's uncertainty, but look, in many cases as in this case, uncertainty may be playing out in such a way that the effects are worse. They're more devastating than we thought they would be. And that may very well be true when it comes to California's ability to meet its water needs. Obviously this latest drought has been a major threat to water security in California, and that may be a sign of things to come. That may become the new normal. And if that's the new normal, then places like California have to fundamentally rethink how they are going to find the water resources they need.

MICHAEL SLATE: No matter what, it seems large-scale climate shifts are inevitable, in one form or another, and as to their impact, a lot of it is known, a lot of it is soon to be discovered. But you've talked about, and you've mentioned this a number of times, that there are contrarians out there. There are people who are these anti-global warming, anti-climate change, all this other stuff, saying it just doesn't exist. And you've done a remarkably good job in just dismissing these people more or less, saying, look, you can't pay attention to a bunch of clowns. But you've spoken about how scientists are actually the real skeptics. And that lends even greater strength to the IPCC report, that the science behind this report and the dire situations facing humanity in relation to global warming are real and accurate. While scientists are skeptics in terms of how they carry this stuff out, how they develop all this, they are not agnostic, and that this is actually true.

MICHAEL MANN: That's absolutely right. And there are individuals and groups, many of them associated with fossil fuel interests, or the Koch brothers, who fund a lot of these front groups that exist to try to poison the discussion of climate change, that exist to try to promote misinformation, disinformation, denial of the basic science of climate change. A lot of that is manufactured. It's well organized. It's funded by special interests like the Koch brothers, through organizations like the so-called Americans for Prosperity, etc. In my book, The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars, I talk about my experiences at the center of the attacks from those organizations, those institutions who worked hard to try to discredit this iconic graph that I published a decade and a half ago, the so-called “hockey stick” curve. It became a sort of icon in the climate change debate because it very clearly demonstrated the unprecedented nature of recent warming. And because of that, it became an object of attack for those looking to discredit the science. I became an object of attack myself, and I tell my story in the book.

But one of the things I also talk about in the book is the issue of scientific skepticism. I have a chapter called, “A Candle in the Dark,” and it's an homage to Carl Sagan's wonderful book, The Demon-Haunted World, Science as a Candle in the Dark, where Sagan talks about true scientific skepticism, and he distinguishes it sharply from pseudo-skepticism, from contrarianism, from denial. People who reject the overwhelming scientific consensus about climate change aren't being skeptical. If you look at their arguments, the basis of their rejection of the mainstream science is the flimsiest of arguments that don't stand up to even the slightest bit of scientific scrutiny. That's not skepticism; that's the opposite of skepticism. But they'll often try to wear the mantle of skepticism. They'll try to present themselves as modern day Galileos, when in fact I think it's Sagan in his book that says something to the effect that, yes, they did laugh at Galileo. But they also laughed at Bozo the Clown. And you know what? You guys aren't Galileo.

So you have that, and I think a lot of that is becoming increasingly marginalized as it should in the discussion, and climate change deniers aren't quite getting the voice that they once did. Some media organizations are doing a better job in not falling prey to the fallacy of false balance, where if you're going to talk about the latest developments in planetary science, you don't invite somebody from NASA and somebody from the Flat Earth Society and have a debate. That's not the way it works. And it shouldn't work that way in climate science either, because the scientific community has reached very strong consensus. The problem's real; it's caused by us. There's a worthy debate to be had about what to do about this problem. That's what we should be discussing.

Interestingly enough, just earlier today, there was a report that China has now agreed to a cap-and-trade scheme. So now the world's largest emitter of greenhouse gases, in terms of aggregate emissions—they're lower than the U.S. in terms of per capita emissions—but the world's largest emitter, China, has now committed to cutting its greenhouse gas emissions through a cap-and-trade scheme. It really means that other countries like us have no excuse. We can't point to China and say, well they're not doing anything about this problem.

Let's have that discussion. But as far as the science is concerned, true scientists who are skeptical recognize that there are things that are understood and relatively well settled, and that includes the fact that we're warming the planet and changing the climate and that it is a problem if we don't do something about it. And there are other things that are still uncertain and we're still trying to work out. We're still trying to understand, for example, how precisely climate change is going to impact phenomena like hurricanes and tornadoes. We still don't know the answer to that problem. We don't know yet exactly how climate change is going to influence the El Niño phenomenon. That's really important, because El Niño, as you know, living on the West Coast, has a profound influence from year to year on rainfall on the West Coast, and it has a profound influence on regional weather patterns around the world. So if we want to be able to make projections of changing weather patterns that stakeholders can take into account as they build adaptation strategies, we need to be able to better answer some of those questions.

So there's a broad area of research questions in climate science, where scientists like myself and my many colleagues are still working actively to figure these things out. What drives science, what’s interesting to us scientists isn't what's already known, it's the anomalies. It's the things that don't fit, and understanding them. In fact, I have a section in my book, “It's the Anomalies, Stupid.” Because that's really what drives scientific curiosity. It's not showing that the other guy was right, showing, yeah, everybody got this right. It's figuring out the thing that nobody else has yet been able to figure out. And that's driven intrinsically by skepticism, and critical assessments of scientific developments. So true good scientists are real skeptics. But the people who often try to pass themselves off as skeptics in the world of climate change denial are no such thing at all. They're the opposite of skeptics. They're contrarians; they're deniers; they are purveyors of pseudo science.

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