Strategies of Communication on Climate Change

Monday, May 13, 2013

Michael Mann on the role of scientists in communicating the implications of climate change

The book by climatologist Michael E. Mann is correctly subtitled "Dispatches from the front lines" because it tells the story of a true communication war. With his reconstruction of past climate termed the "hockey stick", Mann had been singled out as a convenient target for a disinformation campaign aimed at discrediting climate science and science in general. The campaign was only partly successful, also because Mann and many others resisted and fought back. That's everybody's task, now: fighting back and re-establishing truth.  

Here is an excerpt from Mann's book (p. 253)

From "The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars" - by Michael Mann

When we first published our hockey stick work in the late 1990s, I was of the belief that the role of a scientist was, simply put, to do science. Others, I felt, should be left to assess and publicize any implications of the science. Taking anything even remotely resembling a position regarding climate change policy was, to me, anathema. Doing so, I felt, would compromise the authority of my science. I felt that scientists should take an entirely dispassionate view when discussing matters of science - that we should do our best to divorce ourselves from all of our typically human inclinations - emotion, empathy, concern. In the interviews I conducted with reporters, I was careful not to wade into the dangerous waters of expressing a personal opinion and to avoid entirely the subject of policy implications.

Everything I have experienced since then has gradually convinced me that my former viewpoint was misguided. I became a public figure involuntarily when our work was thrust into the public spotlight in the late 1990s. I have remained a public figure since, but I have come to embrace, rather than eschew, that role. Despite the battle scars I've suffered from having served on the front lines in the climate wars - and they are numerous - I remain convinced that there is nothing more noble than striving to communicate, in terms that are simultaneously accurate and accessible, the societal implications of our scientific knowledge. Indeed, much of my time and effort over the past decade has been dedicated to doing so.

I can continue to live with the cynical assaults against my integrity and character by the corporate-funded denial machine. What I could not live with is knowing that I stood by silently as my fellow human beings, confused and misled by industry-funded propaganda, were unwittingly led down a tragic path that would mortgage future generations.

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