Professor Michael Mann is the climatologist whose keen interpretations ultimately put some climate change-related facts to rest. He's published a new book, 'Our Fragile Moment', about surviving the climate disaster. Here he explains why he is optimistic about our future.
The Earth's climate is resilient in some ways:
Climate models predict that Earth should have been a frozen planet four billion years ago when our sun was just 70% as brilliant as it is now. But that wasn't the case. There were oceans of liquid water teeming with primitive life (microbes). The solution to the 'faint young sun paradox,' first proposed by Carl Sagan, was that the greenhouse effect must have been greater back then. Over billions of years, as the sun steadily became brighter, the greenhouse effect gradually lessened, keeping the planetary temperature within parameters suitable for life. Life, by exerting control over the global carbon cycle, played an important part in carbon drawdown.
Our doomsday predictions are greatly overstated;
Climate doomers argue that it is too late to intervene. They argue we've caused runaway warming as a result of an uncontrollable leak of methane into the atmosphere when Arctic permafrost melts. They draw parallels with previous significant extinction events, such as the so-called 'end Permian extinction' or simply 'the great dying' 250 million years ago, which resulted in the elimination of 90% of Earth's species. They argue that the incident was caused by a comparable runaway warming event to what is happening now. Today, however, there is little evidence of a huge release of permafrost methane, let alone catastrophic warming. Furthermore, paleoclimate evidence contradicts this view of "the great dying." Instead, we now know that the extinction catastrophe was caused by massive volcanic eruptions that released massive amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, producing warming and ocean acidification.
We are making strides;
Another form of climate doomsaying is the belief that we are making no progress at all in decarbonizing our societal infrastructure. That is simply not true. Prior to the Paris Agreement in 2016, the world faced more than 4 degrees Celsius of future warming based on business-as-usual emissions. Because of the effort being made to shift away from fossil fuels and toward renewable energy, global temperatures are expected to stabilize below 3 degrees Celsius. Indeed, if the world's states follow through on their commitments made at the most recent global climate talks, warming will most likely be limited to less than 2 degrees Celsius.
Established interests, particularly the fossil fuel sector, have launched a huge disinformation campaign to deceive the public and legislators. As a result, we must win the battle for hearts and minds by using our voices and votes to ensure that politicians act on behalf of the people rather than the polluters. We can still keep warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius. The barriers are not physical or technical in nature. They are purely political in nature. And if we all commit to acting, we can overcome political impediments. We still have time to save our delicate moment!