Dr. Michael E. Mann, a prominent climate scientist, geophysicist and professor of atmospheric science at Pennsylvania State University, came to Stony Brook University’s Earthstock celebration on Friday, April 19, where he was the university’s keynote speaker.
Mann met with The Statesman and other student journalists for an interview, where he talked about climate denial in the age of President Donald Trump.
“When it comes to environmental policy, Trump and his administration have pushed it aside,” Mann said. “The people who have been appointed to his cabinet have been doubling the reliance on fossil fuels.”
Mann called the Trump administration’s environmental work a “horror and absolute disaster.” He went on to say that Trump’s personal agenda caters to his own gratification and appeasing a base concerned over issues like immigration.
Mann advised Hillary Clinton on environmental policy for her 2016 presidential campaign. As a part of her climate council, he urged her to incentivize clean energy, put a price on carbon emissions and work with international partners to lower carbon emissions.
Mann said there’s been a significant change in the political debate over climate change since the 2016 election. He added that Republicans have become fearful of large scale changes like the Green New Deal.
He explained as President Trump tries to dismantle the environmental policies of previous administrations, there is a strong youth movement battling his efforts.
“Young people, in particular, should vote because elections do have consequences and they matter, so we should make sure we elect politicians who will do our bidding, instead of interests in fossil fuel,” Mann said.
Mann admits that speaking out is not always easy. He said that he’s been harassed by the fossil fuel industry and some conservative foundations for his work in environmental advocacy. Climate change deniers have even tried to discredit his famous hockey stick graph, a visual that shows how human activity has led to unprecedented changes in our global climate.
Mann pointed out that those who proactively deny climate change are only a tiny minority of the population. “There is a danger if we allow them [climate change deniers] to have too much of a role in this situation,” he said.
He said that this minority group is not aware that there is a scientific consensus on climate change, and he believes they’re simply victims of a misinformation campaign.
Although climate change is a global issue, Mann said it is important to focus on both the individual and collective actions we can take to save the planet.
“Tiny actions will still get you involved and it tends to lead you down a path towards higher engagement,” he said. “Most importantly, we need to elect politicians who will act on this problem and create public awareness.”
Despite the challenges posed by climate change, Mann said that he remains optimistic. He said much of his positive outlook stems from the conversations he has with college students and other young people who have played a significant role in fighting against climate change. He pointed to young environmental activists like Jolante Vogel and Greta Thunberg.
Mann urged the group of students interviewing him to work to make a difference.
“Students demand and seek change, and it always starts with college campuses.”