Action is being arbitrated not between economists and activists, as Mann contends, but instead between most of us and the fossil-fuel industry, the richest business we’ve ever known, which is not ready to go softly into that good night. Here, again, Mann seems to have ignored the gist of the problem.
A climate movement built on love, compassion, and empathy is what’s needed to overcome the influence problem. Mann would have been better served writing on the inspirational leaders in the movement rather than inventing binaries and underplaying the very real effects of climate change.
Communications Director, CEL Climate Lab
Mann uses a finding in a recent Science article to belittle media claims that we are heading quickly toward flooded cities around the globe. Mann seeks to reassure us that the pace of glacier-melt-based sea-level rise will be very slow. Employing the word calamity with irony, he declares: “During the next century, the oceans will surge by as much as a quarter of a millimeter a year. By 2100, that is, the calamity in Antarctica will have driven up sea levels by almost an inch.”
If only the problem were limited to that magnitude! What Mann’s statement completely obscures is that his ocean-rise calculation is limited to the change directly attributable to the wastage of specific glaciers, which is only one of multiple processes affecting the global mean sea level (GMSL). Science has also reported that the already observed GMSL rise is on the order of 2.5 millimeters a year, indicating that a decade, not most of a century, is the reasonable estimate of how soon we will witness one inch of sea-level rise.
Ronald L. Malzer
La Crosse, Wis.
Charles C. Mann’s survey of discussions about climate change omits any mention of ozone depletion, a case in which timely communication of a scientific discovery, in 1973, did indeed lead directly to international action: the Montreal Protocol, agreed upon in 1987 and implemented in 1989, which limited the world production of chlorofluorocarbons, thereby containing their destructive effect on the Earth’s atmosphere. For that discovery, F. Sherwood Rowland and Mario Molina, together with Paul Crutzen, earned a Nobel Prize in 1995.
These scientists managed to convey their concerns about a complex scientific problem with global repercussions both to their peers and to society at large, and they did so with great courage and integrity; acceptance and prestige came only after many years of patient effort at persuasion. As Rowland—who died in 2012, and who was my father—said: “What’s the use of having developed a science well enough to make predictions if, in the end, all we’re willing to do is stand around and wait for them to come true?”
Rather than focusing so relentlessly on scientists’ alleged failures to communicate, Mann might have pressed his memory, his imagination, and his generosity a little harder to produce a more constructive, profound response to the challenge that will not go away.