Climate Reality recently chatted with world-renowned climatologist and geophysicist Dr. Michael E. Mann, distinguished professor of atmospheric science at Penn State University, ahead of our Climate Reality Leadership Corps training in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. At the training, Dr. Mann participated in the panel “Our Changing Storms.”
Because we had a long and fruitful conversation on topics ranging from galvanizing climate moments and extreme weather to his own role in the global climate conversation and much more (and because we want you to learn as much as we did), we'll be bringing you the conversation in its entirety, with new installments each Friday for the next few weeks.
Below, Dr. Mann discusses Scott Pruitt’s attempt to repeal America’s Clean Power Plan and how nothing will stop the transition to clean, renewable energy.
Climate Reality: The Trump Administration recently announced its intent to repeal the Clean Power Plan. Could you please speak to the importance of emissions regulations in the fight for climate solutions?
Dr. Michael Mann: The Clean Power Plan, first of all, demonstrated good faith on the part of the United States in meeting our obligations to the world community in combatting the climate change problem. It gave us the leverage to achieve a very important bilateral agreement with China a few years ago, by [President] Barack Obama. And, of course, it set the stage for the monumental progress that we saw in Paris. So the US was able to go into those negotiations with quite a bit of credibility because it was demonstrating a willingness to act in a meaningful way on this problem – through the Clean Power Plan, through the Obama era regulations on automobile efficiency and clean energy standards, and incentives for renewable energy.
What we’re seeing right now, it isn’t just the dismantling of the environmental policy success of the last administration, the Obama Administration. We are seeing the dismantling of policies that were put in place by both Republican and Democratic administrations over the past half century. It’s unprecedented. It’s catastrophic. It’s, as far as I’m concerned, clearly impeachable. [EPA Administrator] Scott Pruitt has violated the public faith by acting on behalf of polluting interests rather than the people he is supposed to represent.
Realistically, what sort of regulation at the federal and state levels do you believe is necessary to effectively mitigate climate change?
The irony is that we may well meet our obligations under the Paris treaty, even with the current administration playing an adversarial role. That’s simply because of all of the progress that we are seeing now at the state level, at the municipal level thanks to efforts by folks like Al Gore to really mobilize the American people on this issue.
I think we’re seeing real movement, and I think we’re seeing so much movement that there’s really nothing that the polluting interests can do to stop the transition that’s underway. All they can do is try to slow it down. If they can slow it down, well, they can make more fossil fuel profits in the meantime.
What they’re really worried about are stranded assets – you know, all of the fossil fuels that they currently have on their bank sheets. So their agenda is to try to extract and sell as much fossil fuels as they can before the inevitable happens – before the global transition that’s underway ultimately leads us away from fossil fuels toward renewable energy.
That transition is happening anyways. We may well meet our obligations under the Paris treaty, even without any support from the administration or from the Congress. That having been said, it makes it tougher, obviously, for us to meet our reduction targets, and it slows down that necessary transition.
Ironically, it puts the US in a less competitive position. The rest of the world recognizes that the future of our global economy will be in renewable energy. That’s the great economic revolution of this century. And what Trump and those whose agenda he’s advancing are doing is holding us back as the rest of the world moves on, and guaranteeing that we lose out in this economic race.
It’s really misguided on multiple levels. It’s misguided on an environmental level because, ultimately, it means more degradation of the planet. It means increased risks for the American people when it comes to food and water and health and national security. But it also means that we lose out in terms of our international competitiveness as a nation.
We’ll still get there. But it will slow that progress down a bit, much to our detriment – and much to the world’s detriment. Because the fact is, every ton of carbon that we put into the atmosphere does additional damage, and we want to emit as little carbon as we possibly can.
As Dr. Mann makes clear, there’s no mystery what’s happening to our planet. And there’s no mystery about how we solve this crisis by switching from dirty fossil fuels to clean, renewable energy.
The Environmental Protection Agency designed America’s Clean Power Plan to accelerate this shift and cut the dirty power plant emissions driving climate change. But now, fossil fuel interests leading EPA want to repeal the Clean Power Plan and take us back to the dark days of dirty energy.
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