Michael Mann is no stranger to the war against climate science. A climatologist at Pennsylvania State University who is currently studying the impact of climate change on extreme weather events, Mann is best known for the “hockey stick graph,” which he and his colleagues published in a 1998 scientific paper. The data visualization—featured prominently in former vice president Al Gore’s documentary An Inconvenient Truth—illustrates the precipitous rise in global temperatures since the dawn of the industrial era.
The graph also helped make the researcher a target of attacks by climate change deniers. Mann’s e-mails were stolen, and he was investigated by government bodies and received death threats in a years-long campaign he says was orchestrated by fossil fuel companies and their allies to discredit his work. Those experiences compelled him to “enter the fray” and “speak out about the very real implications of our research,” he wrote in an op-ed in the New York Times in 2014.
Although it is too soon to declare victory, Mann cautions, the initial war of disinformation against climate science is now essentially over. The scientific evidence has become impossible to dispute in light of the dramatic increases in extreme weather events, megafires and polar melting in recent years, he says.
The deniers have not given up the battle, however. They have merely changed their tactics, Mann contends in his book The New Climate War: The Fight to Take Back Our Planet. He spoke with Scientific American about the book and why he believes that the world is finally getting ready to move more aggressively on the climate crisis.
[An edited transcript of the interview follows.]
You argue that the climate change deniers are going extinct and being replaced by a new group that you call “the inactivists.” Who are the inactivists?