The Hockey Stick Controversy 

Text excerpted from the book: PROTECTING THE PLANET-Environmental Champions from Conservation to Climate Change (ISBN 978-1-63388-225-6)

by

Budd Titlow & Mariah Tinger

http://www.buddtitlow.com

The “Hockey Stick Controversy” was an offshoot of a graph developed in 1998 that clearly showed almost a millennium’s worth (Year 1000 to Year 1900) of steady, but slowly declining global temperatures followed by radical increases in temperatures beginning in 1900’s and extending into the early 2000’s.  The shape of this graph looked like a hockey stick with a long and relatively straight handle ending in a sharply angled, short blade. The source of the data used to construct this graph led to a bitter debate between Climate Change scientists who were primarily involved with the IPCC and deniers mainly associated with the oil and gas lobby.

In 1998 and 1999, Michael E. Mann (University of Virginia), Raymond S. Bradley (University of Massachusetts – Amherst), and Malcolm K. Hughes (University of Arizona) produced MBH98 (based on the last initials of the three authors combined with the year), and then a modified MBH99—as the first eigenvector-based Climate Field Reconstructions (CFRs).  MBH98 was created using temperature data from the recent past coupled with paleoclimatic datasets—such as those from tree rings, ice cores, and coral sections—that date back to the Year 1400.  MBH99 then modified the research trio’s original graph by going back even further to the Year 1000 and thus incorporating an entire millennium’s worth of climate information.

Climatologist Jerry Mahlman then coined the term hockey stick to succinctly describe the pattern that the graph showed. Soon afterward, the “Hockey Stick Graph” was elevated to iconic status for climate believers and a bulls-eye for climate deniers.

Since MBH99 was first produced, more than two dozen additional Climate Field Reconstructions (CFR’s)—using various statistical methods and combinations of proxy records—have supported the broad consensus of Global Warming shown in the original “Hockey Stick Graph” with some variations in how flat the pre-20th Century shaft appears.  The 2007 IPCC Fourth Assessment Report cited 14 reconstructions, 10 of which covered 1,000 years or longer, to support its strengthened conclusion it was likely that Northern Hemisphere temperatures during the 20th Century were the highest in at least the past 1,300 years. Arguments over the reconstructions have been taken up by the fossil fuel industry lobbying groups that are attempting to cast doubt on Climate Change

Climate Change skeptics often cite the “Little Ice Age” and “Medieval Warming Period” as pieces of evidence not reflected in the “Hockey Stick Graph”, yet these extremes are examples of regional, not global, phenomena.  “From an intellectual point of view, these contrarians are pathetic, because there’s no scientific validity to their arguments whatsoever,” says Michael Mann. “But they’re very skilled at deducing what sorts of disingenuous arguments and untruths are likely to be believable to the public that doesn’t know better.”

Michael Mann—Theorist / Communicator

In the “olden days” (i.e., the Sixties), if you really wanted to put someone down, one of the ways you could do it was by calling him a “hockey puck”.  But how about living with a situation where every time someone says your name, many people conjure up visions of a “hockey stick”?  Well, since 1998, that’s what Professor Michael Mann has been living with.  Although he probably doesn’t think of it in a negative context.  You see, Dr. Mann was the scientist primarily responsible for what is known as the “Hockey Stick Graph” which dramatically and conclusively shows that today’s Climate Change is not a long-term cyclical event. 

Michael E. Mann was born in 1965 in Amherst, Massachusetts where his father was a Professor of Mathematics at the University of Massachusetts.  He received his undergraduate degrees in Physics and Applied Math from the University of California at Berkeley, an MS degree in Physics from Yale University, and a PhD in Geology & Geophysics from Yale University. He is currently a Distinguished Professor of Atmospheric Science at Penn State University where he also serves as director of the Earth System Science Center (ESSC). His present research focus involves the use of theoretical models and observational data to better understand Earth’s climate system. 

Mann was a Lead Author on the Observed Climate Variability and Change chapter of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Third Scientific Assessment Report in 2001 and was organizing committee chair for the National Academy of Sciences Frontiers of Science in 2003. He has received a number of honors and awards including NOAA’s outstanding publication award in 2002 and selection by Scientific American as one of the fifty leading visionaries in science and technology in 2002. He contributed, with other IPCC authors, to the award of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize.

The author of more than 190 peer-reviewed and edited publications, Mann has published two books including Dire Predictions: Understanding Climate Change and The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches from the Front Lines. He is also a co-founder of the award-winning science website RealClimate.org.

Okay, so let’s get back to this hockey stick controversy—specifically Mann’s involvement with it. To begin with, his innovative research helped recreate the Earth’s historical temperature record and separate the noise of natural weather fluctuations from the steady signal of real climate change.  This led Mann and his co-researchers to produce the “hockey stick graph” in 1998 which has since played a significant role in the development of the overwhelming scientific consensus that the planet is warming and human activities are responsible.

Since then, Mann—an affable scientist—has been dragged into the fray by diehard Climate Change deniers. He was a central figure in the trumped-up “Climategate” scandal—that we discussed in Part Three “—accused with other scientists of fraud by conservative bloggers and pundits before being vindicated by eight separate independent investigations. He was later the subject of an “academic witch-hunt” by former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli until a circuit court judge ruled that Cuccinelli had provided no “objective basis” for his crusade.

But if Mann began as an unwilling combatant in the public debate, he has since become a fierce defender of scientific discourse. He’s currently suing for defamation the National Review, right-wing columnist Mark Steyn, and the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI)—a libertarian think tank.  The Washington Post has dubbed CEI “a factory for global warming skepticism” that has received funding from ExxonMobil, the American Petroleum Institute, and Arch Coal—among others.

Mann laments the fact that climate naysayers are still running around all over the place.  He staunchly believes that if the public had a better grasp of how science works, there would be no climate “skepticism”.  They would understand that climatology is based on the same “scientific method” as many other fields of endeavor.  But he also understands that much of the negative flashback is being stoked by the fossil fuel industry and their ham-fisted cohorts.   

In a March 28, 2016 posting on the HuffPost Green’s web site, Mann wrote this about fossil fuel companies misleading the public and policymakers about the risks of their products for decades: “As early as the late 1970s, executives at fossil fuel companies were well aware that burning oil, gas and coal could cause irreversible and dangerous climate change. Indeed, as early as 1981, Exxon-Mobil was weighing whether or not to develop carbon-intense gas reserves off the coast of Indonesia because of the climate risks associated with the project.”

Mann then continued with his indictment by writing that Exxon-Mobil and other fossil fuel companies chose to suppress what its own scientists knew. “From 1979 to 1983, the American Petroleum Institute operated a scientific task force to study climate change. According to a researcher who worked on the project, it was taken out of scientists’ hands and quickly buried—and forgotten—until reporters rediscovered it just last year.”

In concluding his piece, Mann once again defended the veracity of his “hockey stick graph” this way: “Our key finding, that the recent warming trend is unprecedented over at least the past 1000 years, has not only been overwhelmingly affirmed by more than a dozen subsequent studies, but has been vastly strengthened. There is now widespread consensus in the scientific community that recent warmth is unprecedented over an even longer time frame—for the full story behind fossil fuel industry-funded attacks on me and the hockey stick, read my books.”


Author’s bio: For the past 50 years, professional ecologist and conservationist Budd Titlow has used his pen and camera to capture the awe and wonders of our natural world. His goal has always been to inspire others to both appreciate and enjoy what he sees. Now he has one main question: Can we save humankind’s place — within nature’s beauty — before it’s too late? Budd’s two latest books are dedicated to answering this perplexing dilemma. PROTECTING THE PLANET: Environmental Champions from Conservation to Climate Change, a non-fiction book, examines whether we still have the environmental heroes among us — harking back to such past heroes as Audubon, Hemenway, Muir, Douglas, Leopold, Brower, Carson, and Meadows — needed to accomplish this goal. Next, using fact-filled and entertaining story-telling, his latest book — COMING FULL CIRCLE: A Sweeping Saga of Conservation Stewardship Across America — provides the answers we all seek and need. Having published five books, more than 500 photo-essays, and 5,000 photographs, Budd Titlow lives with his music educator wife, Debby, in San Diego, California.

Author: Budd Titlow

BS, Biology-Chemistry, Florida State University, 1970 MS, Wildlife Ecology-Fisheries Science, Virginia Tech, 1973 btitlow@aol.com / www.agpix.com/titlow / www.buddtitlow.com For the past 50 years, professional ecologist and conservationist Budd Titlow has used his pen and camera to capture the awe and wonders of our natural world. His goal has always been to inspire others to both appreciate and enjoy what he sees. Now he has one main question: Can we save humankind’s place within nature’s beauty, before it’s too late? Budd’s two latest books are dedicated to answering this perplexing dilemma. Protecting the Planet, a non-fiction book, examines whether we still have the environmental champions among us — harking back to such past heroes as Audubon, Hemenway, Muir, Douglas, Leopold, Brower, Carson, and Meadows — needed to accomplish this goal. Next, using fact-filled and entertaining story-telling, his latest book — Coming Full Circle — provides the answers we all seek and need. Having published five books, more than 500 photo-essays, and 5,000 photographs, Budd Titlow lives with his music educator wife, Debby, in San Diego, California.

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