Book Review: "The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars" by Michael Mann

The entire universe in blog form
Nov. 22 2013 8:00 AM

The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars

"The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars" cover
"The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars": Documenting the attacks on reality.

[Like a stealthy (but festive) zombie, the holidays have once again shambled upon us. Every now and again over the next few weeks I’ll be putting up a review or recommendation for a gift idea I think you’ll like. Past endorsements include Chris Hadfield’s book, “An Astronaut’s Guide to Living on Earth”, and a joke book I wrote with Zach Weinersmith called “27 Nerd Disses: A Significant Quantity of Disrespect”.]

The Earth is warming up.

Advertisement

It’s an easy sentence to write, and to read. It also has the added factor of being true.

Yet those five words are attacked, slandered, misrepresented, stomped on, and just plain denied all the time by a small but dedicated (and in some cases, sadly powerful) cadre of people and interests. And they don’t stop with just the words: They also attack the messengers of those words, including the scientists who determined the world is heating up in the first place.

Arguably, none has suffered the slings and arrows of outrageous denial as much as Dr. Michael Mann, a climatologist and Director of the Earth System Science Center at Penn State University. Mann has studied the climate for over 20 years, and in 1999 he and some colleagues published a paper that would go on to shake the world. In it, they showed that temperature in the northern hemisphere had been slowly dropping for centuries…until the 20th century, when suddenly the temperature rocketed up. The break was so sudden and obvious that this graph became dubbed “the hockey stick” due to its shape.

hockey stick diagram
The original "hockey stick" graph; the shaft is the slow downward trend on the left, and the blade is the sudden modern jump in temperature on the right.

Graph by Michael Mann, from the book

And that’s when things really heated up for Mann himself. He was attacked, viciously, by fossil fuel industry leaders and those they influenced, including politicians and “think tanks”. The story is as astonishing as it is face-palm-worthy, which is what makes “The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars” (also available in paperback and on Kindle) written by Mann, such a great read.

He deftly talks about his own experience in science, how he got involved in climatology, and how that very quickly became a career more in defending the reality of his work from those who would stop at almost nothing to besmirch it. He has been attacked by sitting Congresscritters, received death threats, and most recently been the subject of an execrable witch hunt by the former (and thankfully now currently unemployed) Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli.

In the book, Mann goes over the science of global warming, written for the intelligent layman, showing the multiple lines of evidence indicating our planet is in trouble. As a scientist myself I found that fascinating, but it was the description of the attacks on both Mann’s science and his character I found, paradoxically, both appalling and enthralling. In the end, Mann’s work has withstood the test of fire, having been exonerated and supported by his fellow scientists (who have independently confirmed the hockey stick results) as well as by multiple inquiries into the attacks against it. He also talks about the ridiculous “Climategate” manufactroversy, and his role in it.

I strongly urge anyone interested in science, politics, and climate change to read Mann’s book. The new edition has a foreword by Bill Nye that’s worth the price of the book alone (Nye opens with, “If you like to worry about things, you are living in a great time.”), and “Hockey Stick” has also been updated to cover what’s happened over the past year or so since the book was originally published.

The Earth is warming up. Climate change is real, just as real as the attacks on Mann, and we cannot ignore either.

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  

TODAY IN SLATE

Foreigners

More Than Scottish Pride

Scotland’s referendum isn’t about nationalism. It’s about a system that failed, and a new generation looking to take a chance on itself. 

What Charles Barkley Gets Wrong About Corporal Punishment and Black Culture

Why Greenland’s “Dark Snow” Should Worry You

Three Talented Actresses in Three Terrible New Shows

Why Do Some People See the Virgin Mary in Grilled Cheese?

The science that explains the human need to find meaning in coincidences.

Jurisprudence

Happy Constitution Day!

Too bad it’s almost certainly unconstitutional.

Is It Worth Paying Full Price for the iPhone 6 to Keep Your Unlimited Data Plan? We Crunch the Numbers.

What to Do if You Literally Get a Bug in Your Ear

  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 16 2014 7:03 PM Kansas Secretary of State Loses Battle to Protect Senator From Tough Race
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 16 2014 2:35 PM Germany’s Nationwide Ban on Uber Lasted All of Two Weeks
  Life
The Vault
Sept. 16 2014 12:15 PM “Human Life Is Frightfully Cheap”: A 1900 Petition to Make Lynching a Federal Offense
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 15 2014 3:31 PM My Year As an Abortion Doula
  Slate Plus
Slate Plus Video
Sept. 16 2014 2:06 PM A Farewell From Emily Bazelon The former senior editor talks about her very first Slate pitch and says goodbye to the magazine.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 16 2014 8:43 PM This 17-Minute Tribute to David Fincher Is the Perfect Preparation for Gone Girl
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 16 2014 6:40 PM This iPhone 6 Feature Will Change Weather Forecasting
  Health & Science
Science
Sept. 16 2014 1:39 PM The Case of the Missing Cerebellum How did a Chinese woman live 24 years missing part of her brain?
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 15 2014 8:41 PM You’re Cut, Adrian Peterson Why fantasy football owners should release the Minnesota Vikings star.