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AGU Meeting: Michael Mann heads for the zoo

By Liz Kalaugher

As luck might have it, when he spoke at the American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting in San Francisco this morning on communicating climate change, Michael Mann of Penn State University, US, was able to reveal that the Wall Street Journal today published his letter contesting attacks on climate scientists. “As Nature put it in an editorial a couple of years ago, climate scientists are in a street fight,” he said.

Mann stressed that climate change is a reality. “The recent study in Nature Geoscience [which found that at least three-quarters of the current warming is due to manmade factors] came to an even stronger conclusion than the IPCC report,” he said. But Mann would like to contest the paper’s conclusion – he believes that more than 100% of today’s warming is caused by man, as natural factors should on average have led to cooling over the last few decades.

Mann detailed his current involvement with the Climate Literacy Zoo Education Network (CliZEN), a collaboration between nine US zoos and Polar Bears International. “Zoos provide a unique opportunity for trying to communicate the threats to the natural world,” he said.

It seems that zoo visitors are more concerned about climate change than the general public. A survey of visitors to zoos and aquaria in the summer found that nearly two-thirds were alarmed or concerned about climate change; in contrast, only 39% of the public surveyed as part of the Six Americas project showed the same levels of concern.

“[Zoo visitors’] primary impediment in becoming more engaged is actually knowledge – they don’t feel well enough informed on what they can do,” said Mann. Given that nearly 50 million people in the US visit a zoo each year, he feels that’s a tremendous opportunity to educate.

  • Mann will be talking about his book, The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches from the Front Lines, which is due out in January 2012, at 4 pm on Tuesday. If you’re at the AGU meeting, head to Room 3001 in Moscone West to hear more.
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