Michael Mann on Uvalde Elementary: Big Oil learned its disinformation playbook from the NRA

  • Published on May 26th, 2022

There are very close parallels with climate change: the people vs. vested interests. Just replace NRA with fossil fuel industry…

By Michael Mann

From my book on climate change co-written with cartoonist Tom Toles: The Madhouse Effect: How Climate Change Denial Is Threatening Our Planet, Destroying Our Politics, and Driving Us Crazy:

By that is only part of the problem. A bigger part, arguably, is the concerted effort by special interests and those who do their bidding to ensure that advocates for progress are unable to seize on any potential teaching moments. Whether the topic is Superstorm Sandy or Sandy Hook –  that is, the crisis of our climate or the crisis of our children’s safety – powerful vested interests – fossil fuel interests in one case, the National Rifle Association in the other – are quite happy with the status quo. They simply don’t want to see things change. And they readily poison the well whenever there is an opportunity for a teachable moment.

The teaching moments in the case of climate change would seem to be plentiful – droughts, storms, heat waves and deluges have been made devastating, unpredictable, extreme and historic because of climate change and provide a glimpse of even worse things to come if we continue our current way of doing things.

How fossil fuels and the NRA prevent us from using teachable moments on climate change

These events provide powerful images of what climate change really means and a narrative that communicators can use to explain how climate change is already having an impact on ordinary people, where they work and live today. Just as with iconic climate change symbols like the polar bear and the hockey stick, that power makes such events dangerous – dangerous to those banking on public apathy to ensure a policy of continued inaction.

That is why climate change deniers wage their fiercest attacks when it comes to linkages between climate change and extreme weather. Climate scientists are vilified and mocked when they even suggest the possibility, for example, that Superstorm Sandy’s impacts were made worse by climate change (despite the growing body of solid scientific evidence that they were). To use Sandy to talk about climate change was to “exploit a tragedy,” just as they said two months later that talking about gun control in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy, where more than twenty school children lost their lives at the hands of a single unhinged gunman with access to semiautomatic weapons, was “exploiting a tragedy”. Let us give a name to this cynical gambit: “Sandy Silencing.”


About the Author

Dr. Michael E. Mann is Distinguished Professor of Atmospheric Science at Penn State, with joint appointments in the Department of Geosciences and the Earth and Environmental Systems Institute (EESI). He is also director of the Penn State Earth System Science Center (ESSC). Dr. 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.