African lions on the hunt prowl the edge of a herd, single out one buffalo, then hunt as a pack to separate the individual from the herd and bring it down. In The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars, Michael E. Mann notes that critics of climate science often use the same tactic, which he dubs ‘The Serengeti Strategy.’
Thousands of climate scientists work in fields as diverse as meteorology, atmospheric physics, oceanography, geobiology, cryospherics, paleoclimatology, geology, and more. It’s impossible to attack the whole herd—there are too many and they are too strong—so opponents have focused on a handful of vocal scientists and thrown everything at them.
These virulent attacks had a chilling effect, and made many other climate scientists keep their heads down. But this is changing. Once exposed to the light of day, the tactic loses its bite.
Recent media coverage (too little but that’s another story) about the recent heatwaves, wildfires and storms in the US has raised questions about climate change, and a variety of climate scientists have made informed comment. It has been heartening to see many ‘new faces’ in the mainstream media alongside the familiar wise heads.
Here are a few new and old faces that I have noticed in the past week.
- NBC: Washington’s Chief Meteorologist, Doug Kammerer.
- PBS: Kevin Trenberth, senior scientist with the National Center for Atmospheric Research.
- USA Today: Princeton climate scientist Ngar-Cheung Lau.
- LA Times: Glen MacDonald, the director of the UCLA Institute of Environment and Sustainability; Paul Bunje, the director of UCLA’s Center for Climate Change Solutions.
- Washington Post: Max A. Moritz, fire specialist at the University of California Cooperative Extension; Bob Henson, meteorologist and science writer at the National Center for Atmospheric Research; John Nielsen-Gammon, Texas State Climatologist.
- Yahoo: Jake Crouch, climate scientist with National Climatic Data Center; Greg Carbin, National Weather Service meteorologist; Jeff Weber, a scientist with the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research in Boulder.
One way to defeat the Serengeti Strategy is to quote multiple climate scientists, instead of focusing on a few. The Guardian recently did this in spades when they quoted the following climate scientists.
- Harold Brooks, a research meteorologist at the National Severe Storm Laboratory in Oklahoma; Kerry Emanuel, professor of atmospheric science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Dr Peter Stott, head of climate monitoring and attribution, at the Met Office Hadley Centre; Professor Michael Mann, director of the Earth System Science Center at the Penn State Department of Meteorology; Dr Clare Goodess, senior researcher at the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit; Dr Doug Smith, who leads decadal climate prediction research and development at the Met Office Hadley Centre; Michael Oppenheimer, professor of geosciences and international affairs at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School and Department of Geosciences; Harold Brooks, head of the mesoscale applications group at Noaa’s National Severe Storms Laboratory; Michael F. Wehner, staff scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
Associated Press/Time did it too, quoting:
- Jonathan Overpeck, professor of geosciences and atmospheric sciences at the University of Arizona; Kevin Trenberth, head of climate analysis at the National Center for Atmospheric Research; Chris Field of the Carnegie Institution and Stanford University; Princeton University geosciences and international affairs professor Michael Oppenheimer; Harold Brooks of the National Severe Storm Laboratory; Jerry Meehl, a climate extreme expert at the National Center for Atmospheric Research; NOAA Climate Monitoring chief Derek Arndt; and University of Montana ecosystems professor Steven Running.
In the Washington Post, Eugene Robinson counteracted the Serengeti Strategy by referring to institutions, not individuals. He draws on NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The Climate Science Rapid Response Team has played an important role in countering the Serengeti Strategy by offering a ‘matchmaking’ service that helps journalists quickly find relevant specialists who can to answer questions and give informed interviews. This initiative puts journalists, politicians and citizens in touch with hundreds of credible scientists with deep knowledge of every aspect of climate science who can give timely responses.
Now that the tactic of attacking selected individuals is better known, scientists and the media can counter it. This helps to protect individual scientists and their families, and provides opportunities for many more scientists to speak out, with less fear of being deluged with hate mail and threats.
UPDATE 7-9-12: In real life, it turns out that ‘Serengeti Strategy’ often fails—even for actual lions—when their prey works together and goes on offense. In “When the Hunters Become the Hunted: The Amazing Moment When a Herd of Buffalo Turns the Tables on a Pursuing Pride of Lions ,” Daily Mail author captured what actually took place lions, just minutes after the above photo was taken:
“. . . When the first lion went in for the kill, the buffalo weren’t frightened – I think they realised it was only a young lion, and they weren’t scared at all.
The next thing I knew, the whole herd turned round and started charging towards the lions. They had no choice but to turn round and run away – I think the young lions must have gone hungry that night.”
If large enough numbers of mainstream climate scientists speak up, can they similarly turn the tables on their attackers? ‘Serengeti Strategy,’ sayonara? Stay tuned.
Author: Gillian King, Thisness of a That.