MARYVILLE, Mo. — Ask America’s leading climate scientist what he thinks of his life’s work turning into a political football, and he cannot help but smile and shake his head.

Dr. Michael Mann — famous for his “hockey stick” graph that started much of the debate on global warming — spoke to students and staff Wednesday at Northwest Missouri State University.

Before he took the stage, Dr. Mann shared his thoughts on Newt Gingrich’s recent call for the resignation of Secretary of State John Kerry after Mr. Kerry referred to climate change as one of the most important issues the current generation faces.

“It wasn’t that many years ago (Mr. Gingrich) was sitting on a couch with Nancy Pelosi making a commercial that said climate change shouldn’t be a political issue,” Dr. Mann said. “Now he’s asking John Kerry to resign.”

Dr. Mann, a climate scientist and professor at Penn State University, has written more than 160 peer-reviewed publications, two books, and contributed to the Intergovernmental Panel On Climate Change, which won the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize along with Al Gore.

That body of work has turned Dr. Mann into “a reluctant and accidental public figure” who often lands at the center of debates over climate change. He used much of his one-hour lecture to illustrate the science of global warming with graphs, numbers and examples of how skeptics have tried to discredit the data.

In spite of the mountains of evidence Dr. Mann cited to support the statement that the world has warmed dramatically, he maintains an optimistic outlook that a global crisis can be averted.

For example, China’s rapid industrialization has led the country to open a new coal power plant every five days. However, China also outpaces the United States in investment in alternative energy technologies like solar and wind power. If American politicians aim for lower carbon emissions, the United States’ status as a global leader could guide emerging nations such as China down the clean energy path instead of one based in fossil fuels.

“We have contributed more to this problem than any other country, and the irony is that the biggest threat is other countries following our path of 200 years of burning fossil fuel,” Dr. Mann said. “We have to set an example for China to follow that better path.”

Clinton Thomas can be reached

at clinton.thomas@newspressnow.com.

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