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Congressional climate panel featuring Penn State prof could be ‘high theater’

As President Trump moved to dismantle climate-change rules Tuesday, another lesser-known political battle was waiting in the wings: a Penn State professor's testimony before a House committee chaired by a congressman firmly opposed to the scientist's work.

Michael Mann, a professor of atmospheric science, is expected to testify Wednesday that climate change is real and that its chief cause is human activity.

But he'll be speaking before Texas Republican Lamar Smith, chairman of the Committee on Science, Space and Technology. Smith is a fervent believer that climate change is a politically motivated manipulation of facts.

Mann was on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, an international panel of scientists assessing climate, and is widely viewed as a leader in the field. He's also become a lightning rod and says he's received death threats.

Smith has lined up three other speakers -- academics and scientists who either doubt the methods used by people such as Mann to prove the climate is changing, or doubt that it is caused by human activity, including the burning of fossil fuels.

One of the speakers, Judith Curry, a recently retired professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology, relished in her blog this week the thought of lining up against Mann.

"It is the first time I will be on the same panel as Michael Mann," she wrote. "This should be high theater for climate geeks. Get your popcorn ready."

John Christy, a professor at the University of Alabama and that state's climatologist, is also scheduled as a witness. In the past, he has testified before Congress against the mainstream scientific community's view on climate.

Also scheduled is Roger Pielke Jr., a professor of environmental studies at the University of Colorado. Pielke has written that he believes climate change is real and human activity has an impact. But he says there's little evidence that weather has gotten more extreme. In fact, he believes current weather patterns are not extreme.

Mann says he believes it's important for him to testify, regardless of the panel's composition, because "the stakes here couldn't be any greater." Mann has been the target of a professor watch list and has been under fire previously by some on the right.

"I doubt that Lamar Smith can be convinced to accept the basic facts. His leading funders are the fossil-fuel industry," Mann wrote in an email. "As Upton Sinclair once famously said, 'It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.'

"My message -- that the science is clear that climate [change] is real, human-caused, and a problem -- is aimed at reasonable folks looking on. I think it will become clear over the course of this hearing, who stands for science, and who stands for obfuscation."