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Michael Mann delivers a presentation titled "Climate Change and Extreme Summer Weather Events" during Climate Week at Penn on Sept. 24, 2021. Credit: Kylie Cooper

Environmental scientist Michael Mann has been appointed as a presidential distinguished professor in the Department of Earth and Environmental Science at Penn. Mann will also serve as the first director of Penn’s new Center for Science, Sustainability, and the Media.

Currently serving as Penn State University's distinguished professor of Atmospheric Science and director of their Earth System Science Center, Mann will join Penn's faculty on Sept. 1. He is the first appointment made for the recently announced Energy and Sustainability Initiative, which will provide resources to 10 new faculty members working in climate research.

"As I learned more about what's going on at Penn, and all the support there is for making climate and sustainability a central organizing principle at the University, it was just too exciting an opportunity to resist," Mann told The Daily Pennsylvanian. 

Mann’s scholarship analyzes climate change, climate education, and environmental policy. His work with the “hockey stick” graph — which shows temperature changes over the past millennium — was foundational to demonstrating the human impacts on climate change. Mann was also among the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change authors who contributed to the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize award

Mann said he aims to educate the general public about climate change, which he called the "defining challenge of our time."

His most recent book, “The New Climate War: The Fight to Take Back Our Planet," examined the impacts of fossil fuel companies on social attitudes towards climate change. He also co-founded the website RealClimate, which educates the general public on complex climate science.

Mann said the new Center for Science, Sustainability, and the Media will focus on the nexus between climate science and media journalism. While many people leading efforts in this intersection have been journalists involved in the scientific community, Mann said, his background is different.

"I come at it from a very different perspective," Mann said. "[I am] a scientist who found myself immersed in the public sphere and, initially, [was] almost reluctantly forced to leave the laboratory for the public space to defend my work and the work of climate scientists against the attacks that we've experienced for decades."

Mann will also hold a secondary appointment at the Annenberg School for Communication and serve as a faculty fellow at Perry World House, the Kleinman Center for Energy Policy, and the Annenberg Public Policy Center.

Faculty Director of the Kleinman Center Mark Hughes said he looks forward to collaboration with Mann. An idea for Mann's role, he said, could be to host an annual conference, bringing together people from across the country to establish what the most pressing issue in climate will be for the year.

"He really does have this commanding perspective that allows him to see important connections across the disciplines and into the world of decision-making and policymaking," Hughes said.

Mann visited campus in 2014 for the Penn Humanities Forum where he discussed society’s intergenerational responsibility to act on climate change. He said that what ultimately "sealed the deal" in his decision to come to Penn was visiting during the second annual Climate Week in the fall.

“It was clear to me that there was a lot of energy and a lot of excitement from the bottom up, which is really important," he said. "Because sometimes, the students have to bring along the administration and the faculty. I like to think it's going to be a collaborative effort."