As a young girl bounded up the steps in front of him, noted climate scientist Michael Mann paused in his presentation on global warming at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

Before the girl entered the auditorium Saturday evening, Mann had been talking about penguins and polar bears.

“By making polar bears and penguins the poster child for climate change, we have wrongly conveyed that this is some exotic problem far off,” he was saying. And as he watched the girl climb to her seat near the back, he shifted gears.

“The best reason is walking up the steps right now,” he said.

Mann, who was in Omaha to speak on behalf of a fossil fuel divestiture motion at Saturday’s Berkshire Hathaway shareholders meeting, gave a free public lecture at UNO as a guest of Nebraskans for Peace, UNO and the Sierra Club.

(The fossil fuel divestiture motion had been brought by Nebraskans for Peace, which owns Berkshire stock. The motion failed.)

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which has been analyzing global science on climate change since about 1990, has concluded that there’s a 95 percent chance that humans are responsible for most of the warming that has occurred for about 70 years.

“We are about as certain of humans’ role in climate change as we are about anything,” said Mann, a professor of atmospheric science and director of the Penn State Earth System Science Center.

If anything, Mann said, the remaining uncertainties about the pace and scale of climate change bode poorly for the future.

Mann said the fingerprint of climate change already can be found in extreme weather, including the recent unusually warm February, the western wildfires and eastern U.S. flooding.

Climate scientists like Mann have been urging quick action to reduce carbon dioxide emissions because the window for effective solutions can be measured in years, not decades, they say. Absent action, he and others say, future generations face greater sacrifices in slowing emissions and adapting to a warmer, wetter world.

Mann said he remains optimistic because renewable energy has matured to the point where it can be a solution.

“Something better and cheaper has come along,” he said. “The era of fossil fuels is over. The rest of the world is moving on. At this point, the only decision is whether we get on board, or whether we get left behind.”

Nancy Gaarder helps cover public safety and weather events as an editor on The World-Herald's breaking news desk. Follow her on Twitter @gaarder. Phone: 402-444-1102.

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