This is a book every American should read, and read now. The Madhouse Effect: How Climate Change Denial is Threatening Our Planet, Destroying Our Politics, and Driving Us Crazy sports a "Global Warming Meets Edvard Munch" cover, but that shouldn't be taken as a lack of seriousness. The book's authors - award-winning climate scientist Michael Mann and Pulitzer Prize-winning political cartoonist Tom Toles - have attempted to bring both climate science and climate denial to the forefront. Using Toles's creative genius and Mann's scientific depth, and more than a smidgen of subtle humor, the two have succeeded masterfully.
This short book is a quick read
and written in a style that is accessible to everyone. In short, it's
the book I planned to write but never got around to. The eight chapters
are easy to breeze through, but when you reach the end you realize
you've learned a lot more than you anticipated.
It begins with a
chapter on how science works, a topic that it appears most of the public
hasn't yet grasped. It's also an introduction of sorts to how lobbyists
and hired guns intentionally distort the science (but more on that
later). Mann and Toles note that science is unique in that it is
"self-correcting" by its very nature. Scientists publish their research,
and other scientists challenge it. If someone got something wrong, the
process is designed to find that out and correct the misconception. The
chapter also clarifies the idea of skepticism. Scientists are inherently
skeptical; it's what makes us tick. But most of the people who claim to
be skeptical when they deny the science aren't skeptical at all.
The second chapter provides some of the basics of climate science. The first paragraph puts it all in context:
basics of climate science are actually very simple and always have
been. Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere traps heat, and we are adding
more CO2 to the atmosphere. The rest is details."
They then go on
to explain in general terms the "Physics and Chemistry 101" of climate
change, plus some of the effects such as more extremes, rising sea
levels, warmer atmosphere, ocean acidification, and melting ice. The
chapter ends with a discussion of tipping points, an area of both great
uncertainty and grave ramification.
Chapter 3 is perhaps the most
important chapter: "Why Should I give a Damn?" In it they discuss the effects of climate change on national security, food production, water
supplies, energy resources, land use, human health, and ecosystem
disruptions. If none of that concerns you, how about the massive
negative effect on the economy resulting from not doing anything? In
short, you better give a damn because this is your life being impacted,
and your children's and grandchildren's lives.
The next three
chapters address the actions of climate deniers. Chapter 4 outlines the
six stages of denial; Chapter 5 the war on climate science (here are
those lobbyists and hired gun men mentioned earlier); Chapter 6 on the
hypocrisy of climate denial. These are important chapters for anyone who
believes Fox News and the conspiracy/white supremacy blog Breitbart are
somehow "science" while NOAA, NASA, IPCC, and WMO are "in it for the
Chapter 7 hits on geoengineering, the idea that somehow
we can find some technological fix. In short, it's akin to trying to
find ways of keeping a bathtub from overflowing by throwing in toasters
or blasting the rising water with a propane torch in an effort to
evaporate it. These ideas are likely to 1) not work, and 2) have
unintended consequences. Of course, the alternative is to turn off the
tap and pull the plug. Duh.
The book ends on a more hopeful tone,
as Chapter 8 delves into a path forward. What may come as a surprise to
many folks is that we've already been working to reduce carbon
emissions and shift from fossil fuels to renewable sources of energy.
The world, through the leadership of the Obama administration, has taken
significant steps toward righting the ship. More needs to occur.
the book are the cartoons of Tom Toles. Toles has an exceptional knack
for taking the key points and boiling them down into an easily
understood comic drawing. The cartoons heighten the value of the book
tremendously. And don't miss the teeny toons in the bottom right corner
of every cartoon; they too exquisitely capture the important moments.
book is especially important given that the apparent incoming
administration (this review was published on 12/15/16, a month or so
after the 2016 election) has said it will make Rex Tillerson, CEO of
ExxonMobil and a long-time funder of climate denial front groups, as the
next Secretary of State.
So read this book. It reads fast. It
provides excellent information. And it is necessary for all Americans to
understand what we are up against.
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