There is a built-in problem with books like The Madhouse Effect by Michael E. Mann and Tom Toles. The people who need to read this book won’t and the people who do read the book, don’t really need it. If you want to know what an utter failure the American media is, consider that only 27% of Americans believe that human activity is the main cause of climate change. Essentially 3 out of 4 Americans believe absolute bunkum about the most important issue, one that determines what kind of future our children, grandchildren and great-grandchild will have or whether they have a future at all.
Michael E. Mann explains the basics of climate change, a scientific theory explaining the facts on the ground. As with evolution, people who are not scientists think theory means uncertainty, but in science, once something is called a theory, it’s as near certainty as anything in science can be. Remember, in science, gravity is a theory. In fact, there are scientists who argue that gravity does not exist and with more evidence than those who argue against man-made climate change. Mann emphasizes that science is self-correcting and that is constantly challenged and picked apart by other scientists.
The Madhouse Effect is an overview of the problem, not just the climate change problem of future flooding, droughts, famines and severe storms, but the political problem created by merchants of doubt, disgraceful and deplorable scientists who sell their “research” to corporate campaigns on behalf of tobacco, toxic chemicals and fossil fuels. Their ethical and scientific rigor is exemplified by their willingness to shill for any market without regard to field of study or expertise. That the same scientist will assure that second hand smoke won’t harm you, that DDT is perfectly safe, acid rain does not exist and global warming is good for you, gives you a helpful clue to that scientist’s knowledge and integrity. Mann chronicles the careers of several of these people who have mortgaged their children’s futures for a buck. Sadly, it’s not just their children who will pay the price.
Perhaps the most usual chapter for people concerned about climate change and the public ignorance and inertia around the issue is Chapter 3, “Why Should I Give a Damn” that explains the damage, the danger and the cost of continued inaction. One of the reason so many in the public choose to disbelieve climate change is because they fear the cost is too high, that their industry might be affected. It’s true that a financial investment in believing something makes it easier to believe it, but people are wrong about the cost. They think it costs too much to invest in alternative energies, but they are not counting the cost of doing nothing. Costs like the $8 billion in additional damage from SuperStorm Sandy or the drought in Texas or the years-long super drought in California. Then there is Syria, an ongoing humanitarian crisis and terrorist threat precipitated by drought, by climate change.
The mouthpieces for climate denial pretend they are concerned about consumer costs, insisting alternative energy will cost so much more. But then they lobby for passage of laws that add a $50/month surcharge to the electric bills of people with solar energy panels. That’s how concerned they are about consumer costs. Mann does a good job providing an overview of the many organizations that destroy our future while pretending to care about our present.
For those of us who are actively concerned about the certainty of global climate change, we know it is happening, we know that lying liars are lying about it and that the media is failing in its obligation to present factual, honest news to the public. Unfortunately, while 70% of Americans believe climate change is happening, only 27% of them believe human activity is the main cause of climate change. This number is not representative of the science on climate change. It is reflective of the efficacy of propaganda. It reflects the efficacy of investing in fake think tanks and phony research institutes. It also reflects the efficacy of what Eric Alderman calls “working the refs”, the constant complaining and attacking of good journalism by insisting that facts be balanced by propaganda. There is no excuse for any reputable news organization to give any air time to climate change deniers, but they are given equal time even though they represent fraudulent “research institutes” and dishonest science. If there were a serious challenge to climate change theory, it would be published widely. It’s indicative of the quality of climate science denialism that they will distribute fake research formatted to suggest publication in reputable journals.
Imagine if the blacksmith and horse and buggy industries had a propaganda machine as effective as that of the fossil fuel industry. If they had been able to forestall the auto industry for decades through lying spokespeople, a compliant and feckless media and corrupt politicians. Think of the economic costs, the jobs, the inventions, the progress they would have prevented. (They might have avoided some of the damage from CO², but they had no way of knowing that.) When the merchants of doubt make economic arguments against doing what we need to do to protect our planet and future generations, I think how short-sighted they are, unable to imagine the many industries and innovations that a shift toward sustainable and renewable energy would bring. These people are not just just anti-science, they are anti-innovation, anti-creativity, and anti-progress. They want to doom us to the status quo for fear they will make less money in a better future.
I was excited to read this book and certainly think there is a real need for evangelizing on behalf of science-centric public policy on climate change. We have all these politicians who say “I’m not a scientist…”, so many the phrase has its own wikipedia entry. They end that sentence incorrectly. The right ending would be, “I will defer to the recommendations of the scientific consensus.” They should try it, half the climate scientists in the world might keel over in shock. I wish the book had more ammunition to refute the deniers, though Mann suggests people move on and not bother arguing with folks that deny the science. That’s hard to do when three out of four Americans deny the science, though. They must be persuaded somehow and we clearly cannot count on the media to stop its malpractice. All the trends in the media suggest it will only get worse as newsrooms are decimated and reporters are forced to write multiple stories per day optimized for search engines and social media viral transmission.
Tom Toles’ cartoons are a delight, bring a bit of humor to the book and providing a visual expression of the ludicrous idiocy that is climate change denial. I am glad the book ends with the good news, the things we can do, because reality is very depressing. Our greatest hope lies in other countries with better journalism and better politicians. The Republican Party in the United States is the only political party in the world that denies climate science and Americans are the only entire country willfully choosing to deny science. We have to count on the rest of the world to save us, we won’t be saving ourselves.
The Madhouse Effect will be published on October 4th. I received an e-galley from the publisher through NetGalley