Burning Down the House

It’s sadly ironic that as worldwide temperatures continue to rise, mainstream-media coverage of the most pressing issue of our time–human-caused climate change–continues to fall. Fortunately, documentary filmmakers and writers have stepped up to do the job that so much of the Fourth Estate won’t on climate.

Speaking of writers combating carbon pollution, 2014 produced the iconic Naomi Klein book This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate, while 2015 gave us the equally excellent Wen Stephenson work What We’re Fighting for Now Is Each Other: Dispatches from the Front Lines of Climate Justice. Now, 2016 has brought us the next great book on the climate crisis. The Madhouse Effect: How Climate Change Denial Is Threatening Our Planet, Destroying Our Politics, and Driving Us Crazy, by climate scientist Michael E. Mann and Washington Post cartoonist Tom Toles, is the book Donald Trump does not want you to read, and one that his most fervent supporters aren’t literate enough to read, which is why you must read it.

The Madhouse Effect is something of a sequel to Mann’s outstanding 2012 book The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches from the Front Lines, which chronicled the fossil-fuel industry’s desperate effort to discredit him after he demonstrated the extent to which the industry’s carbon pollution was responsible for the rise in global temperatures. Mann and Toles are justifiably disgusted by the industry’s continued efforts to distort climate science, and this book serves as an extremely effective pushback against the prevarications of the petroleum profiteers.

The Madhouse Effect recounts the basic science of human-caused climate change, analyzes the multiple risks posed to humanity by unrestrained carbon pollution, debunks the tired and dishonest arguments forever trotted out by opponents of climate action, and reviews the long and sordid history of industry-funded attacks on inconvenient scientific findings. Mann and Toles also remind readers that polluters weren’t always able to recruit Republicans to their cause:

Yes, Republican presidents Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush all supported regulatory solutions to emerging global environmental problems despite considerable pushback from industrial special interests. Bush introduced our country to cap and trade, a market-driven approach to reducing pollution that is roundly derided by present-day Republicans. The simple fact is that environmental protection wasn’t always the partisan political issue that it has become.

Mann and Toles list the major players in the climate-denial industry–a veritable basket of deplorables, if you will–forcefully condemning them for their hypocrisy and dishonesty. With equally appropriate force, they denounce the mainstream media for failing to report accurately and comprehensively on climate change and succeeding in providing a forum to climate disinformers. (Later in the book, Mann and Toles praise former Vice President Al Gore, who “continues to raise climate awareness through his Climate Reality venture and other activities”; it’s unfortunate that one of those “other activities” was not the production of a prime-time program specifically focused on climate change and climate solutions on Current TV prior to Gore’s decision to sell the now-defunct cable channel in 2013.)

With regard to climate solutions in the United States, Mann and Toles strongly back President Obama’s Clean Power Plan, as well as state-level actions to curb carbon pollution in the face of continued Congressional intransigence:

[S]tates representing 28 percent of the U.S. population have already signed on to the pricing of carbon emissions. It is easy to imagine that number growing. With action now taking place at both the largest (national) and the smallest (city, state, and regional) scales, it will become irrelevant at some point whether Congress can get its act together or not.

The authors also praise the Paris climate agreement, and express hope that the partisan divide that has blocked the United States from leading the world in moving expeditiously away from fossil fuels may be showing signs of fading. The book concludes with a passionate call for citizen engagement on climate, a call that readers of this book will immediately respond to.

The Madhouse Effect should be mandatory reading for the next President–assuming, of course, that the next President doesn’t want to turn the White House into a madhouse.

UPDATE: More from Mann and Toles.

D.R. Tucker

D. R. Tucker is a Massachusetts-based journalist who has served as the weekend contributor for the Washington Monthly since May 2014. He has also written for the Huffington Post, the Washington Spectator, the Metrowest Daily News, investigative journalist Brad Friedman's Brad Blog and environmental journalist Peter Sinclair's Climate Crocks.