Reviewed 10/13/2016

The Madhouse Effect, by Mann & Toles

How Climate Change Denial is Threatening our Planet, Dstroying our Politics, and Driving us Crazy
Michael E. Mann
Tom Toles
New York: Columbia University Press, September 2016




ISBN-13 978-0-231-17786-3
ISBN-10 0-231-17786-0 186pp. HC/GSI $24.95

If you've been following the disputacious development of climate science over the past decade or so, you won't learn anything new from this book. It will, however, affirm the fact that the Denialists1 have not yet won.2

It first explains how science works (hint: not like the Denialists claim it works.) Then it gives an overview of the climate science basics.

Chapter 3 asks, rhetorically, "Why should I give a damn?" The reason you should give a damn can be expressed in two words: food security. Climate change will make growing crops harder in many regions where they now grow well, bringing hunger and subsequent migrations as the planet's expanding populations try to stay alive. It is the most cogent chapter in the book.

Chapters 4 and 5 name the most influential Denialists in the U.S. and describe their activities. A good number of them have been sowing confusion about crisis after crisis, which tends to suggest that — far from being the public-spirited truth-tellers they pretend to be — they have ulterior motives. See the sidebar.

The authors then turn to geoengineering, telling in concise terms the pitfalls of the major techniques that have been proposed as emergency measures in case conditions on Earth get really bad. Let me summarize: reducing greenhouse gas emissions is both cheaper and less risky than any of these techniques. The table provides a bit more detail.

Mirrors in space
  • Estimated cost: $350 Trillion
Sulfate aerosols
  • Requires constant replenishment
  • Sulfur falls to surface, causing acid rain
  • Does not deal with ocean acidification
  • Reduces rainfall over land
  • Cooling uneven over Earth's surface
  • Who gets to set the temperature goal?
Iron fertilization of oceans
  • No long-term removal of carbon
  • May favor harmful algae blooms
Sucking CO2 out of atmosphere
  • Estimated cost: $500 per ton of CO2 removed
  • Where/how to store the captured CO2?

Suffice it to say that reducing CO2 emissions by phasing over to renewable energy is far less expensive than any of these methods — and we know it will work. A pioneer of our electrical distribution grid put it this way a long time ago:

"I'd put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we don't have to wait until oil and coal run out before we tackle that."

– Thomas Alva Edison, page 147

Finally, a status report briefly describes what progress has been made so far, and lays out things we can do to keep that momentum building.

As I began the book, I felt the reading level of the text should have been lower, considering the audience it needs to reach. But if that is a problem, it is only in places. The most of the book seemed fine, and I would especially recommend chapters 3, 7 & 8. There are very few errors. The cartoons by Tom Toles greatly enhance the impact, and the use of the song at the beginning of Chapter 7 is inspired. Endnotes and an index are provided. This is not the book to look for if you want a thorough treatment of climate science or energy policy options. But you will not find a better discussion of the essentials of the problem that faces us.

1 Once again I point out the difference between deniers and Denialists: in this context, deniers are those who refuse to accept the reality of human-caused climate change, while Denialists have a vested interest in refusing (or appearing to refuse) and make a concerted effort to convince others to refuse as well.
2 For "won," read: screwed things up beyond our ability to repair.
3 The only prominent female Denialist I know of in the U.S. is Judith Curry. Australia has Jennifer Marohasy and Joanne Nova; in Canada, Donna LaFramboise is a sometime critic of the IPCC.
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