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The Madhouse Effect, a review

Posted on 9 September 2016 by Andy Skuce

This is a re-post from Critical Angle

Climate scientist Michael Mann has teamed up with cartoonist Tom Toles to write TheMadhouse Effect: How Climate Change Is Threatening Our Planet, Destroying Our Politics and Driving Us Crazy. It’s an excellent book, well-written, authoritative on the science, revealing on the politics and laced with the wit of many superb cartoons. Buy a copy for the climate science doubter in your family. They will be drawn in by the cartoons and may well be unable to resist dipping in to the text.


Michael Mann has previously written The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches from the Front Lines, about how he was hounded for writing a paper that featured the striking hockey-stick graph. He also authored Dire Predictions: Understanding Climate Change with scientist Lee Kump. At the same time that he turns out first-class books, Mann is a prolific research scientist and has an active presence on social media. You can only wonder how he does it all.

Tom Toles is a Pullitzer-Prize winning cartoonist who works for the Washington Post. His main focus is politics, but his cartoons have often featured climate science and the absurd lengths that many American politicians go to in avoiding the facing up to the reality of global change.

Writing about scientific subjects like climate change for the non-specialist is not easy and authors have to walk a fine line. Many readers expect scientists to be detached about the implications of their work, but that would make their message less engaging, less human. The science needs to be explained in ways that the average person can understand, but oversimplification can gloss over some of the important complications. And treatments of the topic can so so easily be depressing and dull. The Mann/Toles team have succeeded in bringing their talents together to overcome these problems. The writing is excellent  and the cartoons add a much-needed satirical perspective.

tipping point

One small shortcoming of the book, at least for non-American readers, is the focus on US politics.  But, then again, the leadership of the US—the world’s largest economy and second-largest emitter—is indispensable when it comes to solving the climate crisis. Anyone who cares about the future of the planet has to pay close attention to the goings-on in the madhouse that has become the home of much of the US political right. Non-Americans can only watch what is going on there in fascinated and impotent horror. At least US citizens get to vote.

Despite all of the political lunacy and the dire consequences that will unfold if we don’t take action, Mann and Toles offer an informative, entertaining and, crucially, hopeful review of the science, politics and solutions to the climate crisis. There are signs that the politics of denial have reached a tipping point—reality is finally asserting itself against wishful thinking. All of the world’s nations took a vital first step in Paris in December 2015. Costs of key technologies like solar and wind power, energy storage and electrical vehicles are falling and show no signs of levelling off. There’s no reason to despair. Besides, that never was an option.

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Comments 1 to 6:

  1. Here is what I posted about "The Madhouse Effect" on Amazon:

    Get mad with a good laugh!

    An accomplished climate scientist - Dr. Michael Mann - and a likewise accomplished cartoonist - Tom Toles - teamed-up and wrote a book about human-caused climate change. But, this is not your "run-of-the-mill" climate science book! Instead, it comes with a twist as its title "The Madhouse effect - How Climate Change Denial is Threatening Our Planet, Destroying Our Politics,and Driving Us Crazy" and cover picture make clear.

    Even though the very real greenhouse effect - and why there's really no doubt that we are greatly enhancing it - get explained in some details, it also shows why one can be forgiven to think more in terms of a "Madhouse effect". Some reactions to the scientific findings can after all only be described as "mad" as they defy both logic and scientific evidence. Mann and Toles include many examples how politicians in the US go on witch-hunts and stage mock "scientific" congressional hearings with the sole purpose to discredit scientists and their findings. Michael Mann's unfortunate first-hand experience with this provides lots of material right from the source and as a reader one can only wonder how politicians doing stuff like this can get away with it easily and more than once. If this weren't happening in a "madhouse" of sorts, they should be investigated for abusing their power and for derelection of duty, shouldn't they?

    Once you start thinking about the implications, some of the book's content can make you quite mad and justifiably so. But the authors also present an escape hatch from the madhouse in the last chapter where they summarise some already available solutions and entice readers to get involved. Toles' to the point cartoons liberally sprinkled throughout the book add some much needed comic relief, overall ensuring a very engaging read.

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  2. Regarding "Mann's unfortunate first hand experience" - I actually preordered the book from the organisation which was initially founded to help defend Dr. Mann (here's the article), namely the Climate Science Legal Defense Fund (CSLDF). (A signed copy is available, too).

    I'm indebted to them myself when I was dealing with oil/gas industry threats over publizing a presentation by Dr. Kevin Trenberth. They gave me sound legal advice.

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  3. talk about a madhouse! i am a narcissist. i consume resources and create pollution to enable my non-negotiable lifestyle! this behavior supports drilling, fracking, fossil fuel transportation by rail, truck or pipeline (including on native lands)... and agw.

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  4. We need more of this. Not only for the comic relief. Jokes are often more effective than dry fact based communication. Very Serious Persons dont like to look silly.

    (Me I got convinced of the seriousness of the threat 20y ago when I met an atmospheric scientist on a bus: I made a denialist joke, but he didnt find it funny. Instead his jaw dropped. Within a fraction of a second the expression on his face told me, this is dead serious stuff.)

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  5. Martin @4: That is an interesting anecdote. Were you onboard with the joke you made, or were you actually just uninformed at the time, trying to make conversation?

    If this had happened to me (atmospheric scientist) back then, I would have tried to "convince" you as well; if it happened to me today, in the US, I would shut up and maybe try to move away from this (joking) person.

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  6. Martin, I agree with Gws @5.

    There is a vast number of things you can make a joke about.  Even "gallows humour" jokes about Death/Taxes.

    But jokingly denying Global Warming is uncomfortably close to denying wife-beating or denying genocide.  It's poor taste.  Just don't go there, unless you're a very very very clever humorist !

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