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By Andy Rowell
Earlier this month, we collectively walked into the unknown.
We are all now a living experiment. Never before in human history have carbon dioxide levels reached 415 parts per million.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Kevin Cowtan and Stephan Lewandowsky
The record-breaking, El Niño-driven global temperatures of 2016 have given climate change deniers a new trope. Why, they ask, hasn't it since got even hotter?
In a 1965 speech to members, American Petroleum Institute president Frank Ikard outlined the findings of a report by then-president Lyndon Johnson's Science Advisory Committee, based in part on research the institute conducted in the 1950s.
A piece of legislation in South Dakota is stirring concerns that school systems may soon be allowed to teach skepticism about science in the classroom.
Advocates say SB 55, which passed the state Senate last month and goes to a House Education Committee hearing today, would allow teachers to include "strengths and weaknesses" of scientific theories, like climate change and evolution, in their lesson plans.
A similar version of this bill has been introduced in the state for the past four years, but this is the first time it has passed the Senate. Three similar bills are before state legislatures in Oklahoma, Texas and Indiana, and science groups have expressed concerns that the Trump administration could encourage a new push towards science skepticism in statehouses nationwide.
For a deeper dive:
By Reynard Loki
If the world's governments don't prevent the planet's surface temperature from increasing more than 2 C, then life on Earth will become a difficult proposition for many humans, animals and plants. Glaciers will melt, sea levels will rise, crops will fail, water availability will decrease and diseases will proliferate. Some areas will experience more wildfires and extreme heat; in others, more hurricanes and extreme storms. Coastal cities and possibly entire nations will be swallowed by the sea. There will be widespread social and economic instability, leading to regional conflicts.
Considering that the U.S. is the world's second biggest emitter behind China, accounting for 16 percent of cumulative global greenhouse gas emissions, the climate decisions President Donald Trump and the Republican-controlled Congress make will be critical for future generations. But he has shown no sign that he's remotely interested in tackling what climate scientist James Hansen calls "humanity's greatest challenge."
Contrary to the view of the international scientific community, Trump has called climate change a "con job" and a "myth." In 2012 he tweeted that "the concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive." He cited cold winter weather as evidence that global warming isn't real, tweeting during a 2014 winter blizzard, "The entire country is freezing—we desperately need a heavy dose of global warming and fast! Ice caps size reaches all time high."
So, what could America's newly elected climate-denier-in-chief do to undermine action on the climate threat? Here are five ways President Donald J. Trump could spell doom for the planet.
1. Dismantle the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Trump said would get rid of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the agency created in 1970 by President Richard Nixon that has become the nation's main federal lever for mitigating the impacts of climate change. "Environmental Protection, what they do is a disgrace," he told Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace in October of last year. "Every week they come out with new regulations. They're making it impossible."
When Wallace asked him who would protect the environment, Trump replied, "We'll be fine with the environment. … We can leave a little bit, but you can't destroy businesses." During the GOP presidential debate on March 3, he hammered the EPA again, saying he would "get rid of [EPA] in almost every form. We are going to have little tidbits left but we are going to take a tremendous amount out."
But he has since backtracked, saying in September that he'll "refocus the EPA on its core mission of ensuring clean air, and clean, safe drinking water for all Americans." Still, his more moderate tone should offer little solace for environmentalists. Last month at a roundtable in Boynton Beach, Florida, he committed to cutting EPA regulations "70 to 80 percent."
The person currently running the EPA working group on Trump's transition team—and a leading candidate to become the agency's next administrator—is Myron Ebell, the director of energy and environment policy at the conservative think tank Competitive Enterprise Institute, who the Financial Times called "one of America's most prominent climate-change skeptics." Ebell, whose work has been funded by some of the nation's worst polluters, like Murray Energy, the nation's largest coal mining company, said, "I would like to have more funding [from big coal] so that I can combat the nonsense put out by the environmental movement."
2. Reopen Shuttered Coal Mines
Among all fossil fuels, coal is the dirtiest. When it's burned, it produces more pollution than oil, gasoline and natural gas. And though we burn 8 billion tons of coal every year to fuel around 33 percent of the nation's electricity generation, the industry has been slumping in the face of low natural gas prices and sluggish growth in electricity demand.
In January, the coal industry received a major blow when Interior Secretary Sally Jewell issued a federal moratorium on the issuing of new coal mining leases on public lands across the U.S. as her department conducts a review of the program, the first in more than three decades.
The death knell of the coal industry has been good news for environmentalists and renewable energy advocates, but a Trump regime may breathe new life into coal. One of his top candidates to replace Jewell is oil industry executive Forrest Lucas, co-founder of Lucas Oil. During his victory speech after securing the GOP presidential nomination in May, Trump said, "Let me tell you, the miners in West Virginia and Pennsylvania ... they're going to start to work again, believe me. You're going to be proud again to be miners."
While it is unlikely that President Trump can completely reverse the steady decline in coal jobs, which has taken place over decades, he can instruct his Interior Secretary to end Jewell's lease moratorium. He can reverse Obama's clean air and water initiatives that the coal industry views as job killers. He can push coal subsidies through Congress in the form of direct spending, low-interest loans and loan forgiveness, tax breaks and tax exemptions, and discounted royalty fees for the right to mine on federal land.
3. Pull the U.S. Out of Paris Climate Agreement
The U.S. is the world's second largest emitter of greenhouse gases after China. The nation's pledge to the Paris climate agreement, which aims to keep the global surface temperature increase to a maximum of 2 C to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, is to avoid 22 billion tons of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions between 2016 and 2030. That amounts to about a fifth of the total of all the nations that have signed the accord.
The problem with the Paris agreement is that it is a non-binding treaty; there is no punishment for nations that don't meet their carbon reduction target. In May, when Trump outlined his energy policy in a prepared speech in Bismarck, North Dakota, he castigated "draconian" climate rules, pledging to "cancel" the Paris climate agreement and withdraw funding for climate-related United Nations programs.
What would happen if Trump pulled America out of the accord, something he could technically accomplish in several ways?
"I think the rest of the world would be less likely to take action on their own part and do their own share," said Andrew Jones, co-director of Climate Interactive, a Washington, DC-based think tank.
4. Approve the Keystone XL Pipeline
Last November, following a seven-year review, President Obama rejected the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, which would transport crude oil from the oil sands in Alberta, Canada, through Montana and into Nebraska.
In August of last year, Trump tweeted, "If I am elected President I will immediately approve the Keystone XL pipeline. No impact on environment & lots of jobs for U.S." With Trump set to enter the White House in January, the pipeline plans have been resuscitated as TransCanada, the company behind the proposed 1,179-mile pipeline, announced plans on Wednesday to meet with the president-elect's camp. "TransCanada remains fully committed to building Keystone XL," Mark Cooper, a spokesman for the company, said in a statement emailed to the Huffington Post. After conducting environmental impact review, the U.S. State Department said it was likely that the pipeline, which crosses thousands of rivers and streams, including several major rivers like the Yellowstone and Platte, would experience spills.
"I want it built, but I want a piece of the profits," Trump said in May. "That's how we're going to make our country rich again."
5. Reduce Investment in Clean Energy
Speaking in November of last year in Newton, Iowa, Trump said "wind is a problem," calling it "a very expensive form of energy." However, the fact is that in some parts of the nation, like Texas and in particular Iowa—the state that generates the highest amount of wind power as a percentage of its total energy portfolio—wind energy is cheaper than coal or gas-powered energy.
According to projections by the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the average rate for new combined cycle natural gas-fired plants (which use both a gas and a steam turbine) going online in 2018 will be around $48 per megawatt hour (MWh). The agency said that the 2018 unsubsidized rate for onshore wind farms will be $51.9/MWh, but with subsidies, that rate drops to $34/MW—cheaper than gas.
Speaking in Fresno in May, Trump said, "I know a lot about solar. I love solar," but added that there are "a lot of problems with it. One problem is it's too expensive."
He's right on that front, as solar power is pricier than wind, with the U.S. Energy Information Administration projecting the cost for solar in 2018 at $71/MWh without subsidies and $53.5/MWh with subsidies. But abandoning solar installations today will stifle the downward trend in cost: Since 2011, the price of a solar panel has declined an impressive 60 percent.
Today, around 209,000 American workers fill solar-related jobs in more than 8,000 companies. That's more than double the number of solar workers in 2010. By 2020, the number of solar workers is expected to more than double, with 420,000 Americans employed in the industry. Government subsidies in solar, which was around $24 billion from 2014 to 2018, helped lower costs by at least 10 percent a year.
Together, wind and solar generate less than 5 percent of America's electricity. But renewable energy advocates argue that we have the technology to move the nation to 100 percent clean energy in the coming decades. "For the first time in human history, we're actually at a place, technologically speaking, where we can make this transition," actor/activist Mark Ruffalo told Mother Jones in 2014.
But Trump has signaled the opposite: investing more in fossil fuels and less in renewable energy. The biggest wind power tax credit has already expired, while the most important solar power tax credit is set to expire at the end of this year. Trump is unlikely to renew them.
Is There Any Hope?
Could President Trump surprise freaked-out environmentalists and be green? If we've learned anything this election season, it's not to be surprised by anything Trump says. On the campaign trail, has has shown he can change his views, for better or worse, or at least be fluid with them—when it suits his purpose.
In May, for example, Politico reported that the billionaire's application for permission to erect coastal protection at his seaside golf resort, Trump International Golf Links & Hotel Ireland, in County Clare, explicitly cited the consequences of global warming as the main justification for building the sea wall. The zoning application noted that the wall was necessary to protect the course from "global warming and its effects." And during the first presidential debate in September, Trump denied ever saying that climate change was a Chinese hoax (though his tweet saying that is still on his Twitter feed).
The fact remains that executive power is balanced by Congress and the Supreme Court. "Trump would find himself hemmed in by the built-in limitations on presidential power. One of these is Congress," said John Sides, an associate professor of public policy at George Washington University. "There are others—including divided government, bureaucratic inertia and public opinion. He would be no different than any other president in this respect."
Looking past the next four years, there is some promise: Young voters between the ages of 18 and 25 overwhelmingly voted for a non-Trumpian vision.
"I know the youth voted for the future that so many of us yearn for. A future where there is a greater sense of shared abundance and responsibility to one another, our nation and our planet," said John Horning, executive director of WildEarth Guardians, in an email. "This fills me with enormous hope. Without a doubt, the ushering in of Trump is belied by our future generations speaking loudly and clearly that they intend to bring forward a better world."
Time to Redouble Efforts
While the Trump presidency gives much to worry about when it comes to the health of the planet, many green leaders joined Horning in striking a hopeful tone, seeking to mobilize more action on climate change and the environment.
"Fear may have won this election, but bravery, hope and perseverance will overcome," said Annie Leonard, the executive director of Greenpeace USA. She called on those who didn't vote for Trump to "use this moment to re-energize the fight for the climate and the fight for human rights around the world."
Wenonah Hauter, the executive director of Food & Water Watch, called Trump's victory a "major disaster." In a statement, she said:
"Unsurprisingly, the Trump administration will likely be filled with people who will benefit financially from more fracking, more industrial agriculture and factory farms, and expanded deregulation masquerading as trade policy. The people he has indicated will be in his cabinet are the same people who have advocated policies that are destroying our climate and creating a society marked by stratification and racial prejudice."
But Hauter also offered a motivational spark, saying, "We must redouble our efforts to build a movement that holds our elected officials accountable—and that provides a counterweight to the big business interests that continue to look out only for profits."
That could mean working more on a local level, where the long arm of Washington, DC, doesn't reach, through state- or city-wide initiatives. On Election Day, for example, voters in Monterey County, California's fourth-largest oil-producing county, passed Measure Z to ban fracking. Golden State voters also narrowly passed Prop 67, which bans grocery stores and selected retail outlets from handing out single-use plastic bags. Voters in Alabama passed ballot measure SB260, a statewide amendment that will end the practice of spending revenues generated at state parks for purposes other than maintaining the parks. Plus, many cities and states will continue their own carbon emission reduction plans.
Environmentalists' Toughest Test
Donald Trump's most enduring legacy as president may be the lasting damage he does to the environment. If you're concerned about that, the next four years promises to be a rough ride, but now is the time to get involved in the fight for the health of the planet and all the creatures who call it home.
As Greenpeace's Leonard pointed out, "Millions of people around the world have all the power we need to combat climate change and create a just world for everyone." While she may be right, that sentiment is set to face its toughest test yet: The 45th president of the U.S.
Reposted with permission from our media associate AlterNet.
According to Politico:
Hamm, an Oklahoma billionaire who has been a friend of Trump's for years, has been the leading influence on Trump's energy policy during the campaign. If Hamm passes, venture capitalist Robert Grady is also seen as a top candidate, though he could also be in line for Interior.
Forrest Lucas, the 74-year-old co-founder of oil products firm Lucas Oil, is favored as a top choice to lead the Department of the Interior.
However, according to Politico:
Trump's presidential transition team is also eyeing venture capitalist Robert Grady, a George H.W. Bush White House official with ties to Chris Christie. And Trump's son Donald Trump Jr., is said to be interested in the job.
Meanwhile, a person who spoke to the Trump campaign told POLITICO that the aides have also discussed tapping Sarah Palin for Interior Secretary. Trump has said he'd like to put Palin in his cabinet, and Palin has made no secret of her interest.
Other possible candidates include former Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer; Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin; Wyoming Rep. Cynthia Lummis; and Oklahoma oilman Harold Hamm.
Sarah Palin / Harold Hamm
Although Trump has previously said he would abolish the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), reports say he will instead ask climate skeptic Myron Ebell to lead the agency. In September, Trump said he will "refocus the EPA on its core mission of ensuring clean air, and clean, safe drinking water for all Americans."
According to Politico:
Ebell, who is running the EPA working group on Trump's transition team, is an official at the Competitive Enterprise Institute and has come under fire from environmental groups for his stances on global warming. Venture capitalist Robert Grady is also a contender.
Other potential candidates: Joe Aiello, director of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection's Division of Environmental Safety and Quality Assurance; Carol Comer, the commissioner of the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, who was appointed by Pence; and Leslie Rutledge, attorney general of Arkansas and a lead challenger of EPA regulations in the state.
"Contrary to president-elect Donald Trump's populist message during his campaign, Trump is trying to stack his administration with industry executives and fossil fuel barons who will make life worse for everyone but themselves," Greenpeace USA climate liability attorney Naomi Ages said. "These people will undoubtedly advocate for corporate interests that benefit only those at the top and continue to leave the rest of us behind, including the working class.
"'Environmental protection' will take backseat to 'corporate protection' with Myron Ebell as head of the EPA, 'drill, baby, drill' will ring across this country with Sarah Palin in the Interior Department, and Harold Hamm's oil would flow through the Dakota Access Pipeline and so many others if he were Energy Secretary."
For a deeper dive:
By Andy Rowell
"You can put lipstick on a pig, but it's still a pig."
From the Global Climate Coalition, the Climate Council, the Global Climate Science Team to the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative, the industry has repeatedly tried to create an illusion that it's taking climate change seriously while undermining any meaningful action.
Take the Climate Change Coalition, which was active in the nineties. It was no coalition of concerned citizens, but was made up of BP, Shell, Exxon and Texaco, and its aim was to derail climate action.
The newest manifestation is the Oil & Gas Climate Initiative (OGCI) which will announce its latest plans to solve climate change on Nov. 4, the day the Paris agreement comes into effect.
According to a press release, "The OGCI will announce details of the next phase in their collective action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions."
So what is the OGCI?
Formed in 2014, the initiative says it is "a CEO-led organization designed to catalyze practical action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It is currently made up of ten oil and gas companies that aim to lead the industry response to climate change."
Those companies include BP, BG Group, Saudi Aramco, Shell and Statoil, among others.
The initial discussions were held at the World Economic Forum in Davos. "It carries the vision of Oil and Gas companies working together collaboratively and sharing best practices and technical solutions to address climate change and sustainable energy."
The website for the OGCI was set up by Daniela Barat Head of Legal, at the World Economic Forum. She is an ex-tobacco lawyer.
The PR company handling the account is Edelman, one of the world's largest PR companies. Although last year Edelman publicly stated that it will no longer work with coal producers and climate change deniers. This was in response to the company being caught "flat-footed" in 2014 when other major PR firms had taken a stance against climate denial. Edelman had also been caught setting up front groups in support of the proposed Energy East tar sands pipeline.
Meanwhile in the UK, the company has been criticized for providing services to the UK Task Force on Shale Gas, which has been panned by its critics for being pro-fracking.
The only good news from a climate perspective is that the OGCI does not include the biggest climate dinosaur of the lot: Exxon. I have written twice in the last week about Exxon's climate denial campaign and its humiliating reserve write down.
But that is where the good news runs out.
It is not hard to find a fundamental flaw in the OGCI's position. Oil companies must maximize shareholder return by drilling for oil and gas, which in turn causes climate change. So their core business is fundamentally at odds with climate change action.
OGCI members produce more than one-fifth of global oil and gas production, and have a vested interest in making sure they carry on producing.
One of the companies is Saudi Aramco, the Saudi oil company, which states on its website, for example: "Our oil fields are some of the largest on the planet—and the world relies on us to manage them responsibly … Today, the production of this essential energy resource remains at the core of our business, and we supply more crude oil to the global economy than any other oil producer, producing nearly 1 in every 8 barrels of world oil production."
While oil production remains at the "core" of its business, Aramco is unlikely to lobby for any meaningful action on climate.
Take another company, Statoil. There is a global push to kick Big Oil out of the Arctic, a region where there are huge risks exploring for oil and where the effects of climate change are being very keenly felt.
Statoil talks about the need for climate change action but is heading further into the Arctic. In September this year, the Wall Street Journal reported that Statoil "was pushing deeper into the Arctic, shopping for Barents Sea drilling licenses in a bid to add resources and maintain output over the coming decades."
Moreover BP and Shell, which often try and promote their progressive climate credentials, have both been found to be lobbying against climate action too.
In April last year, the Guardian reported how Shell had "successfully lobbied to undermine European renewable energy targets." As far back as October 2011, the oil giant was lobbying the European Commission "to scrap the bloc's existing formula for linking carbon-cutting goals with binding renewable energy laws."
Nor is BP any better. In 2013, BP basically threatened the commission that if it went ahead and regulated the importation of dirty tar sands crude from Canada or clamped down on dirty power plants and accelerated the introduction of renewable energy, then "energy-intensive industries, such as refining and petrochemicals" would "relocate outside the EU with a correspondingly detrimental impact on security of supply, jobs [and] growth." The commission later abandoned or weakened the key proposals.
Last year, a survey by the UK-based non-profit, Influence Map, concluded that BP was Europe's "strongest advocate of dirty energy, opposing even mild measures to raise carbon trading prices."
Thomas O'Neill, Influence Map's research director said at the time: "BP has been consistently opposed to all the main forms of climate change regulation. There is very little positivity coming out of them and they are a board member of several obstructionist trade associations, some of which give a very dubious account of climate science."
We are witnessing a new form of climate denial. As Seth Klein & Shannon Daub from the Corporate Mapping Project noted in September 2016. "Thankfully, the climate deniers have now mostly been exposed and repudiated … That's the good news. The bad news is we face a new form of climate denialism—more nuanced and insidious, but just as dangerous."
"In the new form of denialism, the fossil fuel industry and our political leaders assure us that they understand and accept the scientific warnings about climate change—but they are in denial about what this scientific reality means for policy and/or continue to block progress in less visible ways."
And that is what the OGCI and its member companies are doing. In the run up to the Paris climate talks, the Guardian reported that "The heads of 10 major oil and gas companies have denied they are paying lip service to climate change initiatives while conducting business as usual."
The oil industry is conducting business as usual but trying to tell you it is acting on climate change. With the OGCI, they are purely painting a new shade of lipstick on the industry's climate denial efforts that have been going on for decades.
By Climate Denier Roundup
Apparently emboldened by last week's ruling that Healy needed to provide the court with evidence that they were not unduly biased in presuming guilt before beginning the investigation, ExxonMobil asked that the same standard be applied to the New York case. For Healy, the Texas District Court must first be satisfied that the investigation wasn't biased before it will decide on whether to throw out ExxonMobil's complaint or force the Attorney General to back down.
Alleging that the investigations are part of a broad conspiracy, Exxon's filing is a reversal of their prior cooperation with Schneiderman. The purported reason for this newfound conspiracy charge are recent media reports that Schneiderman is investigating whether or not ExxonMobil properly accounted for climate risk and stranded assets when valuing its reserves and dealing with investors. It's not clear how big a change this is from the initial investigation but apparently it is enough for ExxonMobil to worry about and to charge that the narrowed scope is a reason to believe Schneiderman is looking for any excuse to persecute the company. (As opposed to simply following where the evidence is leading him and doing his job investigating a potential breach of New York state laws).
In the filing, deemed a meritless delay tacit and "desperate attempt at forum shopping" by a New York Attorney General spokesperson, ExxonMobil claims that Schneiderman's accusations of fraud are without evidence and that Healy declared before the investigation began that the company was guilty. Both Attorney Generals were merely describing the implications of the reporting done by InsideClimate News and the LA Times/Columbia School of Journalism. With that research, they had sufficient evidence to warrant an investigation, as giving millions of dollars to climate denial groups while their own researchers provided consensus-supporting research seems rather duplicitous.
On a side note, the funding relationship between ExxonMobil and Republican state Attorneys General made a small splash last month. And Rep. Lamar Smith's request for documents from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission about their new investigation has been rebuffed.
Climate-denying arguments by Ted Cruz at a Senate committee hearing last year have been soundly debunked by a new study published in the Journal of Climate. Testimony at the hearing attacked climate change by using cherry-picked satellite temperature data allegedly inconsistent with global warming. The paper found errors in this analysis that refutes the bogus claims.
In the midst of the Texas senator's stillborn run for nomination as the Republican presidential candidate, he used his position as chairman of the Subcommittee on Space, Science and Competitiveness to convene a hearing entitled, "Data or Dogma? Promoting Open Inquiry in the Debate over the Magnitude of Human Impact on Earth's Climate."Hand-picked witnesses included noted climate skeptics John Christy, Judith Curry, conservative author Mark Steyn and Princeton University's William Harper. Harper was caught up in a sting operation by Greenpeace last year when he agreed to write a paper that, he was told, would be paid for by an unnamed Middle Eastern oil and gas company that wanted the payments to remain undisclosed.
The core of the arguments in the Senate hearing centered around satellite data that measures the emissions of oxygen molecules in the atmosphere using microwave sensors and uses that to extrapolate temperature. It's not the same as sticking a thermometer in the troposphere. These datasets are among the least reliable.
The study looked at two claims made by the climate skeptics: that temperatures in the mid-troposphere are rising three times faster in climate models than measured by satellites, and that there has been no statistically significant warming in the troposphere for 18 years. The researchers, who hail from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, NOAA and private research firm Remote Sensing Systems, found that the "three times faster" divergence is significantly reduced when the most recent data is used and when the effects of stratospheric cooling on the troposphere is accounted for.
"Next, we assess the validity of the statement that satellite data show no significant tropospheric warming over the last 18 years," states the report. "This claim is not supported by our analysis: in five out of six corrected satellite TMT [mid- to upper troposphere] records, significant global-scale tropospheric warming has occurred within the last 18 years."
Environmental scientist Dana Nuccitelli, writing in The Guardian in response to the views aired in the Dec. 8, 2015 hearing, stated, "In the end, Ted Cruz's claim is rated false by every objective measure." New Mexico Senator Tom Udall, a Democratic member of the committee, said, "Climate change should be a bipartisan issues. That is why it is so regrettable today with the way Sen. Cruz is proceeding."
It has been well reported that Ted Cruz repeatedly lies about the science of climate change, has used his position in the Senate to bully Sierra Club president Aaron Mair, works to promote his fossil-fuel funders and calls climate change a "religion."
- Ted Cruz: 'Climate Change Is Not Science. It's Religion.' ›
- Ted Cruz's favorite argument about climate change just got weaker ... ›
- Scientists Explain Why Ted Cruz Is Wrong About the Climate ... ›
By Ann Reid, National Center for Science Education
Back when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration was testing ads to discourage kids from smoking, they tried arguments based on science: smoking will give you cancer; smoking will give you emphysema; smoking will hurt your unborn child. They tried appealing to kids' social anxieties: smoking will make your teeth yellow; smoking will give you bad breath. None of these arguments worked very well. What worked was telling kids that the tobacco companies were lying to them, tricking them into smoking so that they could make money off them for the rest of their lives.
The Madhouse Effect: How Climate Change Denial Is Threatening Our Planet, Destroying Our Politics and Driving Us Crazy, by climate scientist Michael Mann and cartoonist Tom Toles, serves the same purpose. It makes it quite clear that the "debate" about climate change has nothing to do with science and everything to do with wishful thinking, exploited by vested economic and political interests. Only when that false debate is put behind us will a productive discussion about what to do about climate change finally begin, returning scientific evidence to its rightful place as a powerful tool, not a punching bag.
It's not only wrong, but also counterproductive, to assume that anyone who doesn't "get it" on climate change is stupid or ignorant. What this book does is acknowledge that there is a reason people are confused about climate change and describe exactly who benefits from that confusion. It also acknowledges that it is not surprising that many people find ways to reject the science and embrace a view of the world that feels less alarming and accusatory.
In 2015, we at the National Center for Science Education conducted a national survey of middle and high school teachers to find out if and how they were teaching about climate change. What we found was somewhat surprising: Many teachers reported that they teach about climate change in science classes, but when asked what percentage of climate scientists agree that human activities are primarily responsible for climate change, fewer than half the teachers chose the correct response of greater than 80 percent (in fact the percentage is upward of 97 percent). It's a shocking finding and it suggests that long-standing efforts to cast doubt on climate science—funded by corporations with economic interests to protect, promoted by politicians supported by those corporations and inadequately exposed by a media seduced by false balance—have been remarkably successful. Doubt and uncertainty about scientific findings that only grow more certain with every passing day have so permeated our society that even science classrooms are affected.
That's why I am glad Mann and Toles wrote The Madhouse Effect. The prose is concise and of course the cartoons are even pithier, so in just 150 pages, Mann and Toles manage to illuminate the essential absurdity of where we are and how we got here. They cover enough of the basic science to orient the reader and provide a useful explanation of why total certainty is neither possible nor reasonable to expect. I found this analogy useful, for example, in a discussion of whether climate change can be said to be responsible for any particular extreme weather event, like a tornado or a hurricane:
We of course can't say that climate change "caused" a particular heat wave, flood or storm. There is always the chance that the heat wave, flood, or storm would have happened anyway. But climate change is almost certainly making these events more frequent. There is an increased occurrence of these events because of climate change, just as there is an increased incidence of lung cancer among smokers and an increased number of home runs by steroid-using baseball players.
But as anyone who has ever tried to change the mind of a climate change denier, an anti-vaxxe or a creationist will agree, even the clearest explication of the science is unlikely to change minds. Indeed, maddeningly, there is pretty good evidence that the more science you bring to bear, the more entrenched and defensive your science-rejecting audience will become. And that is where The Madhouse Effect is especially effective.
In the chapter "Why should I give a damn?," Mann and Toles describe the psychological hoops that people jump through to avoid coming to terms with a problem that is big and scary and potentially expensive and difficult to solve. In "The War on Climate Science" and "Hypocrisy, Thy Name is Climate Change Denial," they lay out the concerted (and ongoing) effort that has gone into trashing scientists and sowing confusion in an effort to block or delay even the most preliminary civil discussion of how our society might begin to take action. Finally, they point out how truly crazy (albeit humanly comforting) it would be to pin our hopes on a magic bullet in the form of one or another of the various geoengineering schemes that promise to solve climate change without making any difficult changes in the way we generate and use energy. (You can read their chapter on geoengineering right here on the National Center for Science Education's website.)
Returning to those science teachers I mentioned earlier, I think that we should not be surprised that so many of them are unaware of the overwhelming weight of the scientific evidence for climate change and we certainly should not condemn them for it. Instead, maybe we should give them (and any parents who are uneasy about how climate change is being taught to their children) this book so that they can get on with the task of explaining the straightforward science of climate change to the next generation without equivocation.