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My co-author Tom Toles (the Pulitzer-winning editorial cartoonist for the Washington Post) and I put it this way in the concluding chapter of our new book, The Madhouse Effect: How Climate Change Denial Is Threatening Our Planet, Destroying Our Politics and Driving Us Crazy.
In the current presidential contest, we could not have a more stark choice before us, between a candidate who rejects the overwhelming evidence that climate change is happening and a candidate who embraces the role of a price on carbon and incentives for renewable energy.
If you care about the planet, the choice would seem clear.
If the appropriate catch-phrase for the 1992 election was "It's The Economy Stupid!," then this time around it ought to be "It's the PLANET stupid!."
A Toles cartoon used in the Madhouse Effect conveys the point masterfully:
Preventing dangerous climate change remains a daunting challenge, but we've made some real progress in the past few years. Global carbon emissions are actually on the decline, renewable energy is dramatically on the rise, and we achieved a monumental international agreement in Paris last December that promises to help steer us onto a path that just may avert dangerous 2C planetary warming.
A pair of Toles cartoons from the Madhouse Effect conveys both the auspicious nature of these developments and their fragility in the current political environment:
In this next election, we need to decide whether we are going to build on the successes of the Obama administration—which has used a combination of bold executive actions and international diplomacy to achieve action on climate change even in the presence of intransigence, denial and outright hostility from congressional republicans—or whether we are going to retreat back into the energy-equivalent of the stone age, continuing to degrade our planet through the profligate burning of increasingly dangerous fossil carbon even as the rest of the world moves forward, embracing the renewable energy revolution destined to be the hallmark of the 21st century.
Once again, the decision comes down to a single election that is now just weeks away. In the first presidential debate, though the moderator disappointingly failed to ask a question about was is arguably the single most critical issue facing human civilization today—human-caused climate change—the Democratic nominee for President, Hillary Clinton, forced the issue herself by calling out Donald Trump for his denial of climate change, noting that he, for example, in a past tweet dismissed climate change as a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese (indeed Trump has posted at least a half-dozen climate change-denying tweets over the past few years).
Seemingly recognizing how self-discrediting it is to deny a phenomenon that people are now witnessing in their everyday lives, Trump denied having made the claim. But realizing that the damning evidence was available for everyone to see (via a tweet that remains in Trump's twitter feed), his campaign sought to quickly clarify the next day that, despite what he might have stated in the past, he no longer believes climate change to be a hoax. Progress, right? Unfortunately not. Consider, for context, this Toles cartoon from the book:
The Trump campaign, it turns out, simply gave us a bait-and-switch, attempting to pivot from one patently absurd climate change denial talking point ("it's not happening!") to a seemingly more palatable, albeit equally indefensible one ("it's natural, not human-caused!").To be clear, Donald Trump and his campaign still firmly rejects the scientific evidence that climate change is human-caused, opposing the only action (a reduction of fossil fuel burning) that can save us from ever-more dangerous climate change impacts. A cartoon drawn exclusively for the Madhouse Effect captures the Trump worldview:
History will judge us by what we chose to do at the crucial moment in time. A group of scientists, including myself, have consequently decided that we must speak out about the irreparable harm that would be done by a climate change-denying, anti-science-driven Trump presidency. We have encouraged other members of the scientific community to join us:
It would nevertheless be a mistake to consider the problem to be limited to the Republican standard-bearer. It penetrates far more deeply. Whether to even accept the overwhelming evidence that climate change is real and human-caused has become a partisan political issue, thanks in large parts to the efforts of bad actors like the Koch Brothers to poison both our atmosphere and our public discourse. In the toxic environment that exists in today's Republican party, even the most conservative Republican incumbents are subjected to well-funded primary challenges if they choose to admit that climate change is real and an issue we must contend with.
The one thing that every American voter can do to try to change that is to (a) vote in the upcoming election, and (b) vote CLIMATE, not just at the top of the ticket, but all the way down.
The future of this planet could quite literally lie in the balance.
Earlier this month, my co-author Tom Toles (the Pulitzer-winning editorial cartoonist for The Washington Post) and I published our new book, The Madhouse Effect: How Climate Change Denial Is Threatening Our Planet, Destroying Our Politics, and Driving Us Crazy.
Tom and I had a commentary excerpting parts of the book in Sunday's The Washington Post. In addition to calling out the most prominent current climate change denier of them all—Donald Trump, we profiled eight other leading climate change deniers in the world of politics, individuals whom—as the commentary notes—have been responsible for "clouding the climate change debate" and stalling action by participating in "a campaign of deliberate misinformation."
The Washington Post
Among the rogues gallery of leading climate change deniers are (from left to right, top to bottom): Congressman Joe Barton (R-TX), fossil fuel shill Steve Milloy, media mogul Rupert Murdoch, self-styled "Skeptical Environmentalist" Bjorn Lomborg, scientist-turned-denier-for-hire Fred Singer, the inimitable Sarah Palin, conservative funders Charles and David Koch (aka the Koch Brothers), and "swift-boat" architect Marc Morano.
Among other notable honorable mentions is U.S. Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.). Though Inhofe didn't make the rogues gallery above, he gets the attention he deserves in book.
From Chapter 6 of the book, "Hypocrisy, They Name is Climate Change Denial":
Consider Republican Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma, a recipient of extensive funding over the years from the fossil fuel interests including ExxonMobil and the Koch Brothers. He is perhaps best known for declaring that climate change is the "greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people" and for introducing a snowball on the U.S. Senate floor as ostensible proof against global warming.
And Inhofe, of course, gets the full TTT (Tom Toles Treatment):
When it comes to hypocrisy and irony, Inhofe is truly king. Under the heading of "you can't make this stuff up," there is, for example, this particular episode that we recount in the book:
Back in July 2011, Inhofe was selected as keynote speaker at the Heartland Institute's annual global warming denier "conference." He had to cancel out at the last minute however. He had grown ill swimming in a lake back in his home state of Oklahoma. The lake was suffering from an algal bloom as a result of the unprecedented heat and drought that Oklahoma experienced that summer—an event that scientists have determined was tied to climate change.
Though he quipped afterward, "the environment strikes back," he was obviously undeterred in his climate change-denying ways, remaining one of the most prominent advocates for fossil fuel interests in the U.S. Senate.
Which, finally, brings us to Inhofe's hometown newspaper, The Oklahoman, named the "Worst Newspaper in America," by the Columbia Journalism Review (CJR) for "conformance to the right-wing political views" of the paper's owners and its "alleged racist hiring practices" among other things.
The Oklahoman has an unusually atrocious record on all things environment. As CJR notes:
Where else can you find a big-city editorial page—run by a Christian Coalition devotee plucked from Washington D.C.'s right-wing Free Congress Foundation—that not only demonizes ... environmentalists ...
And it hardly comes as a surprise that The Oklahoman, like Inhofe, is a major promoter of climate change denialism, acting as thinly veiled advocates for the fossil fuel lobby that dominates their state rather than a conduit of objective news for their readers.
So how low could they go, you might ask? This is how low.
Stan Glantz has been called the "Ralph Nader of the anti-tobacco movement." He has led the effort to expose how tobacco interests hid the detrimental effects of their product on human health from the public and has advocated staunchly for policies to reduce smoking.
Glantz has explicitly likened the fossil fuel industry's campaign to deny the science of human-caused climate change to the earlier campaign by the tobacco industry to deny the adverse health impacts of their product. Same modus operandi, even some of the same paid deniers-for-hire, like Fred Singer listed in the rogues gallery above.
Just last week, Glantz published a new high-profile study in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) exposing how yet another industry tried to hide the adverse health impacts of their product. Glantz and colleagues found internal documents revealing that the junk food industry paid scientists to "play down the link between sugar and heart disease and promote saturated fat as the culprit instead."
So, how does The Oklahoman cover this development? You guessed it: by turning the entire matter on its head, attempting to use it as an opportunity to blame the government rather than the powerful corporate interests who were exposed by Glantz's research. And, for good measure, they attempt to use the episode to attack the science of climate change!
Indeed, they attack me specifically, resurrecting untruthful climate change denier talking points about the the discredited 'climategate' affair, and the widely debunked attacks on the famous "hockey stick" curve my co-authors and I published in the late 1990s (if you want to learn the truth behind all of this, consider reading my previous book The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars).
It is possible that such a twisted viewpoint, wherein an obvious example of industry malfeasance is used to attack the scientific community, including climate scientists specifically, could arise purely from profound ignorance, rather than cynicism and malice. Yes, anything is possible.
But in the end, we see that Hypocrisy: Thy Name is Truly Climate Change Denial. Thy Nickname might just be The Oklahoman.
Michael Mann is Distinguished Professor of Atmospheric Science at Pennsylvania State University and author of The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars, Dire Predictions: Understanding Climate Change, and just out in September, The Madhouse Effect, with The Washington Post editorial cartoonist Tom Toles.