Why Aren’t We Doing Something About Climate Change?

Why Aren't We Doing Something About Climate Change?

In the preface of their book, "The Madhouse Effect," Michael E. Mann, Distinguished Professor of Atmospheric Science and director of the Earth Systems Science Center at Penn State University, and Tom Toles, the Washington Post's Pulitzer-Prize winning cartoonist, warn that we have failed to engage in the actions necessary to prevent dangerous and possibly irreversible changes in our climate.

As they put it, "It's not as if the science isn't compelling. It is. It's not as if the threat isn't clear. It is. It's not as if many smart, informed and concerned individuals haven't sought to bring attention to this crisis. They have. It isn't even that the overwhelming majority of citizens don't recognize the urgency of acting on the problem. They do.

"So how is it that we have arrived in a madhouse atmosphere where politicians are able to do the bidding of powerful fossil fuel interests while ignoring the long-term good of the people they are supposed to represent?" That, in a nutshell, is the message of "The Madhouse Effect."

According to the authors, "There is a fire in the house, almost a literal one. But even as the evidence has become unmistakable, and even though the alarm has been sounded several times, public policy has been paralyzed — sometimes from ignorance, sometimes from uncertainty, but often from a campaign of deliberate misinformation."

Not everyone wants the facts to be known, they warn, noting that we have run squarely into what Upton Sinclair has said — "It's difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it." And there are many powerful interests, they say, whose salary has very much depended on the public not understanding climate science.

As they explain, you can't solve a problem if you don't understand what it is in the first place. In the debate over climate change, pseudoscience is too often allowed to masquerade as science and denialism is allowed to pose as skepticism.

They blame the media for "too often giving industry propaganda an equal place on the media stage with actual science when it comes to the issue of climate change. And the rest of us pay the price in the form of a skewed public discourse."          

The basic facts "are now clear and essentially beyond dispute," they conclude. "It is time to put out the fire. This time we need to stay the course and get it right. We are out of extra chances."