Mann, M. (2016). The Madhouse Effect. New York: Columbia University Press.
This book is a little dated, but I wanted to highlight it this month as it is a good “everyday” resource for folks trying to understand, and then explain to others, the realities of climate change. Dr. Michael E. Mann is a professor at Pennsylvania State University and one of our society’s leading climate scientists. He has been heavily targeted by climate deniers from everyday folks to corporate executives to members of Congress, and yet has not yielded in his work to shift this nation’s conversation about climate. His credentials speak for themselves and I encourage you to explore his many writings. Dr. Mann is joined in this book by Tom Tolles, the renowned cartoonist from the Washington Post
. Together they have created an accessible resource for those tackling climate issues. If you are familiar with this content, then this book might not be for you, but it would be a good buy for your “Uncle Al” who does not know climate change exists.
Mann and Tolles begin the book where I often begin my training sessions on this content: the science. This is not because “science will convince folks”, since we have ample research to show that for those denying climate change “the science” actually does not change their mind. But, for those who are not tuned into the science, know that this deal is happening, and want to understand the basic science of it, the first three chapters about climate science, climate change, and the impacts of the changes are perfect. Spoiler alert: The current situation is not good.
In the next three chapters Tolles and Mann take on deniers by exploring “stages of denial” and other elements of climate denial. It would be easy to write off climate deniers as “flat earthers” but in fact I know some very good folks who are deeply ignorant of this climate reality; not because they
are ignorant, but because of their deeper connections to their race, class and / or gender privilege. One White woman I know is fairly comfortable in her life: she owns two homes - one in the north for summer and one in the desert to avoid the tough MN winters. She is also an avid shopper, loves to maintain her comfort, and part of her “language of love” for her grandchildren is tied to consumption and gifts. She loves her grandchildren deeply and yet takes no action whatsoever to do anything different. She was a very late Baby-Boomer and for her the signs of a good life, of success and of what it means to enjoy one’s retirement are inextricably linked to an unsustainable level of consumerism. Is she awful? No, she’s quite loving actually. By most accounts she would fully embody what it means to be “an American” – blonde, blue eyes, white, well resourced, politically ranging from conservative to neutral, a little oblivious to levels of social complication, and very, very nice. I do not share this as a snipe at her, I share it because she is like millions
of U.S.ers who have their faces up against the glass of their lives and simply cannot see their interdependence and environmental connections to the larger world. I also do not say this from “on high” as I too get swept up in my life and lose sight of the climate reality and what I need to change. For her, and for myself at times, this book is a vital tool because it is both accessible and complicated. It shares the basics and helps the reader cut through the distractions of the deniers.
The final two chapters help the reader understand where we can go from here by thankfully debunking the “solutions” that will make it worse, like geoengineering, and instead identify “a path forward” that allows for some form of movement. The danger of telling the entire truth of our current climate reality is that a reader may fall into solipsism and be unable to act in effective and urgent ways. Mann and Tolles avoid this by walking the fine line between telling it like it is and maintaining a sense of hope for change. Thus, if you are looking for a primer on climate change and how to talk about it with others, this is an excellent resource.
As I read this book, I also happened to be watching the series One Strange Rock (2018, National Geographic)
on Netflix. It is narrated by Will Smith, with detailed commentary by eight NASA astronauts, and recounts some of the most existential and compelling aspects of this planet and our small lives on it. I am fortunate to have watched this show as I was reading the book in that it literally and figuratively kept me connected to this incredible biosphere and its profound existence as I was trying to take in the fact that we are consciously destroying it. I felt grief at times, yes, but the overwhelming beauty of this planet as revealed by the incredible cinematography and brilliant narration kept me out of despair and ready to do more for it. Through the lens of social justice and climate justice this show both succeeds and fails. It does not at all go into enough commentary / critique about climate change and the anthropomorphic causes, while at the same time it has a racially and gender complex set of astronauts sharing intimate and inspiring understandings of this small blue dot. If you choose to read the book, watch the show alongside it.
A final resource are two videos of Greta Thunberg
, a 16-year old Swedish woman who has ignited a youth climate movement. The first video is her talk at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland (January, 2019)
. Certainly youth have been mobilizing for climate action before Greta, as I am sure she herself would acknowledge, but her “strike” has set a different tone of urgency, honesty and deep critique of the “leadership” of adults around the world. The second talk is her TED talk
from August, 2018. Greta is on the spectrum and one of her traits from that is her ability to be quite frank without too much concern about “offending” anyone. And, if there was ever a time for someone to be that blunt and that unapologetic about it, it is now. I mention that she is on the spectrum not to “exceptionalize” her, but to address the ableism that nondisabled people often have about who can speak, lead, act around social justice issues and who cannot. Greta does not want to be a “future leader”, she wants those in power to lead NOW since they are there RIGHT NOW. She wants those imbued with social responsibility to act like it and stop this true insanity.
I share these three resources because we have a president who is doing everything he can to dismantle what little climate policy the U.S. had and replace it with national and global policy that is without question a death sentence for humans and many other species on our planet. This current administration is like a three-pack-a-day smoker who is sure the science is wrong, who attributes his hacking to a cold he has had for a while, who hates anyone telling him they do not want to breathe his second hand smoke, who insists it’s his body dammit and he’ll do whatever he feels like with it, who could care less about the massive tax cuts the tobacco industry gets while knowingly lying to all of us, and who is surely stealing from the health care coffers of future generations to expensively treat his stage four lung cancer. It is intentional denial and willful ignorance only to protect his own comfort and placate his self-centeredness…and I have no patience for folks like that, particularly when the consequences with this issue are nothing short of global catastrophe for centuries to come.
And so, for this newsletter I have offered a book, a video series, and a voice of leadership for us to digest and then act on. I ask that you take them in and then weave this climate content into every conversation you have. Seems daunting, but there is not a single aspect of our lives that is not touched by climate change and its consequences. Center it. Make it part of everything we think, see and do. As Greta says, our house is on fire and thus we need to respond with all four alarms and every resource we have.