Welcome to the Madhouse – with Michael Mann and Tom Toles | Miles O'Brien Productions

Welcome to the Madhouse – with Michael Mann and Tom Toles


Communicating the science of climate change, with its overwhelming expert consensus, seems like it should be easy. However, a science-averse media and strong fossil fuel lobby make it exceedingly difficult. Climatologist Michael Mann and cartoonist Tom Toles have teamed up to put climate change in context in their new book, The Madhouse Effect: How Climate Change Denial Is Threatening Our Planet, Destroying Our Politics, and Driving Us Crazy. I talked to both of them at this year’s Annapolis Book Festival.

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Miles O’Brien:

Hello and welcome to Miles To Go, I’m Miles O’Brien.

On this edition: the Madhouse Effect. It’s where we are in the world right now as we systematically ruin our planet, our fragile little home, that pale blue dot, as Carl Sagan put it, in the infinite black void. Our little spaceship–we’re soiling it, in a big way. And we’re ruining the climate.

We do this even though the science is overwhelming that climate change is real, existential, and largely caused by our addiction to fossil fuels. Those are facts, folks–can’t deny them. Well, you can deny them, but you’re not very smart if you do that.

I really worry about what life is going to be like for my children and their children. It really keeps me up at night.

So, why is all this happening?

Well, as any reporter worth his or her salt will tell you: always follow the money. It’s all about short-term greed, folks. We have a fossil fuel industry willing to line its pockets in the short term without caring a bit that it might lead to nothing less than our extinction. Think about that! That is the power of greed, isn’t it?

It is, indeed, a madhouse. And there’s a new book that invokes that term and, in a very interesting way, lays bare the hypocrisy, the obfuscation, and the outright lies of those who deny this reality.

It’s called The Madhouse Effect: How Climate Change Denial Is Threatening Our Planet, Destroying Our Politics, and Driving Us Crazy. Good title, right?

It’s written by two towering figures in their respective fields
Michael Mann and Tom Toles.

Now, Mann is a climatologist at Penn State University who has made some very significant contributions to climate science over the years, including a milestone paper that he co-authored in 1999 that reconstructed global temperatures over the past thousand years. The graph rises sharply along with the advent of the Industrial Revolution. It looks a little bit like a hockey stick.

Michael Mann is also a great science communicator. He teamed up on this book–and this is where it gets a little ingenious–he teamed up with Tom Toles, who is one of my favorite political cartoonists. Toles is at The Washington Post, as you probably know. He sits in the chair–or, I guess, maybe it was a throne–occupied for so many years by the legendary Herblock.

In 1990, when Toles was working in Buffalo, he won the Pulitzer Prize for his work. He has an uncanny talent for capturing the absurdity of those who deny climate change. And he’s really fired up about it–as Michael Mann is and as I am.

I caught up with the two of them at the 2018 Annapolis Book Festival in April. We did a conservation about their book, which aired on C-SPAN, and there’s a link to that if you’d like to see it on the webpage at milesobrien.com.

The Annapolis Book Festival is hosted at the Key School, and the only quiet place for us to talk during that madhouse of a day, if you will, was an elementary school classroom.


We should tell you we’re sitting on seats designed for a second grader right now, so we won’t talk down to you but we are down literally.

So thanks guys both of you for being with us. Give me the origin of the book. How did this begin? Who, where did this idea come from? Go ahead, Michael.


Thanks Miles. It’s great to be with you here. So this came together. We actually had a mutual friend who was my publisher at Columbia University Press for a previous book I had written that actually led to me using some of Tom’s cartoons in that previous book. Tom was kind enough to let us do that at no cost.

And we sort of all kept in touch and Patrick came to us a few years later and said “Have you guys thought about combining forces?” Working together using Tom’s cartoons to tell the story in a new way. Bringing humor, satire, ridicule, irreverence to a topic that has become so partisan, so ideological to some people that it’s difficult to reach people through sort of the normal means. You have to sort of think outside the box. How can we reach people who have been immune to the message of what the science has to say? And of course satire, humor…it’s a secret weapon.

And so for me to be able to work with, in my view, one of the great satirists of our time, Tom Toles, was a once in a lifetime opportunity. And I jumped at that opportunity. I’d like to say we had a lot of fun writing the book. I mean to the extent that you can have fun about writing and describing an existential problem that we face. But it was very enjoyable to work with Tom on this project.


So Tom when you when he called you up and said let’s try this. Did you immediately think this is a great idea.


Yes. I said yes before I heard any of the details. The dinner that I met our mutual friend, Patrick, at…I had been spending a lot of time at that dinner talking about climate which is kind of an unusual topic for a cartoonist to be talking about. It’s also questionable social hour dinner table conversation. But —


I’ve had those conversations before. I know what that’s like.


Yes. Well anyways, I think about how to communicate all the time. But I also think about what are the important subjects and climate just floated up because, A, it is maybe the most important subject we’re facing right now. Problem we’re facing right now. And secondly, it has been so badly covered by the media when we did our panel.


Ouch, ouch really. You’re killing me already. Alright, go ahead.


There’s been several problems with the coverage. One is it has been under covered. Secondly, as you mentioned earlier today in our panel, the false equivalence and the providing two sides to the story when there really only was one factual side to it. And now even that the coverage has gotten past those two things, is getting covered, and is being covered better, what is now missing is…I feel that the subject ought to be page 1 material all the time and the media is not communicating the degree of crisis that it is.

But anyway, my interest in cartooning. It’s never been like the most popular cartooning topic because, A, it’s undercovered. B, it’s a little hard to understand and the problems have been in the future for most of the time I’ve been cartooning and now the problems are here. Now the visuals are so much easier because you’ve got the actual fires, the flooding, the tornadoes, the hurricanes…there’s lots to draw now that it’s actually happening. So it’s gotten to be easier to cartoon.

But my thrill to work with Michael Mann is that, as interested as I’ve been in the subject, I’m not an expert. People say “Well I’m not a climate scientist.” I’m not a climate scientist either. But I happen to know one now. And so when there’s something that I’m dealing with. Or, just going through the book with him, I was testing my understanding about what he was writing. I was pretty close on most things, but it was always education for me and a testing of my understanding of the topic against the actual facts. So it was it was great to work with Mike also.


So at least on paper what you have here is a melding of right and left brain here, right? The scientist meets the artist and, in theory, that can be a very powerful thing. I’m curious from your perspective, Michael…As a scientist, you know I know you’ve been forced into the public domain because of your work. I assume over time you get kind of used to being in the fray. But when you’re when you’re trying to reach the general public what are you trying to keep in mind?

I know a lot of scientists struggle with trying to be true to their work. Sometimes they can’t filter or edit out what they’ve done and share it in a way that’s cohesive and coherent to people. And yet, you know, the other side of it is you don’t want to mischaracterize what you do. Do you struggle with that?


Yeah it’s a real interesting learning process to be somebody who’s trained within the culture of science and then you go out into the real world. Whether you choose to do so, you’re forced into the spotlight as I was back in the late 1990s when our hockey stick study first appeared. And you learn that the rules of engagement are actually very different in the scientific world than in the public sphere.

There are so many examples of how scientists…the way we tend to frame things when we’re talking to our fellow scientists is actually antithetical to the way that communication experts tell you, you should be framing things. For example, we lead with the uncertainty. We love to talk about what we don’t know and what the uncertainties are because, as scientists, that’s where we spend our time. At that horizon. And yet, when you’re speaking to the public, you want to start with what we do know. You want to make sure that they don’t tune out immediately. You start talking about all the uncertainty and we don’t know anything, and then they flip the channel.

So you lead with what we do know. What’s the importance? What’s the conclusion? What’s the bottom line? What’s the one thing you want them to come away with? And you can layer that if you have the opportunity, in nuance and context. If you have time to go into the details, but you have to think about what is it that I really want people to come away with. You’ve got to get away from using jargon. Which, scientists are used to speaking in jargon.

The rules of scientific engagement are almost the opposite of the rules of effective communication, and that’s the real challenge as a scientist. To begin working with communication experts, begin working with people in that domain, and learning from them, and learning what works and not sort of approaching it from the way that all too often scientists approach a problem. That is “You just tell me what the problem is and I’ll figure out how to solve it.”

No. You actually have to work with experts outside of the discipline. Experts outside of the field of science if you want to communicate your science.


I have this strong feeling these days that scientists no longer have the luxury not to do this. I mean I think we can all agree there are some scientists who shouldn’t come out of the lab ever, right? They don’t do us any good and we know who they are. Let them stay there and do their work. But those who can communicate, I really think should, must almost, at this point. Because not only are we talking about climate change here. We’re talking about faith in the scientific process, support of science, support of federally funded science. All of that is in jeopardy right now.

Would you go along with that? Would you think that you would tell your fellow scientists that you must be doing this if you have the skill set?


Yeah, it’s a great question and it reminds me of a book that some colleagues wrote some years ago. Chris Mooney, who’s now at The Washington Post. Cheryl Kirschenbaum wrote this book Unscientific America, and it’s sort of about the legacy of science, and science funding, and sort of the Cold War. You know, where scientists didn’t have to make their case. It was understood that we needed to fund basic scientific research if we were going to win the Cold War, if we were going to develop the technological innovations that society depends on.

And somewhere along the lines, their thesis is scientists sort of lost the inclination to make the case to the public because the money was just coming their way. They didn’t need to do that. There was also, and this is something you and I have talked about, the Sagan Effect. The fact that those scientists who did choose to be public spokespeople and communicators were often pilloried for doing so. In the case of Carl Sagan, a great scientist who certainly should have been in the National Academy of Sciences based on the fundamental scientific work he did. But he was blackballed from the academy because some of his fellow scientists didn’t like the fact that he was out there in the limelight doing something that the many of them felt was beneath them: communicating to the public.


A scientist should never sit on Johnny Carson’s couch, right?

So Tom, you have the power of the pen here. Going back to Thomas Nast, cartoonists have had the ability to…A picture does speak a thousand words, right?

When you’re talking about climate change, are you particularly challenged, as an artist, to come up with ways to symbolize it? I noticed you, in one of your cartoons, you had something that looked like the love child of Shrek and Jabba the Hutt as climate change. But it’s hard. This the same struggle I have doing TV pieces. It’s big, it’s amorphous, it’s slow moving. What is it, and do you have a hard time putting it into a cartoon?


Well certainly not anymore. Early on, before the symptoms started showing up, it was more just a matter of bringing the subject matter out into the the page. And sometimes I would do expository, conversational things that outlined the subject matter, some of the defects in the opposition’s thinking, and pilloring the people that were starting to stand in the way. Singling them out as human beings and political figures, and shining a light on what they were doing that was against the public interest.

It has gotten almost too easy. I can fill the panel with every manner of natural or unnatural disasters. Fires, the flooding, high waves, everything. It’s all there. Much easier now. Unfortunately, it’s easier because we’re farther into the problem and the problem is that much harder to solve now.


You know, in my side of the journalism realm. I have to constantly defend my stories to editors. And Jeff Zucker the current boss of CNN, my old place of employ, famously said “We’d do more climate change but people are bored with it”, which I think is a cop out, of course. It says a lot about journalism in general.

In the opinion world, you’re kind of sheltered from some of the requirements that I would have to try to sell a story. Can you just you know tell the opinion editor at The Post “This is what I’m doing for a cartoon”? And if it’s climate change, nobody gives you a hard time?


Yes. The freedom I have to do what I want has evolved but, essentially, quite some time ago I got pretty close to complete autonomy. Which is great. It changes the nature of the work to being much more personal, honest, heartfelt. And I think that communicates over time, maybe not in every single cartoon.

But in the question of climate, I faced the same thing. Early on it was “Nobody cares about this. Nobody can understand that. You’re not going to get any readers with this.” And I thought “Okay, I understand that I would draw climate cartoon and it would rarely be one of the most popular ones.”

But then I’d look back at the problem and I said “Wait a minute, this is the problem of the 20th century. There’s no way I can not do this.” My job here is not to guess which is the most popular subject to do a cartoon about. But to try and try and try again to find ways to communicate this, and that has been a challenge.

But part of finding an audience and getting people to understand things is not to cater to their conceptions or their preexisting interests. Sometimes just repetition will get people to understand something. So I figured even if I didn’t hit the ball out of the ballpark every single time with a climate cartoon, if I kept hitting singles, and bringing the subject back to their attention, they would start to…Readers understand by the repetition. Not only that this is something that you care about. It brings it closer into their awareness as something that maybe they should care about too. So repetition and trying every single thing I could think of was the way I approached this subject.


You’re a lucky person in the world of journalism to have that kind of…I mean, you’ve risen to the top and you have autonomy that most of us don’t have. But I have seen changes.

I remember, back in the early days of CNN, we did regular science reports. We used to have a weekly science show back in the day. Imagine that. It’s all gone now. But I remember one time bringing a story down. We used to have to play them for the supervising producer before they went on the air. And I played him something. It was something obscure. It was something about Bucky Balls or something really scientifically… It was a difficult reach for the typical poli-sci guy in the newsroom, right?

I played the thing and he said…He watches it, and he’s got his hand on his chin. The piece is over two and a half minutes and he said “You know, I know that’s science but that was actually interesting.”And so there is this kind of…we’re against a sense in the newsroom that it’s complicated, it’s difficult to understand, they probably have PTSD over the periodic table from eighth grade, whatever the case may be.

So I am curious, and I’m going to direct this to you, Michael, what can we do? You know I struggle for ways to…For the longest time, it was always the polar bear on the ice cube story, right? Which really got old, but at least it was a picture. And what you’re talking about, Tom, is how this is changing because it’s happening now. That’s the good news and the bad news, from my perspective. I can start telling this story in a way that gets people’s attention.

The question is, is it too late? But you’ve seen the media operate long enough now, Michael, too to some insights. What do you think we should be doing that we aren’t to try to reach the public and get them engaged in this subject as they should be?


Yeah, well this is something you alluded to earlier. There are these constraints. As a journalist, your editor may have a certain view about the need for some balance. And they are answerable to advertisers. And one of the things, one of the real challenges, is the working of the refs, I call it. It’s basketball season…The working of the refs, the other side, the fossil fuel interests and their paid lobbyists and advocates, are very good at targeting journalists and journalistic outlets.

If they do hard hitting commentary on the things that matter, because people don’t really care about polar bears all that much. Some people do, and we should. But what do they care about? They care about epic wildfires and droughts and super storms that they are seeing play out in real time, that they are being impacted by directly. Rupert Murdoch… His house was damaged in the worst California wildfire of all time. Of course, Murdoch funds one of the principal climate change denying media outlets, Fox News.

And so there’s all of this working of the refs. And the journalists hear from the climate change deniers, and they’re attacked if they start to connect the dots on the things that matter. Those are the things…That when people start to understand that the worst flooding event of all time, Hurricane Harvey, that Maria this monster storm that basically destroyed the infrastructure of Puerto Rico, the worst California wildfire on record happened out of season. It happened during what’s supposed to be the wet season. People get it. They know something’s going on.

But too often, media outlets fail to really connect the dots in their coverage of these extreme weather events. Often they fail to note that there is a connection with climate change. And some of that, I think, is historical in nature, and it sometimes seems too wonkish. And maybe your audience doesn’t care about that context. But some of it is because of the pressure that’s being exerted from the other side to not connect those dots. And I’ve seen it. I’ve actually seen stories, a draft of a story, and then the revised version of that story when it came back from the editors. And you can see that, that happens.


Yeah it does. Just this past year, and I do have to toot our own horn here at the PBS NewsHour a little bit because we do strive to do that. I push very hard for these…I call them the teachable moments that news gives us, right? When there’s a fire, let’s get on record right now and make that connection because what has happened over the years is interesting.

Not only do you have newsrooms filled with these liberal arts people who are afraid of science and confuse the political journalistic technique of on the one hand, other hand which doesn’t really work in the case of peer review versus the Cato Institute. So when you make that connection, I think it’s really important to seize those moments.

But if you think about one of the great missed opportunities in this country, it’s that the local weathermen and women who historically have been acolytes of the likes of John Coleman, very noted climate change denier, or Bill Gray in Colorado. Also a big skeptic at least. And the weather people have seldom made those connections.

Now you’re at Penn State. That’s a big mineralogical school. One of the things, I wonder, is if they’re teaching them better to put this in the greater context of climate.


And I will take some responsibility. Our program, at one point twenty five percent of all broadcast meteorologists in the country have come through our program, one of the oldest programs in meteorology, at Penn State University. And we had climate change contrarians on the faculty that helped create this generation of contrarian weather people, meteorologists.

And, you know, so there is that historical context. And then there’s just the fact that if you’re studying the day-to-day fluctuations in the weather that are so large in their magnitude it can be difficult sometimes to appreciate the more subtle background changes that are climate change that represent the shifts in those weather phenomena. As we said earlier, that’s changing now because the extreme weather events that we are seeing now so clearly have the imprint of climate change that there’s a natural opportunity to connect the dots.

But for these historical reasons, sort of our best messengers when it comes to the science of climate change…Broadcast meteorologists around the country who have almost a personal relationship with their viewers. There’s a connection there people trust their their local weather person and there’s a real opportunity to educate. But if it’s too heavy-handed people tune out.

They want to know whether or not they have to bring an umbrella to work tomorrow, not climate change. And so there’s a real skill in finding a way, and you guys at the NewsHour do that very well and I want to thank you for being a shining exception to the rule. The rule is to not connect those dots because it can be difficult to do.

There are ways to do that, and the broadcast meteorology community has really come a long way in part because there are groups like Climate Central, which is an organization that has spearheaded this effort to help educate broadcast meteorologists on how to provide that context and way that’s natural, that works. It doesn’t seem forced and communicates the reality.


Yeah, and you have people like Marshall Shepherd running the American Meteorological Society who gets it. He understands the difference between weather and climate. I think he said, he had a great analogy for me.. I don’t know if he’d agree with it. He said “Weather is your mood. Climate is your personality.” That’s one of those analogies that I’m always —


It’s a great analogy. I use that myself, and I do believe that I heard it from Marshall.


It’s a good one.


Alright, Tom. When you look at the other side of the house, the non-opinion side of the Post – and I’m putting you a little bit on the spot, but since you have such autonomy you can you can say what you want – Do you see better reporting, more reporting, since the ownership change at the Post? I think that overall the quality has been pretty good.

But we are in a world where, you know, I used to be an eight person Science Unit at CNN. I was a part of that. It’s no longer. And people who kind of devote their careers to really understanding these concepts and finding ways to talk about the mood versus the personality, ways to relate it…There aren’t many people doing that any more professionally in the mainstream popular media. Do you see much movement where you sit at the Post?


I think the Post has been fairly strong on climate in the time that I’ve been there, since 2002. They got off to a pretty good start. Maybe not a start, but a pretty good base, with Jill Alper, and did some wonderful climate work. And Chris Maloney is doing some great stuff now.

My complaint now with the Post coverage in particular, and media in general, is twofold. My complaint is not with the stories, the factual matter and presentation within the stories. I think it’s frequency and intensity. As I said before this is a crisis. It is factually a crisis but we are not…

Treatment, placement frequency of stories is part of the message of what is important. And when those climate stories appear in the print edition on page 4 or 5 instead of on page 1, when it’s presented as here’s another collection of facts but without the sense of crisis…When there is a disaster, I would want to see a prominent box with every disaster story that asks the question “Is this what we are creating for ourselves here?” and now go through the list of similar disasters that have happened, potential disasters can happen. Treat it like a crisis.

And the second thing that I would ask for in coverage is the Post’s unofficial motto: Follow the money. The story of climate is not just science. It is players, and these players are aggressive. They are using money to distort the coverage. And I want to see those players named, their funding, who they fund, how this has happened. This did not just happen. It’s the tobacco story all over again. They’re selling doubt, they’re selling confusion, and they’re selling things that are not true.

For the media to lie down in the face of this and not call it out is dereliction of responsibility. And even if they have to step outside, as Michael has, from their traditional comfort zone to communicate what has actually been happening…It’s a mandate for media to be able to look at themselves in the mirror and say: “We’re doing our jobs to educate the American people so they can participate meaningfully and effectively based on fact in their own government.” And we have veered so far off this natural, needed, healthy sense of how a democracy works. And the media has a role and they have not fulfilled it.


So is it a simple question, and I’ll let you weigh in too Michael, but is it a simple question of resources? Imagine the number of reporters covering politics at the Post versus those covering science. Part of it is the people who cover politics,. I watched all those nauseating debates at times. Right? And I think there might have been one question throughout all of them on the subject of climate. So political reporters can’t get off scot-free here either just because “I’m not the science guy”.

Can you think of another important issue that they could get away with not even asking a question over?


Not to the same degree. I mean, the other issue in American politics that is downplayed in a way that’s very damaging is wealth inequality. And I think you find some of the same problems there, but we’re not here to…That’s a whole different podcast.


That’s another podcast, yeah.


Why I emphasize climate in my cartoons… You run your radar across the world landscape and you say “What’s important?” And my unofficial question to myself every day is “What needs saying?” And it’s not just a matter of leveraging off the latest goof that a politician does to get a funny chuckle. I mean I’ll do some of that too. Readers love it, I enjoy it. But you have to keep asking yourself “What needs saying?” And that’s part of the job of journalism. And this is the thing that needs saying the most.


Alright, so Michael’s dying to get in here. Go ahead.


Well I was just going to say “Amen”. I’m not normally at a loss for words but I think Tom has very succinctly described the predicament. I do think things are changing. And it’s something we talked about earlier.

There is now this movement away from a false balance where the media feels like they need to put a member of the flat earth society along with a NASA astronaut. You know, we don’t do that and yet we used to do the same thing when it came to climate change – contrasting the overwhelming voice of the scientific community with some fossil fuel funded lobbyists. And the media’s getting away from that.

I think the challenge now is what Tom alluded to before. This is a one above the fold story, and the excuse that “Well, you know, the public isn’t interested in climate change…” That’s only true if the problem isn’t framed for the problem it actually is. Because it turns out that the national security catastrophes that we’re dealing with today: the Syrian uprising, ISIS, and there was a presenter at this conference earlier who talked about how the Syrian uprising really is a manifestation of tensions over food and water and land that arose out of an unprecedented drought in Syria.

So when Donald Trump says “We shouldn’t be distracted by non-problems like climate change. We need to focus on international terrorism…” There’s a deep fallacy there. Actually, our national security community says that the greatest security threat that we face today is the increased competition for diminishing resources brought on by climate change. And so if it’s framed in that way, if it’s recognized that when we’re talking about national security, when we’re talking about terrorism, when we’re talking about unprecedented weather disasters, each one of those has a climate change component to it. And yet too often that component is neglected.

Those are the dots that we need to connect in our media if we’re really going to communicate the reality and threat of this problem.


That’s the challenge for us. Connecting the dots. And as you say the consistency, the repetition, not ignoring it.

Okay. We’re about out of time. I know you guys gotta get going. But just a final thought, a few words, on what you hope to accomplish with the book Madhouse Effect. I really enjoyed the read. It’s a great compilation. It’s very accessible to people who haven’t been dialed into the hockey stick like I have for 20 years. What do you hope to accomplish with it?


Well thanks, Miles for the kind comments. It was a lot of fun to be able to work with an artistic genius like Tom. I mean that’s a once in a lifetime opportunity. To be able to use all the tools that he brings to the table to talk about this story in a different way, and that’s what we’re trying to do.

Too often people tune out. If you try to barge through their front door with graphs and equations, they tune out. And we need to find new ways of talking about this problem, side doors that we can approach people who are unconvinced that the problem is even real. Often that grows out of sort of an ideological, sort of tribal, sort of identity.

When it comes to climate change, it’s become a politically divisive issue. So you’re not going to reach those folks through the usual sort of approaches. You need to find a new way to do that. And frankly, I think humor and satire is a secret weapon. I think people lower their guard when you approach a problem using humor, using satire and using ridicule, where it’s appropriate. Being irreverent. I think there’s an opportunity to reach people who have thus far been unreachable on this issue.

I think it’s the same reason that the hardest hitting commentary in The Washington Post is Tom’s cartoons, and the hardest hitting commentary on television today is Stephen Colbert. It’s because there’s a license that comes with presenting things with humor and satire that allows you to talk about topics that otherwise are considered too politically divisive, and climate change has become one of them.


I’d put John Oliver in that category as well with the 97 scientists versus the three, which I thought was just perfect.

Tom, just takeaway thoughts on what you hope to accomplish.


I agree with Michael. The overt reason and hope for the book is to present the subject matter in a somewhat different way to disarm and engage the reader, simultaneously, with a different take on it. To open a new door into the subject. And through that, to move the public another step forward. It’s not going to be the one thing that changes everything, but the problem has been so difficult and so ignored that you look for every single opportunity.

That’s why I said “Yes” to this project before I had heard any of the details. What I heard when I was hearing the pairing…I said “This might help, sign me up.” I didn’t care, I didn’t ask how much money there was in it. I mean, you’re not going to make it a zillion dollars on something like this anyway. It didn’t make any difference. I wanted to do it, and I enjoyed every minute.

The other thing I would say is just as the accumulation of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is a slow killing of the planetary health, the subtext of the book is the slow accumulation of dishonesty and outright lying in American politics. The book is not overtly about those things, but it’s definitely a huge part of the story. And that is not limited to the subject of climate. It’s something that is infesting our whole democratic system, and it’s infecting every other subject to a greater or lesser degree. To the degree we can highlight that process of the destruction of truth as an idea, that is also another hope that I have had for the project.


Excellent. More to come on all of this. Class is dismissed. Mrs. Beagle’s second grade class, time is up. There will be a quiz on this later. Tom Toles, Michael Mann, thank you so much for your time.

Miles O’Brien:

I highly recommend this book to you. I have read just about everything on this subject and this one is maybe one to give to skeptics you know who might be rethinking their opinions on all of this. I have gotten to the point now where I don’t try to debate this issue with outright deniers. It’s just a waste of time.

It is maddening to read it and it is so frustrating that it even has to be published in the first place. The fact that we’re still debating settled science by some of the world’s greatest minds in their fields just irks me.

Those of us who lose sleep at night over this issue just need to keep chipping away at this, one person at a time. For me, one story at a time. For Michael Mann and Tom Toles, maybe one book at a time. Whatever it takes. Eventually, the fossils, if you know what I mean, will die off, I suppose.

Young people are not so easily confused by all this nonsense. They see the problem, they understand the consequences, and they seem ready to tackle it. I just hope we don’t hand it to them after it’s too late…

Again the book is The Madhouse Effect: How Climate Change Denial Is Threatening Our Planet, Destroying Our Politics, and Driving Us Crazy.

If you’d like to see how our conversation played out at the Annapolis Book Festival, it’s on C-SPAN, on their site and we’ll have a link for you at milesobrien.com.

Hey, while you’re there, sign up for our newsletter! Once a week, simple email, and you’ll be up to date on all the stuff we’re up to, which amounts to a fairly good compilation of what’s going on in the world of science and technology.

Sure would appreciate if you would rate and review this podcast–we’re still in the process of growing it. It’s a slow and steady one.

Thanks for listening. I’m Miles O’Brien and this has been Miles To Go.

Banner image credit: Sam Jotham Sutharson | Unsplash.

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