Ola M Sæther

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The atmosphere in the madhouse

Illustration: michaelmann.net
Michael Mann's The Madhouse Effect is a well-written book about research, politics and debate about climate emissions and global warming.

Michael E. Mann is the researcher who launched the Hockey-stick graph, a well-known graphical representation of the global temperature development at the surface of the northern hemisphere from about  year 1000 until today. He is a professor of atmospheric science at Pennsylvania State University.

His latest book, published at Columbia University Press in 2016 in collaboration with Tom Toles cartoonist from Washington Post, has the title The Madhouse Effect.

The theme is how the denial of global warming is threatening our planet, destroying our politics and making us all a little crazy.

Lobby organizations

This is a well-written small book in English of 150 pages with many cartoon drawings that is affordable reading for most people.

In support of texts and illustrations, there are many footnotes (265 pieces) with references to other books, news stories and articles in primary research articles.

The book provides a good overview of research concerning the relationship between anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases and global warming.

It also gives a rare insight into how the contradictory interests of the debate in the United States are spelled out between different political lobbying organizations, the media, industry and scientific research.

In addition, the book summarizes what is published as research, also known as pseudo research, which is largely promoted by so-called climate skeptics.

Madhouse atmosphere

In the book, he tries to answer the following fundamental question:

How is it possible that we have ended up in a situation, a kind of madhouse atmosphere, where politicians can promote the interests of influential actors, for example in the oil industry,  while ignoring what's best, in a longer perspective, for the people that they are supposed to represent?

There are many individuals and institutions who will benefit if the facts about the man-made global warming is not known. We have now arrived where the American author Upton Sinclair (1878-1968) warned us, "It's hard to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on him not understanding it."

And under these circumstances continues the battle every day for  those who have captured the main message of the UN's Climate Panel (IPCC) to make the world realize the possible permanent damage we inflict on the Earth, ourselves, and any ecosystem.

Scientific approach

Another key question that is highlighted in the book is: How does science work?

Everyone says they want a scientific approach to society's challenges. That we must provide documentable and transparent facts and statements that can be verified. That science is a premise for a knowledge-based development of the world community.

"So why is there a fuss about science related to climate changes?", asks Mann.

Science is unique in human activity in the form of the "self-correcting" machinery for which it is controlled. This leads to the fact that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

Being skeptical is in itself a virtue that helps keep science up to the highest possible level by means of independent investigations and by turning every single stone. It is not only a good feature of science, but a prerequisite.

This tentative examination of what is true or not true is the lubricant that ensures that the self-correcting machinery continues to function.

Stolen title

Mann believes that the term "skeptic" is often used as a stolen title. In particular, this is the case in the climate debate where it is used in a completely different context than what is usual. In the climate debate, the allegation of being a skeptic is used as an excuse to avoid discussing evidence that one really does not like.

Such an attitude is not associated with skepticism, but rather with an antithetic attitude interspersed with a large proportion of denial. Self-appointed skeptics in this category reject, without hesitation, quality assured and broadly accepted scientific principles.

This kind of skepticism is based on opinion, ideology, economic interests, self-interest, or a profitable blend of all these purposes.

Mann writes that we must teach ourselves to distinguish between true skepticism, a noble trait that is found in all good science and with all good scientists, from the pseudo-skepticism practiced by critics of science.

Unfortunately, some of them think that they are a modern edition of the famous Italian philosopher, physicist and astronomer Galileo Galilei (1564 - 1642), who is considered a key figure in the scientific revolution.

Warm recommendation  

Time is running out! Several decades ago we still had time on our side. Reducing global greenhouse gas emissions then would have meant smaller reductions in emissions than what is necessary now, says Mann. He claims that in our time, which means towards the end of the last century, we overlooked the scientific facts while avoiding the sensible choices we faced.

And already now we pay the price. Time is no longer on our side. Let's spend the time we have left in a wiser manner, Mann says. According to the Stern report (2006), we must have a 50-85 percent reduction in CO2 emissions compared to the level in year 2000, as a target by the middle of this century.

And this is not a long period in this regard! We need to focus on clean, green energy so that we can keep soil, air and water free of contamination, create a more efficient business environment (with less driving ...), give people more health and care for our children's future, Mann claims.

I would like to add a statement by the newly elected French president Macron: "Make our planet great again!"

This little book is highly recommended!