Saturday, November 14, 2009

Book Review – Hell and High Water: Global Warming – the Solution and the Politics - and What We Should Do by Joseph Romm

Climate change is here...and there is hell to pay. Hell and High Water is a must-read book for everyone interested in global warming and climate science. Joseph Romm holds a PhD in Physics from MIT, was acting assistant secretary at the Department of Energy in the Clinton Administration (in which he headed the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy), and founder of the Center for Energy and Climate Solutions. Many will be familiar with Romm’s writing in the blog, Climate Progress, and Time Magazine has called him “the Web’s most influential climate-change blogger.”

As the title of this 2007 book suggests, the contents are split into two main parts. In Part I, Romm tells us the state of the current science, and then takes us through the likely scenarios for the near future (2000-2025), the intermediate near future (2025-2050), and the slightly further near future (2050-2100). As time passes – and as inaction continues – we advance through increasingly frequent and severe climatic events to what Romm calls “planetary purgatory” in which intense drought is seen in some areas while other areas (e.g., coastlines) experience intense flooding. Finally, barring significant action that begins now, we face “hell and high water,” irreversible global warming and sea level rise. Romm supports these scenarios with facts and the full backing of the scientific consensus.

In Part II, Romm takes us through the politics and the solutions. He informs us that we already have the technology to begin dealing with the situation, and to do so before the situation worsens to the point where solutions are much more difficult to initiate. So we can solve this problem. What is missing is the political will. Confounding this is the intentional disinformation being forwarded by free market lobbying groups whose masterful use of rhetoric confuses the public and makes it incredibly difficult for policy-makers to take the needed action. Try on this advice from Frank Luntz in his infamous 2002 “straight talk” strategy memo to conservatives wishing to deny and delay action on global warming:

“It can be helpful to think of environmental (and other) issues in terms of a story. A compelling story, even if factually inaccurate, can be more emotionally compelling than the dry recitation of the truth.” [my emphasis added]

In other words, at least in the climate change denialist book, lying is okay if it gets your desired point across. And according to Romm this is exactly what the global warming deniers and delayers have been doing. The goal is delay, delay, delay...deny, deny, deny.

But Romm also offers solutions. A lot of solutions. And most are based on technologies that already exist today and can be carried out if policy-makers are allowed to put them into practice. Solutions that include putting a price on carbon that can be traded in such a way that companies that reduce their emissions will make money. Solutions like plug-in electric cars (not hydrogen fuel cell cars, which Romm suggests is more of a shell game to delay action than a viable technology). And many more.

In his concluding chapter, “The End of Politics,” Romm says that the public – you and me – need to demand change. He notes that everyone must become a “climate champion” that will take whatever action we can to put policy-makers in a position where they can honestly implement adequate policies. Romm says that he does “believe that if we fail to act in time, it will be the single biggest regret any of us has at the end of our lives.”

This book is a powerful look at the problems we face with global warming, the solutions that already exist to deal with it, and the politics that keeps us from implementing them. It is a easily readable book for everyone, whether scientifically trained or not. I highly recommend this book for all to read. Readers can also keep up with Romm’s continuing efforts to debunk climate change deniers at

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