Two Good Books

The Heat is On by Ross Gelbspan was an enjoyable book. It didn’t take much effort to keep reading, and I whipped through it in a couple of days.

Much of the book was devoted to the politics of climate change, most notably the PR attempts by skeptics to delay action. There were some well-placed but infuriating examples, especially the story of Benjamin Santer, and how he was suddenly charged with fraud in the 1995 IPCC report by the folks from SEPP and the Marshall Institute. This was obviously an underhanded attempt to damage the IPCC’s credibility to the public, and it lives on today. I was trying to find a decent link from a respectable source that explained this story in more detail, but I got tired of sifting through results from Climate Depot and the SEPP website.

The book also explored how climate change will affect businesses and the economy. “The laws of supply and demand,” writes Gelbspan, “do not supersede the laws of nature – and when those two sets collide, the physical planet is the court of highest appeal.” The last chapter was devoted to possible solutions. There was nothing that set this book apart from others of its kind, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.

However, I felt that The Heat is On was a little dated, as it was written in 1997 – before the record-breaking years of 1998 and 2005, before Katrina, before Exxon stopped funding the skeptics. I felt this last point is quite important, as the skeptics were constantly referred to as “industry representatives” or “fossil fuel funded” in the book, while today the skeptics are more representatives of the extreme right-wing community, such as the Heartland Institute. The skeptical community seems more and more like a resistance to regulation, rather than a resistance to getting rid of fossil fuels. Naomi Oreskes refers to this phenomenon as “free market fundamentalism” in her excellent lecture (but resist the urge to read the comments – they’ll annoy you to no end).

Bottom line – there was nothing much that was new or spectacular in this book, but I enjoyed it anyway, and would recommend it to all.

I enjoyed Hell and High Water by Joseph Romm even more. It seemed more structured, more comprehensive, and more solution-oriented. The first half of the book was devoted to climate change impacts, especially hurricanes and sea-level rise. It was quite terrifying, even though I read this sort of stuff all the time.

The second half of the book discussed politics and solutions. Skeptics were referred to as “Denyers and Delayers”, a title I found quite fitting. There was a lot of Bush-bashing.

I found the solutions to be very well thought out and organized. Romm explained how we can’t rely on “new technology” to save us – we need to start now with what we have, which will buy us the time to develop this new technology. He told the success story of California’s energy efficiency program, which amazed me, and which I will likely devote a post to in the near future. I know there are a fair few Californians who read this blog – anyone want to leave their opinions, info, links, etc in the comments?

He discussed why peak oil won’t happen soon enough to save us from global warming, and why hydrogen power is not a viable solution unless and until we can find a way to get hydrogen from something other than fossil fuels. He explored the touchy subject of how to share emission reductions between developed countries and developing countries.

Romm also discussed media, one of my favourite facets of climate change to study. He noted that climate change, when it is reported in the popular press, is subject to a great deal of artificial balance, as “the media has the misguided belief that the pursuit of balance is superior to the pursuit of truth – even in science journalism.” He measured up the two sides of the scientific debate and claimed that the skeptics “remain a group small enough to fit into a typical home bathroom.” He quoted an anonymous editor at a major televison network, who replied to the question, “Why don’t you make the link between violent weather and global warming?” with, “We did that. Once. But it triggered a barrage of complaints from the Global Climate Coalition.” He mentioned a 2006 poll in Time magazine which found that 64% of Americans think there is a lot of scientific disagreement about climate change.

It’s like the media chapter was designed especially for me. I love reading about new topics – but I also love learning more about the topics I already know and love.

I think everyone should read Hell and High Water. It’s an up-to-date, far-reaching, well-cited account of global warming in the physical world and society.

As always, if you’ve read these books, you’re welcome to leave your own thoughts about them in the comments.


4 thoughts on “Two Good Books

  1. Joeseph Romm’s book is wonderful. And the media section is my favorite chapter in the book, as well. The case of California is key to his case on how much could be done in the United States and Canada to improve efficiency. As you no doubt know it is also in the United States a favorite conservative (AM radio) talking point (canard) to cite rolling blackouts in California as the norm in that state. And I have little doubt, given the glittering wonderment that is political discourse on the internet, that it will be the response given to the example of California on many websites. What is not said by conservatives, and should be, is the prominent part that the energy company Enron played in California’s troubles, which to the best of my knowledge are NOT ongoing. Though, given that I live in New Jersey, I have no first hand knowledge. It is worth noting that Enron was known for being a huge financial supporter of George Bush’s first run for President. Given the animus I hold towards the Bush administration, I was happy to read Mr Romm’s critique on this point.

    Mr Romm’s website is also a great help, although he writes so much that it is hard (impossible) to read it all.

    I am not framiliar with the details of Benjamin Santer’s troubles. For that reason alone I’ll give “The Heat Is On” a read.

    Thanks for the essay on these two books.


  2. Thanks for the reviews. Haven’t read Heat Is On, but your Hell and High Water review is spot-on.

    I’m seconding Patrick on Enron here, along with a recommendation for Enron: The Smartest Guys In The Room. For real fun, watch it with someone who supports free markets or deregulation.

    Santer’s trouble stops just shy of libel. Most recently, it was used as a talking point in the Great Global Warming Swindle, to which this complaint was levied. It contains a succinct summary of the whole affair, except for three omissions – Seitz was a tobacco ‘researcher’ and chair of the George C. Marshall Institute, the Wall Street Journal gave the Institute the final word in the argument, and the Swindle presented the headline via an animation that obscured the date of the headline (making it appear recent instead of a decade old).

  3. You read a lot. Seems like you were just reviewing Monbiot’s book.

    Read both of these you review, and agree with you wholeheartedly.

    In its day, of course, Heat Is On was very new and groundbreaking – time does that to all of us, eventually. Still, for those kind of new coming into this, who may or may not know how to discern between various “experts” making claims for or against AGW, Heat Is On is probably a very good place to start to pick up that history. I like Gelbspan’s intro, in which he discusses how he first wrote a piece about global warming, and was called by one of the skeptics and told how misguided he was on the subject. Gelbspan writes that he was somewhat persuaded by the skeptic, but decided to keep an interview with a climate scientist, who then explained to him what the real researchers were observing – and that made Gelbspan somewhat angry that the skeptic was so deliberately trying to mislead people, so he started researching for the book. At which point, he describes the personal attacks the skeptics/deniers launched at him – even trying to discredit his (quite legitimate) receipt of a Pulitzer Prize.

    If you haven’t looked into it already, you may want to pick up Gelbspan’s follow up, Boiling Point. I believe that one came out around 2005 or so.

    And I also absolutely agree with Bluetwinky on Romm’s site over at ClimateProgress. I go there regularly, and regard his posts as valuable to my job as well as a way to keep up with… well, climate progress, as it were.

    And, don’t fool yourself, Exxon hasn’t exactly stopped funding the deniers. They’re just a little more subtle these days… Romm posted on this not too long ago:

    Have you read Thin Ice yet?

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