Joe Romm is pissed off — and I’m delighted.
His latest book, Straight Up, takes on the oil and coal companies, the skeptics, and the press. His unfailing sense of priorities shines through his startlingly thoughtful and brutally blunt writing.
I have one problem with his book — but more about that later.
As an assistant secretary of energy during the Clinton administration, Romm developed expertise in the area of renewable energy technologies. As a climate blogger, his even greater asset is his intelligence.
Straight Up is a compilation of posts from Romm’s popular blog Climate Progress. And while one wishes Romm would have stitched the blog posts together into a more coherent narrative — and omitted a few that addressed transitory, fleeting events — his book is absolutely on point in its insistence that climate change long ago ceased to be a scientific issue and, instead, is most clearly a political one.
Take the climate bills pending in Congress. Even though all the proposals on the legislative table are pitifully inadequate to the catastrophic threat of accelerating climate change, Romm’s book makes the subtext crystal clear.
The conflict in Congress is not really about the science. “The conflict is actually a political one between those who believe in government-led solutions and those who don’t.” As Romm points out, a central reason that most political conservatives and libertarians deny the reality of human-induced climate change “is that they simply cannot stand the solution. So they attack both the solution and the science.” I don’t recall reading that simple truth in The Washington Post, The New York Times, or any other major news outlet — virtually all of which treat the climate debate as though it actually had some legitimacy.
Similarly, I share Romm’s critical take on the news media for their complicity in creating our gathering nightmare.
Having spent 30 years as an editor and reporter at some of the country’s major newspapers, I don’t think the worst offenders in the hierarchy of climate villainy are the executives of Big Coal and Big Oil. They’re simply doing what they’re paid to do: bring us cheap and abundant energy — and defend their industries against the imperatives of the science and the onslaught of environmentalists.
The larger villain, from my point of view, is the mainstream press that has consistently failed to prepare the public for the coming turbulence. The major U.S. news outlets have failed to prominently highlight major climate science findings. They have failed to mention the role of warming in the increasing frequency and intensity of extreme weather events. And they have failed, in the name of “journalistic balance,” to distinguish between legitimate, peer-reviewed scientific research and the deliberate obfuscation by a cadre of climate skeptics, many of whom have been funded by coal and oil companies.
As a result, the public has no idea that we are already at a point of no return in terms of staving off climate chaos.
Citing the dire forecasts from the most recent IPCC report — which significantly underestimate the urgency of the situation — Romm blasts the media for treating climate skeptics “as if they had a scientifically or morally defensible position.”
Moreover, because the media largely continues to report the climate controversy as though it had a middle ground, “they push us closer to the certain catastrophe of inaction,” as Romm writes.
His chilling conclusion: “It appears to me that today’s media simply can’t cover humanity’s self-destruction.”
In a similar vein, Romm skewers the media for failing to connect the intensification of extreme weather events around the world to our burning of coal and oil.
That connection was established as early as 1995, when Tom Karl, David Easterling, and other scientists at NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center concluded that as earth’s temperature increases, we will see more temperature extremes, more intense downpours, and more protracted droughts, among other consequences. Those findings were elaborated in a 1997 Scientific American articled titled “The Coming Climate.”
Nevertheless, Romm points out that the coverage by the majority of the U.S. news outlets of last year’s hellish wildfires in Australia contained no mention of warming-driven heat waves and droughts. Romm cited a Reuters headline which read, “Australia Fires a Climate Wake-up Call: Experts.” By contrast, ABC News anchor Charles Gibson called them “part natural disaster” and partly the product of arsonists. ABC’s World News Tonight said not one word about the role of human-induced atmospheric warming in the long heat wave and drought that created such hospitable conditions for the wildfires.
On the economic front, Romm is equally ruthless in his criticism. For one thing, the press and many economists have consistently overestimated the costs of mitigation, starting with the simplest of all remedies: efficiency. In Romm’s view, the U.S. is the “Saudi Arabia of energy waste.”