The pursuit of U.S. legislation to address the threat of climate change has been going on for more than 20 years. It has pit entrenched industries against scientists and campaigners, political appointees against agency staff, American diplomats against UN officials, propagandists against journalists, red states against blue states, and John McCain 2010 against John McCain 2008. Drama abounds, and if you believe the latest in climate science, the stakes are very near existential.

So you’d think journalists would take some interest in it. But while the shelves are littered with books about climate science and policy, there’s been virtually no serious journalistic effort to write an insider political history, like Haynes Johnson and David Broder did for the 1994 Clinton healthcare imbroglio with The System, or more recently John Heilemann & Mark Halperin did for the 2008 campaign with Game Change.

The Climate War: True Believers, Power Brokers, and the Fight to Save the Earth
The Climate War: True Believers, Power Brokers, and the Fight to Save the Earth

The reason why is not terribly difficult to understand. It haunts Eric Pooley’s fantastic new book The Climate War like the Ghost of Christmas Future. To wit: it’s a story with no ending. There is no bill, no cap-and-trade system. The idea hasn’t been decisively defeated, but it hasn’t passed; it just keeps climbing up the hill like Sisyphus.

From the Bali climate talks in 2007 to the introduction of the Kerry-Lieberman bill in 2010, The Climate War goes behind the scenes with a key set of players as they hustle, argue, cajole, dodge, bribe, and stumble their way toward political action. Despite the lack of resolution, Pooley manages to pull the events and personalities involved into a narrative that’s not only readable but positively gripping. Momentum rarely sags; even the occasional, unavoidable detours into policy wonkery are crisp and lucid. It’s a feat of storytelling alchemy, a page-turner, and for anyone interested in the quest for an energy transformation, a must-read.