I have to admit — sometimes Joe Romm ruins my mornings. As the author of Climate Progress, one of the most influential global-warming blogs on the Internet, few debates on energy or the environment get past his ravenous attention, and he takes particular pleasure in targeting mainstream journalists who’ve written something he deems stupid. That’s been me occasionally — like the time Romm took me to task for referencing an analysis on energy research and development he found wanting. At least I’m in good company: writers from the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal have all been the subject of Romm posts.
I don’t know what’s more suprising. That Time named me one of its “Heroes of the Environment 2009” — I certainly don’t see myself as a hero. Or that they gave the assignment to Bryan Walsh, given my earlier critique of one of his pieces — and he still wrote such a generous profile, which continues:
But here’s the thing — more often than not Romm’s right. A physics Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Romm, 49, clearly has brains to spare. He combines that intellect with a strong sense of moral outrage. He also possesses a Jon Stewart-like quality for pointing out the absurdity of his opponents.
Unlike many climate bloggers, Romm comes at global warming not from an environmental background but from a national-security one. After graduating from MIT, he worked at the Rockefeller Foundation. His job in the twilight of the Cold War was to identify the world’s new big problems — and as he talked to experts across the ideological spectrum, he found them: energy and climate change. “These were the sleeper issues that were really going to dominate the coming decades,” says Romm.
The 1990s were spent working for the Clinton Administration in Washington, where for several years he was an acting assistant secretary at the Department of Energy, an experience that put him well ahead of the curve on green power. But it wasn’t until Romm’s brother lost his house in Mississippi during Hurricane Katrina that climate change became personal. Romm began an in-depth research project to determine whether his brother should rebuild there. The result was the 2006 global-warming book Hell and High Water, which displayed a trademark urgency that bordered on hectoring. “The consequences of doing nothing were far more than what people realized,” he says.
It’s become Romm’s mission to make people realize that — and his Climate Progress blog is the perfect vehicle for this son of a newspaper editor. What began as a once-a-day side job has become full time, with Romm scouring the Internet for climate studies and filtering them through his own firmly fixed values: that global warming is a potential human catastrophe, but that it can be fixed with today’s green technology, applied relentlessly. It’s “excellent and indispensable,” as New York Times columnist — and new green champion — Thomas Friedman likes to say.
It’s also much needed therapy for a writer who spends his time worrying about the fate of the world. “I used to be very frustrated,” he says. “But the blog keeps my blood pressure down.”
Indeed, it does (see “Why I blog“).
Walsh is a good reporter, as evidenced by his 2008 cover story, “How to Win the War on Global Warming,” which I thought was first rate.
[Note: If anyone has come here because of the Time story, be sure to read “An Introduction to Climate Progress.”]
Time sent a great photographer, Jordan Hollender, who took a lot of photos. I might try to post some of the others. I’m a little surprised this is the one they used but I certainly do sometimes blog with my daughter on my lap. And she certainly is a great motivation for me to fight to preserve a livable climate for the next generation.
One final comment on the subject of heroes. When your father is a newspaper editor and your mother is also a journalist and your older brother collects comic books, it’s hard not to see journalists as heroes.
Clark Kent, of course, was (is?) a mild-mannered reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper. Peter Parker was a newspaper photographer. Journalists were secret heroes. With Woodward and Bernstein and All The President’s Men, real journalists themselves became movie heroes to my generation. But now, a great many journalists have become part of the establishment, like Woodward himself, defenders of the status quo, like David Broder, stenographer of those centrists who are fatally uninformed about global warming.
Certainly I have the greatest respect for Time magazine, which continues to do the best science-based global warming coverage of any major national magazine (see “Time: How climate change is causing a new age of extinction“). So this means a lot coming from them, though it is ironic that I am being recognized in part for taking on the media itself, for being in some sense an anti-journalist, like Jon Stewart.
Let me end with Time’s framing of this issue:
From saving wild mountain rivers in China to measuring the Arctic’s icy expanse, from protecting the lush forests of Africa to conducting a feisty online debate, our green heroes are informed by this simple notion: We can all make a difference….
It’s easy to think that all the hard decisions are in the hands of our leaders alone. Not true. As the men and women in the following pages prove, we can all make a difference. Pen Hadow, leader of a daring survey across the Arctic to measure the thickness of sea ice, puts it this way: “Turning off a standby light once won’t make a difference. Do it for the rest of your life and that amounts to something. And if everybody’s doing something, then we’re moving in the right direction.” We hope our environmental heroes provide both inspiration and action. Like financial pundits, most of them embrace the idea that a crisis also presents opportunity. They are heroes because they set out to discover what that opportunity might be.
We can all make a difference. Indeed, we must.