As someone who often reads Romm's blogging and has read his previous books, I was uncertain whether I would welcome having this book in my hands. Reading the first chapter erased that uncertainty.
Romm opens the book with a discussion of "why I blog", working from the George Orwell essay of "Why I Write". After quoting Orwell, Romm begins:
I joined the new media because the old media have failed us. They have utterly failed to force us to face unpleasant facts.
Yes, the "old" / traditional (not "mainstream") media have failed us. They have failed us when it comes to economic matters. They have failed us when it comes to reporting on politics. And, they have utterly failed us when it comes to honest and forthright reporting on the challenges before us due to Global Warming and the opportunities that are ready to be grasped if only the societal will were there to seize the day ... Carpe Diem. As Howard Friel wrote about traditional media's embrace of Bjorn Lomborg's deceit on climate change issues:
the favorable coverage of Lomborg and his books are to global warming what the triple-A ratings for mortgage-backed securities were to the U.S. financial system -- misguided seals of approval with catastrophic conclusions. Even worse, financial systems and economies presumably can be reinvented and restored, but the Earth, its climate, and its environment--upon which economic well-being and human civilization ultimately depend--cannot. Lomborg's success largely reflects an ability of elite publishing houses and news organizations to construct an alternative but counterfeit network of knowledge about an issue of the highest public importance.
Romm's forceful, impassioned blogging -- and his book publishing -- are a shining light in the confrontation of those "misguided seals of approval".
Romm's opening essay is his and speaks to his transition from scientist and policy making wonk (having served as Assistant Secretary of Energy for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy in the Clinton Administration) to prolific blogger, but there is much truth there for many others who have launched themselves into the blogosphere, striving to find paths to communicate successfully about the seriousness of the risks that we face.
Despite the dreadful seriousness and dire likely consequences of the subject matter, Romm's writing is enthused with a thread of hope. As he concludes that opening essay,
The ultimate reason that I blog is because it's not too late. JUst because the catastrophic climate changes we are headed toward will probably be irreversible for hundreds of years or longer, that doesn't mean that they are unstoppable.
We are going to adopte the clean energy strategies described in this book. That is a certainty. But the question of our time is: will we do it fast enough?
Humanity has only two paths forward at this point. As President Obama said in April 2009, "The choice we face is not between saving our environment and saving our economy. The choice we face is between prosperity and decline."
Either we voluntarily switch to a low-carbon, low-oil, low-net-water use, low-net-material economy over the next two decades or the post-Ponzi-zcheme collapse will force us to do so circa 2030. The only difference between the two paths is that the first one spares our children and grandchildren and future generations untold misery an expense.
With that pained optimism, Romm speaks for me and many that I know. He, I, we understand that we face a dire situation. That, even in the best scenarios, the situation will worsen (significantly) before improving due to the 'cooked' books of extent CO2 and the huge polluting infrastructure (and culture) that already exists. He, I, we understand that facing that challenge -- directly, seriously, continuously -- also represents a path not just to avert utter disaster but to forge something better for tomorrow.
Romm is a tenacious fighter, ready to speak what he sees as truth bluntly and forcefully, ready to take on all comers to the point that he can even rub 'friends' and allies the wrong way at times. That tenaciousness seems absent from the traditional media -- especially for reality-based traditional media. Romm's knowledge, writing skills, and passion enable most to see past those conflicts since, on so many issues, Romm is simply -- well -- correct and laying out viable paths forward. As Christopher Mims opened his review at Change.ORG
If you want to be culturally literate about climate change, there are two books that you must read. The first is Mark Lynas's Six Degrees. The other, which just hit the stands yesterday, is Straight Up, the second book by Joe Romm, who was Acting Assistant Secretary of Energy for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy during the Clinton Administration. It represents the best of his blog Climate Progress, lightly edited and presented so accessibly that even veterans of that site will find it informative. No one in the public eye understands climate change, its solutions and its detractors better than Romm.
Simply put, if the 'nation' would read Straight Up and follow Romm's prescriptions, we would find ourselves moving away from decline into a new era of prosperity.
A few side notes ...
- Transforming blog posts into a book: This is a difficult challenge. Romm's Climate Progress posts aren't idle essays but, in essence, heavily footnoted discussions with many (many) links to items backing his statements. Those links and thorough documentation, which stand up to the scrutiny of click-throughs to check on what he says, are one of the reasons Romm has built such a strong reputation in the energy/climate blogging space. Those links are utterly absent from Straight Up which, absent familiarity with the blogging, might come off as a string of bold assertions without clear substantive backing. This clearly makes it an easier read (how many 1000s of footnotes might it have had otherwise), but leads me to wonder about the implications of how blogging translates into the book reading world. Will those less (or un) familiar with Romm's blog posts be less forgiving or, perhaps, more thankful for the lack of endnotes?
- "Left-wing" or centrist? Some describe Romm as "left-wing", suggesting at times that his views are somehow extreme. While Joe is one of the strongest, in terms of passion (and, often, vitriol), voices in the climate blogosphere, fighting to get people to realize the seriousness of the climate crisis, Joe is actual 'mainstream' among those who recognize the seriousness of the climate crisis. He maintains hope, rather than wallowing in despair. In terms of measures to take, he does not call for an end to capitalism and a fundamental restructuring of the global economy as does others. Romm's suggested solutions and paths forward are 'within' the current economic structure -- even while many say that they cannot see a path out within our current economic system.
- Honoring Johnny Rook: I am glad that Joe included his homage to a friend of ours (a fellow Kossack), Johnny Rook, the now-deceased founder of Climaticide Chronicles. Johnny Rook's real name: Steven Kimball. Reading pieces like Romm''s Murder, He Wrote had great meaning to Steve in his dying days/hours. From Romm's post:
"Humanity is, as the name Climaticide Chronicles makes clear, in the process of murdering the climate. Everywhere Rook -- or any of us -- looks, there is more and more evidence of that crime in process ... So there is hope as long as people like Johnny Rook are willing to use their energy -- even their last drop of energy -- to tell the world what is to come on our current path and how we can stop it ..."
NOTICE to make the Feds happy: Island Press provided a review copy of Straight Up! to Get Energy Smart! NOW! As an aside, if you are not aware of Island Press, they are one of this blogger's favored publishing houses with book after book (after bookshelf) and even a blog meriting attention