Straight Up: America's Fiercest Climate Blogger Takes on the Status Quo Media, Politicians, and Clean Energy Solutions

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Overview


In 2009, Rolling Stone named Joe Romm to its list of "100 People Who Are Changing America." Romm is a climate expert, physicist, energy consultant, and former official in the Department of Energy. But it’s his influential blog, one of the "Top Fifteen Green Websites" according to Time magazine, that’s caught national attention. Climate change is far more urgent than people understand, Romm says, and traditional media, scientists, and politicians are missing the story.
 
Straight Up draws on Romm’s most important posts to explain the dangers of and solutions to climate change that you won’t find in newspapers, in journals, or on T.V. Compared to coverage of Jay-Z or the latest philandering politician, climate change makes up a pathetically small share of news reports. And when journalists do try to tackle this complex issue, they often lack the background to tell the full story. Despite the dearth of reporting, polls show that two in five Americans think the press is actually exaggerating the threat of climate change. That gives Big Oil, and others with a vested interest in the status quo, a huge opportunity to mislead the public.
 
Romm cuts through the misinformation and presents the truth about humanity’s most dire threat. His analysis is based on sophisticated knowledge of renewable technologies, climate impacts, and government policy, written in a style everyone can understand. Romm shows how a 20 percent reduction in global emissions over the next quarter century could improve the economy; how we can replace most coal and with what technologies; why Sarah Palin wears a polar bear pin; and why controversial, emerging technologies like biochar have to be part of the solution.
 
The ultimate solution, Romm argues, is bigger than any individual technology: it’s citizen action. Without public pressure, Washington and industry don’t budge. With it, our grandkids might just have a habitable place to live.
 
“The Web’s most influential climate-change blogger” and “Hero of the Environment 2009”
—Time Magazine
 
“I trust Joe Romm on climate.”
—Paul Krugman, New York Times
 
“America’s fiercest climate-change activist-blogger” and one of “The 100 People Who Are Changing America”
— Rolling Stone
 
“One of the most influential energy and environmental policy makers in the Obama era”
— U.S. News & World Report
 
“The indispensable blog”
—Thomas Friedman, New York Times

 
“One of the most influential energy and environmental policy makers in the Obama era”
— U.S. News & World Report
 
“The indispensable blog”
—Thomas Friedman, New York Times

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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times - Paul Krugman

"I trust Joe Romm on climate."
The New York Times - Thomas Friedman

"The indispensable blog"
Huffington Post - Al Gore

"Important...I recommend you read this book."
Grist

"Startlingly thoughtful and brutally blunt writing...[Joe Romm's] 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."
TIME

"'The Web's most influential climate-change blogger' and 'Hero of the Environment 2009'"
New York Times

“The indispensable blog”

— Thomas Friedman

Rolling Stone

"'America's fiercest climate-change activist-blogger' and one of 'The 100 People Who Are Changing America'"
U.S. News & World Report

"One of the most influential energy and environmental policy makers in the Obama era"
Time

“The Web’s most influential climate-change blogger” and “Hero of the Environment 2009”

Huffington Post

"Important...I recommend you read this book."

— Al Gore

Get Energy Smart

"Romm's forceful, impassioned blogging—and his book publishing—are a shining light...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."
Wonk Room

"A stiff drink of a book..In Straight Up: America's Fiercest Climate Blogger Takes on the Status Quo Media, Politicians, and Clean Energy Solutions, Romm distills his best work from the blog and honestly describes the catastrophic path humanity is on — and the clean energy solutions that offer hope for survival."
Change.org

"If you want to be culturally literate about climate change… you must read… Straight Up… presented so accessibly that even veterans of [ClimateProgress.org] will find it informative. No one in the public eye understands climate change, its solutions and its detractors better than Romm."
Time

“The Web’s most influential climate-change blogger” and “Hero of the Environment 2009”

Rolling Stone

“America’s fiercest climate-change activist-blogger” and one of “The 100 People Who Are Changing America”

U.S. News & World Report

“One of the most influential energy and environmental policy makers in the Obama era”

Get Energy Smart

"Romm’s forceful, impassioned blogging — and his book publishing — are a shining light...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."

Wonk Room

"A stiff drink of a book..In Straight Up: America’s Fiercest Climate Blogger Takes on the Status Quo Media, Politicians, and Clean Energy Solutions, Romm distills his best work from the blog and honestly describes the catastrophic path humanity is on — and the clean energy solutions that offer hope for survival."

Change.org

"If you want to be culturally literate about climate change… you must read… Straight Up… presented so accessibly that even veterans of [ClimateProgress.org] will find it informative. No one in the public eye understands climate change, its solutions and its detractors better than Romm."

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781597267168
  • Publisher: Island Press
  • Publication date: 4/8/2010
  • Edition description: 1
  • Pages: 179
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Joseph J. Romm is a climate expert, physicist, energy consultant, and author. He is executive director and founder of the Center for Energy and Climate Solutions; principal of the Capital E Group; fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science; senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and former acting assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of Energy. His previous books include Hell and High Water, The Hype About Hydrogen, and Cool Companies. He writes the blog ClimateProgress.org.

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Read an Excerpt

Straight Up

America's Fiercest Climate Blogger Takes on the Status Quo Media, Politicians, and Clean Energy Solutions


By Joseph J. Romm

ISLAND PRESS

Copyright © 2010 Joseph J. Romm
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-59726-795-3



CHAPTER 1

The Status Quo Media


Media coverage of global warming has not been very good nor is it likely to improve. Historically, even the most respected newspapers have fallen into the trap of giving the same credence—and often the same amount of space—to a handful of U.S. scientists, most receiving funds from the fossil fuel industry, as they give to hundreds of the world's leading climate scientists. No surprise that much of the public has ended up with a misimpression about the remarkable strength of our scientific understanding and the need for action (see chapter 8).

The study "Balance as Bias: Global Warming and the U.S. Prestige Press" analyzed more than 600 news articles published from 1990 to 2002 in the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and Wall Street Journal. The study found "significant difference between the scientific community discourse and the U.S. prestige press discourse." For instance, "53 percent of the articles gave roughly equal attention to the views that humans contribute to global warming and that climate change results exclusively from natural fluctuations."

In my blogging since mid-2006, I've found that the media coverage has not improved much. Why? One reason is that as the climate story has become a first-tier political story, more and more pieces are being written by senior political reporters, who know very little about global warming and who haven't bothered to educate themselves on what is indisputably the story of the century. Instead, they employ the horse-race perspective that dominates today's political coverage, attempting only to measure who is up and who is down. The publication on the web of the e-mails stolen from UK researchers in late 2009 allowed many media outlets to continue to miscover the science and give undue credence to those spreading anti-science disinformation.

Media critiques are among the most popular Climate Progress.org pieces. As the selection of posts in this chapter shows, media coverage across the board—from the science to the economics to the solutions—is still doing a grave disservice to the public.


Media Enable Denier Spin Part 2: What If the MSM Simply Can't Cover Humanity's Self-Destruction?

March 5, 2008

If those who are counseling inaction and delay succeed, billions of humans will suffer unimaginable misery and chaos, while most other species will simply go extinct.

Maybe the best one-line description of our current situation that I have read is:

It may seem impossible to imagine that a technologically advanced society could choose, in essence, to destroy itself, but that is what we are now in the process of doing.


That's the final sentence in Elizabeth Kolbert's fine global warming book, Field Notes from a Catastrophe, and as I'll show in this post, it is entirely accurate.

How can the traditional media cover a story that is almost "impossible to imagine"? I don't think they can. I'll be using a bunch of quotes mostly from Andy Revkin of the New York Times, not because he is a bad reporter—to the contrary, he is a leading climate reporter—but because now that he has a blog, he writes far more than any other journalist on this subject and shares his thinking. A new Revkin post, "The Never-Ending Story," underscores the media's central problem with this story:

I stayed up late examining the latest maneuver in the never-ending tussle between opponents of limits on greenhouse gases who are using holes in climate science as ammunition and those trying to raise public concern about a human influence on climate that an enormous body of research indicates, in the worst case, could greatly disrupt human affairs and ecosystems.


This sentence is not factually accurate (the boldface highlighting the passages at issue is mine). It would be much closer to accurate if the word "worst case" were replaced by "best case" or, as we'll see, "best case if the opponents of limits on GHGs fail and fail quickly." The worst case is beyond imagination. The word "holes" is misleading. And this isn't a "tussle"—it is much closer to being a "struggle for the future of life as we know it." And all of us—including Andy—better pray that it ain't "never-ending." Before elaborating, let me quote some more:

One of the unavoidable realities attending global warming—a reality that makes it the perfect problem—is that there is plenty of remaining uncertainty, even as the basics have grown ever firmer (my litany: more CO2 = warmer world = less ice = rising seas and lots of climate shifts).

Some skeptics have long tried to use the uncertainty as an excuse for maintaining the status quo. Campaigners for carbon dioxide curbs seem reluctant to acknowledge the gaps for fear that society will tune out. So the story migrates back to the edges: catastrophe, hoax. No doubt.


This last paragraph sums up the problem for the media. As an aside, I don't know what "gaps" or "holes" Revkin is talking about, but as I will try to make clear, they don't really exist in the sense that any typical reader would expect from the context.

The "story migrates back to the edges," not because that is inherent to the story, but because that is inherent to all modern media coverage of every big issue. Let me quote Newsweek editor Jon Meacham from last month:

I absolutely believe that the media is not ideologically driven, but conflict driven. If we have a bias it's not that people are socially liberal, fiscally conservative or vice versa. It is that we are engaged in the storytelling business. And if you tell the same story again and again and again—it's kind of boring.


The real climate story doesn't have much conflict: It is the growing scientific (and technological) understanding that if we don't sharply restrict greenhouse gas emissions soon, we face catastrophe—that is the right word, the one Kolbert sticks in her title.

The conflict is actually a political one between those who believe in government-led solutions and those who don't. This is a central point. As Revkin himself notes about the Heartland denier/disinformer conference, "The one thing all the attendees seem to share is a deep dislike for mandatory restrictions on greenhouse gases." As I explain (see chapter 7), a central reason that conservatives and libertarians reject the scientific understanding of human-caused climate change is that they simply cannot stand the solution. So they attack both the solution and the science.

It simply is not accurate to say the real edges of this debate are "catastrophe" or "hoax." Revkin and every reasonable person knows that this is no "hoax," no conspiracy of the thousands of top scientists in the world to deceive the public—that is laughable, pure disinformation from the conservatives who hate regulations. It is comparable in credibility to the claim that we never landed on the moon.

Revkin also knows, or he should know, that "catastrophe" is not the edge of the debate. Let me explain why.

The middle of the debate is the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports. That is the mainstream scientific view. That is the "consensus" among our top scientists (even though that is a terrible word, since it suggests "consensus of opinion" rather than "Collective understanding of the science," which is accurate). The language is signed off on by more than 180 governments. You certainly can't call that the "edge."

This is especially true if we actually listen to the deniers/disinformers and don't act to reduce emissions soon. This is the central point that the media either fails to understand or refuses to communicate.

Let me make two related arguments. First, Revkin writes of "a human influence on climate that an enormous body of research indicates, in the worst case, could greatly disrupt human affairs and ecosystems." That research, summarized by the IPCC, says, for instance:

Climate change is likely to lead to some irreversible impacts. There is medium confidence that approximately 20–30% of species assessed so far are likely to be at increased risk of extinction if increases in global average warming exceed 1.5–2.5°C (relative to 1980– 1999). As global average temperature increase exceeds about 3.5°C, model projections suggest significant extinctions (40–70% of species assessed) around the globe.


Now wouldn't losing 40 percent to 70 percent of all species—a 3.5°C rise is a certainty if we lose the "tussle" to opponents of limits on GHGs—be a "catastrophe" by any definition of the word? And that's without even bringing in the hundreds of millions of people whose lives will be ruined by sea level rise, drought, and water shortages.

Let me go further. As I (and others, including the IPCC itself) have repeatedly explained, the "holes" or "gaps" in the IPCC work are almost exclusively omissions of hard-to-model things like carbon-cycle amplifying feedbacks and dynamic ice sheet destruction that would tend to make future impacts much worse than the IPCC models. And the actual observational record clearly shows that the climate is changing faster than the IPCC models project.

An even more important point, one that the media almost completely ignores, is that the other major source of "uncertainty" in the IPCC reports is that nobody knows for sure what quantity of greenhouse gases humans will emit this century. So the IPCC models a wide range of emissions, including some very low emissions/concentrations scenarios with relatively modest, but still severe, impacts. But the longer we listen to the do-nothing crowd, the more certain it is that we will end up with very high emissions and concentrations whose brutal impacts are all too certain.

How high?

We are currently emitting 8 billion tons of carbon a year (8 GtC/yr) and rising more than 3 percent per year—faster than the most pessimistic IPCC model. There is a little-reported bombshell buried in the footnote of the first IPCC report released last year:

Based on current understanding of climate carbon cycle feedback, model studies suggest that to stabilise at 450 ppm carbon dioxide, could require that cumulative emissions over the 21st century be reduced from an average of approximately 670 GtC to approximately 490 GtC. Similarly, to stabilise at 1000 ppm this feedback could require that cumulative emissions be reduced from a model average of approximately 1415 GtC to approximately 1100 GtC.


"Oh my dear God" is the appropriate response to the final sentence, if you oppose greenhouse gas regulations—or if you worry that those who do will maintain enough credibility/influence in the media and in Washington, DC, that they (continue to) succeed in stalling action—or if you actually are a member of the media who treat those opponents as if they had a scientifically or morally defensible position.

On our current emissions pace, we will be at 11 billion metric tons of carbon a year (GtC/yr) around 2020 and still rising! That means, if the do-nothing side wins—or even if they just partially win (by limiting government controls to ones that lead to average emissions of 11 GtC/yr for the century)—then the planet's carbon dioxide concentrations, feedbacks included, are headed to 1000 ppm!

Let me repeat, if the do-nothing or do-little side wins, we face 1000 ppm atmospheric concentration of CO2—a quadrupling from preindustrial levels—if not higher. That is not the worst case; that isn't even business as usual if the disinformers win: Stabilizing at 1000 ppm still requires a lot of government-led effort that conservatives almost universally disdain.

Scientists rarely even bother modeling the impacts of 1000 ppm because "catastrophe" doesn't begin to describe the impacts. We are talking average global temperatures some 5.5°C higher—yes 9°F higher (and much higher than that on northern land masses like the continental United States)—in any case, far higher than the last time the planet had no ice whatsoever and sea levels were more than 250 feet higher. The ocean would be rendered virtually lifeless. Dust Bowls would engulf one third of the habited land mass of the planet. This is not "global warming" or "climate change," it is Hell and high water (see chapter 2). Few scientists have, perhaps until very recently, seriously considered that humanity would be so mindlessly self-destructive that 1000 ppm would be a possible outcome.

To repeat the bottom line: If those who council inaction and delay win, then there is no uncertainty about our future, no gaps, no holes, nothing but decades if not centuries of misery for billions and billions of humans and outright extinction for most other species.

I get that the media treats so-called alarmists with skepticism. I sort of understand why Revkin writes this weekend about the conference of skeptics "trying hard to prove that they had unraveled the established science showing that humans are warming the world in potentially disruptive ways," as opposed to more accurate statements like "in potentially catastrophic ways" or "in ways that will be catastrophic if we actually listen to the skeptics."

I understand that much of the traditional media either hasn't taken the trouble to figure out what's going to happen to humanity if the anti-government crowd wins—or, for those in the media who know, they feel they just can't keep beating the public over the head with the painful truth. But every time they do a story with a different, blander spin, they undermine the urgent need for action. Every time they say there is a middle ground, they push us closer to the certain catastrophe of inaction. I think that qualifies as tragic irony.

So yes, it appears to me that today's media simply can't cover humanity's self-destruction. When historians write about this time—very, very bitterly, no doubt, if we have forced them to suffer through Hell and high water—the media will get assigned plenty of blame for sins of omission, though obviously not as much blame as those who were actively working to spread disinformation and block action.

I will end with a quote about the journalism of my father's time—Dad was an investigative journalist in addition to being a newspaper editor for decades—from Edward R. Murrow, See It Now, March 9, 1954:

This is no time for men who oppose Senator McCarthy's methods to keep silent. We can deny our heritage and our history, but we cannot escape responsibility for the result.


Must-Read Newsweek Stunner: Why the "Status Quo" Establishment Media's Coverage of Global Warming Is So Fatally Useless, Part 1

March 30, 2009

Averting catastrophic global warming requires completely overturning the status quo, changing every aspect of how we use energy—and doing so in under four decades. Failure to do so means humanity's self-destruction. Media coverage of the problem and the solution has been dreadful. But why? In his new cover story on Paul Krugman, Newsweek's Evan Thomas unintentionally provides the answer—the shocking, unstated truth about the media elite: They have "a vested interest in keeping things pretty much the way they are."

Assuming we don't spend the small fraction of GDP per year needed to avert catastrophe (see chapter 3), future generations who are puzzled about our fatal myopia need look no further for explanation than Thomas's full remarks. He begins with the amazing admission, "If you are of the establishment persuasion (and I am)," and continues with words that should be emblazoned across journalism schools around the country and read out loud at every Ivy league college graduation:

By definition, establishments believe in propping up the existing order. Members of the ruling class have a vested interest in keeping things pretty much the way they are. Safeguarding the status quo, protecting traditional institutions, can be healthy and useful, stabilizing and reassuring. But sometimes, beneath the pleasant murmur and tinkle of cocktails, the old guard cannot hear the sound of ice cracking. The in crowd of any age can be deceived by self-confidence....


Thomas was writing about the current economic crisis, but his words apply far better to the global Ponzi scheme (see the conclusion to this book). Indeed, his words could not more ironically apply to the catastrophic global warming that he and his establishment buddies are all but blind to:

... the old guard cannot hear the sound of ice cracking.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Straight Up by Joseph J. Romm. Copyright © 2010 Joseph J. Romm. Excerpted by permission of ISLAND PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Introduction: Why I Blog 1

Chapter 1 The Status Quo Media 11

Chapter 2 Uncharacteristically Blunt Scientists 43

Chapter 3 The Clean Energy Solution 67

Chapter 4 Peak Oil? Consider It Solved 101

Chapter 5 The Clean Energy New Deal 121

Chapter 6 The Bush-Cheney Reign of Error 137

Chapter 7 The Right-Wing Disinformation Machine 149

Chapter 8 Diagnosing Someone with Anti-Scientific Syndrome (ASS) 163

Chapter 9 Why Are Progressives So Lousy at Messaging? 181

Conclusion Is the Global Economy a Ponzi Scheme? 213

Afterword 217

Index 227

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