Book Review: Hell and High Water

Short Review: Great book, worth reading, deserves a spot on the shelf between Flannery and Monbiot.

After our recent discussion about George Monbiot I bought Joseph Romm's Hell and High water and read it cover to cover. (noted earlier here with Tyler Hamilton's Review) That is an easy thing to do; it is well written and very informative, a window on America for those of us who cannot quite figure out what goes on down there. While the rest of the world wrestles with solutions to the climate crisis, just this week the biggest church in America, the Southern Baptist Convention, announced that global warming is not a problem. Where does this disconnect come from?

Romm explains. The first half of the book lays out the science of global warming and the dangers that await if we do not deal with it, an explanation that is both comprehensive and comprehensible. Few will be doubters after reading that.

The second half explains the politics. First, the deniers: He describes how there was a concerted and effective campaign to convince Americans that the science is not proven, that its all just natural cycles and there needs to be more research. He explains how the deniers operate, in my favourite line in the book from conservative strategist Frank Luntz: "There is a simple rule, you say it again, and you say it again, and you say it again, and you say it again and again and again and again and about the time you are absolutely sick of saying it is about the time that your target audience has heard it for the first time."

The deniers are dangerous, but the delayers are worse, with their mantra of "technology breakthroughs," that American Know-How will save us with hydrogen cars and other fixes that they will come up with eventually. Romm spends many pages demolishing the hydrogen myth, the geo-engineering fantasy, and the Bush Government, particularly the Environmental Protection Agency, whose administrator he quotes as saying "Are we going to tell people to stop driving their cars, or do we start investing in technology? Thats the answer, investing in those technologies"

Unfortunately, Romm then promptly falls into the same trap, laying out a plan that maintains the American Way Of Life As We Know It with a chicken in every pot and a car in every garage, except the car will get sixty miles per gallon, and the suburban houses will get power from 800 new coal fired large coal plants with underground CO2 storage, 700 new large nuclear plants and one million wind turbines. (and, we should note, "a massive performance-based efficiency program for homes, commercial buildings and new construction"- and "a massive effort to boost the efficiency of industry"-the only two realistic options of the five). This reviewer is not a Ph.D in Physics from MIT like the author, but nobody has shown that carbon sequestration on that scale is any more realistic than a hydrogen car. We won't even get started about 700 nukes.

In the last chapter Romm tells us to "get informed, get outraged, and then get political" and demand change rather than wait for multiple disasters. Romm notes that in World War II America was turned into a factory for the war effort, but that it took Pearl Harbour to unite the country against a common enemy. I fear that it will take an equivalent environmental disaster to do the same again in such a polarized country. ::Hell and High Water