In 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson’s science advisory committee warned that the carbon dioxide that humans were returning to the air by burning fossil fuels may have a significant effect on the climate. Flash forward more than 40 years later and it seems that the only thing that has changed since that initial concern was expressed is that now most scientists are warning that carbon emissions will definitely have an effect on the climate. Oh, and that the effect will almost surely have a negative impact on humanity.
Despite the glacial pace at which the public has come to understand that global warming is happening, many politicians, industry leaders and environmentalists have long known about the climate crisis. A handful of them have even acted on it. Eric Pooley, deputy editor of Bloomberg Businessweek, the former managing editor of Fortune and the former chief political correspondent for Time, portrays these remarkable personalities in his book, “The Climate War: True Believers, Power Brokers and the Fight to Save the Earth” (Hyperion, $27.99), an insider’s view of the American campaign to cut carbon emissions and halt global warming, before it’s too late for us.
It’s no surprise that Al Gore is at the top of this list of global warming game-changers, but what is surprising is Pooley’s unprecedented access to the environmental hero who brought the term “global warming” into the mainstream lexicon. This access allows Pooley to go beyond the profile pieces that other people have written about Gore and present him for the passionate person that he is: one who has, for better or worse, devoted a great chunk of his life to alerting the public of the climate crisis.
Gore’s antithesis is Jim Rogers, a “high-emitting, smooth-talking, coal-fired power boss willing to buck the rest of his industry” by advocating for carbon emissions legislation. Rogers is a guy you love to hate: He’s cocky, self-righteous and loves winning. But he also just happens to be one of the few people able to make an alliance between polluting industries and environmentalists even remotely possible.
Reaching across the table from Rogers is Fred Krupp, president of Environmental Defense Fund, an environmental organization which some believe is too cozy with corporations. Krupp and his organization’s decisions to work with and sometimes seemingly cater to polluting industries often infuriate his environmentalist colleagues. It also gets things done, and Pooley does an excellent job of depicting the political tightrope that Krupp and others must walk just to get people from both sides talking, much less agreeing.
As Pooley illustrates throughout the book, it’s the agreeing part that’s tough, a fact that was made painfully clear by America’s most recent failure to pass meaningful climate legislation. After the Copenhagen climate talks broke down, many were quick to point fingers — at politicians, at the oil and gas industry, even at environmentalists — but Pooley, having followed the climate war for so long, knows better.
The story of America’s climate war is made up of more than just good guys and bad — there are also a lot of in-between players, including a majority of the American people. Near the end of the book, he gives responsibility where it’s due, writing, “If the U.S. failed to act, the failure would be every American’s. The responsibility would belong to us all.”
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