Reading Joe Romm’s latest book on climate change

Joe Romm cites studies from as far back as the mid-’70s warning of the dangers of carbon emissions and global warming. ExxonMobil, as we learned recently, became aware of the hazards of carbon emissions in 1977, yet they funded climate denial until just a few years ago. Charles and David Koch, of Koch Industries, meanwhile, continue to spread misinformation, and they have pledged almost $1 billion to influence the 2016 presidential contest.

When I interviewed Romm in 2010, he asserted that the key figures pushing climate denial will be judged very harshly by history, “in the category of Neville Chamberlain or people who were shills for the tobacco industry.”

The basic facts of climate change, as Romm makes clear, are not particularly complicated. Since the beginning of the 20th century, the Earth has warmed about 1.5°F (.8°C). Most of that warming has come since 1970. This warming trend tracks almost perfectly the increase in human-generated greenhouse gas emissions (mostly carbon but also methane and others) over the same period. There is now more carbon in the Earth’s atmosphere (400 parts per million) than there has been in more than 1 million years. While it’s certainly true that the Earth’s climate has changed over the ages, the reasons—solar variability, volcanoes, etc.—have been analyzed and discarded as the “forcings” driving current trends. In fact, Romm concludes, “In the absence of human activity… the planet would likely have cooled in recent decades.” In other words, the forcing that is changing our climate now is us.

Most scientists agree that a warming of 4°C (7.2° F) over pre-industrial levels would be near catastrophic for humans, and we are on course to exceed that by century’s end. Scientists are seeking to keep the temperature rise below 1.5°C (2.7°F), which would avoid many of the worst impacts. But that would mean taking significant action to reduce emissions. Already 90 percent of our glaciers are shrinking, the seas are rising and acidifying (they are acidifying faster than they have in 300 million years), storms are getting worse, droughts are lasting longer (California’s drought is the worst in 1,200 years), and forest fires are more frequent (the wildfire season is two months longer than it used to be). Romm even presents new evidence suggesting that high levels of carbon in the air reduce cognitive ability. Given the pressing need for action, Climate Change is the right book at the right time: accessible, comprehensive, unflinching, humane.

Oxford University Press

‘Climate Change: What Everyone Needs to Know®’ by Joseph Romm. 328 p. Oxford University Press. $10.26