NYTimes

Media Reviews: The New York Times Review

By Harry Hurt III

Off the Shelf

To the Mat on Global Warming

SHORTLY after losing the 2000 presidential election, Al Gore embarked on an arguably even more ambitious campaign: to save the planet from destruction by global warming. His efforts, which included his documentary film “An Inconvenient Truth,” won him a Nobel Prize. But Mr. Gore has not yet achieved his goal of convincing America to limit the industrial pollution that causes climate change.

“America is still debating whether and how to reduce carbon emissions, and a loud minority continues to insist that global warming isn’t real or caused by man,” writes Eric Pooley in “The Climate War: True Believers, Power Brokers, and the Fight to Save the Earth” (Hyperion, $27.99), an illuminating if often ponderous book.

“The Climate War” focuses mainly on the economic and political aspects of the global-warming issue. That is in keeping with Mr. Pooley’s areas of journalistic expertise. He is the deputy editor of Bloomberg BusinessWeek, a former managing editor of Fortune and a former national editor, chief political correspondent and White House correspondent for Time.

Mr. Pooley calls his account “an epic without an ending,” saying that the American political system gives a “natural advantage to the opponents of climate action” and that Congress has “become so distorted by special-interest dollars and partisan bile” that it seems “to block progress of any kind, no matter how urgent.”

If statements like that suggest that Mr. Pooley favors Mr. Gore’s position, the book nevertheless allows corporate opponents of climate legislation and disparate environmental groups with conflicting agendas to state their case.

Along with Mr. Gore, the main characters in “The Climate War” include Fred Krupp, executive director of the Environmental Defense Fund; James E. Rogers, chief executive of the coal-burning utility Duke Energy; the climatologist James Hansen, who called public attention to global warming in the 1980s; and the coal lobbyists Steve Miller and Joe Lucas. And there is also Myron Ebell of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a leader of what Mr. Pooley calls “the professional denial-and-delay movement,” a k a the “Denialosphere.”

The book opens with a recounting of Mr. Gore flying from the Nobel ceremony in December 2007 to a climate conference in Bali, where he unsuccessfully tried to persuade the Bush administration to commit to a drastic reduction in America’s carbon emissions.

From there, the global-warming fight rages downhill, uphill and sideways, depending on the perspectives of the various combatants. Mr. Krupp provoked the ire of other environmental groups by working with Mr. Rogers of Duke Energy in the hope of getting Congress to pass a form of cap-and-trade legislation.

Their aim was to put a mandatory limit on carbon emissions by coal-fired plants. At the same time, they sought to keep the coal industry from immediate bankruptcy by allowing companies to trade — that is, buy and sell — pollution permits.

Mr. Pooley casts Mr. Krupp’s predilection for market-based solutions like cap-and-trade as a triumph of enlightened pragmatism over ineffective idealism. “Altruism wasn’t going to save the planet, he figured, but the profit motive might, if it could be properly harnessed,” Mr. Pooley writes.

Mr. Rogers’s support for the Environmental Defense Fund’s global-warming initiative attracted backing from Jeffrey Immelt of General Electric and other corporate chiefs. But in the spring of 2008, as the language in the initiative became more and more specific, Mr. Rogers dispatched an army of lobbyists to Capitol Hill with a study that contended the economy would shrivel if Congress enacted cap-and-trade legislation that was under consideration.

“For someone who gave speeches all over America calling for climate action, Jim Rogers was doing a great job of killing the climate bill,” Mr. Pooley writes.

Mr. Pooley also describes how coal interests, led by the likes of Mr. Miller and Mr. Lucas, started multimillion-dollar public relations and advertising campaigns designed to encourage doubt about the very idea of global warming caused by humans.

MR. GORE, meanwhile, suffered further frustration in his attempts to enlist the full-throated support of President Obama for what came to be known as the Waxman-Markey climate bill. According to Mr. Pooley, the White House “was not arming its warheads.”

“It was working behind the scenes,” Mr. Pooley adds, “and that was all.”

The bill passed the House 219-212 in June 2009, but the closeness of the vote foreboded doom for a Senate version. (Last week, it was reported that President Obama and Senate Democrats would soon push forward with a scaled-back energy bill — one that would limit carbon pollution by power plants but not by other industries.)

“The Climate War” is impressively documented with more than 20 pages of source notes and citations, but it is not easy reading. Although the author mercifully spares the reader a lengthy recitation of the scientific evidence supporting global warming, his blow-by-blow account of the public and private maneuverings of environmentalists, corporate executives, lobbyists, politicians, news commentators and Congressional committee staff members is often tedious, especially because so many of their efforts lead down rabbit trails.

Still, the book shows just how arduous the climate fight has been — and will likely continue to be — for years, if not generations, to come.