What Is The Climate War?
It’s the first book of its kind—a character-driven narrative that explores all sides of the great American argument over global warning. The Climate War is a history, an exposé, and an epic, moving from climatologists on the Alaskan tundra to politicians in the halls of Congress, from lobbyists and power company CEOs to climate activists chaining themselves to bulldozers and facing off against professional climate skeptics. Pooley gained unprecedented access to former Vice President Al Gore and his climate team. He also introduces us to the flamboyant head of one of the nation’s largest coal-burning energy companies, and the driven environmental leader who made common cause with him. We encounter leading scientists who warn of impending catastrophe and deniers who dispute almost every aspect of the science. We follow the secret maneuvers of lobbyists, media gurus, and even key political advisers in Barack Obama’s West Wing.
I see a lot of books about climate change. How is this one different?
The Climate War is not primarily about the science of global warming, although it does explain the science in lucid terms. It’s about the political battle over what to do about global warming—a decades-long war that is raging hotter than ever today. This is the one book to read if you want to understand why it has been so hard for America and the world to take action on climate change.
Who are the main characters?
The only book written with the cooperation of Al Gore and his Alliance for Climate Protection, The Climate War tells the story of Gore’s global warming campaign. The book also focuses on Fred Krupp of the Environmental Defense Fund, a rebellious green group that for more than 20 years has been lobbying for a mandatory declining cap on greenhouse gas emissions. The book follows Krupp as he forges a wary alliance with power company boss Jim Rogers, president and CEO of Duke Energy—even though Krupp’s own people are telling him Rogers can’t be trusted. Rogers is a flamboyant and mysterious character; he talks a great game, but is he really in favor climate action or just pretending? After all, trillions of dollars are at stake here, and Rogers is building a new coal-fired power plant in North Carolina.
That’s why another character in the book, James Hansen, America’s leading climatologist, arranges a sit-down with Rogers at a Manhattan restaurant and tries to talk him into shutting down all of his coal plants. But Rogers is also working with a coal-lobbying group called the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, run by two Kentuckians, Steve Miller and Joe Lucas. They claim to be in favor of climate legislation too, but the roots of their organization are in the professional denial-and-delay movement that has done everything in its power to block climate action. One of the leaders of that movement, Myron Ebell of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, also plays an important role in The Climate War, as do the senators and members of congress who are fighting over climate legislation and, of course, President Barack Obama—whose powers of persuasion may hold the key to getting this done. Obama is committed to climate action, but some of his top advisers, such as Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, have urged him to move slowly and not risk his political capital on the issue. The book shines a light, for the very first time, on the climate battle unfolding inside the West Wing. Unless Obama throws himself into this issue, no climate bill worthy of the name has a chance to pass.
Why has it been so hard for America to come to grips with climate change? Why do so many people believe it isn’t really happening?
Climate change is slow and gradual, and its worst impacts are still in the future, so it has been easy for people to sweep aside, especially when a sophisticated cadre of professional deniers is using the weapons of mass persuasion—advertising, phony grassroots activists, the Internet—to persuade Americans that there’s nothing to worry about. The Climate War exposes the professional deniers, lays bare their sophisticated methods, and shows how Gore and others rose up to challenge them.
So is anyone who has doubts about global warming automatically a “denier”?
No. A great many people of good will have sincere doubts about global warming, and some have even been convinced that the whole thing is a hoax. That’s no accident—it happened because paid PR professionals have been spreading misinformation for decades. Pooley calls them the “professional deniers.” Activists have labeled their network “the Denialosphere.” The Climate War takes readers inside it.
What’s the main argument here?
There are two. First, whether climate change is real and whether humans are responsible. Climatologists are very clear on both points. Though there’s still scientific debate over the speed and severity of the worst impacts, the vast majority of climatologists are convinced that the planet is warming and that human activity is the reason why. The real argument is over what we should do about it. The debate is shifting from science to politics and economics—and those are the focus of the book.
So what are we supposed to do about it?
Since the biggest cause of climate change is industrial emissions from coal-fired power plants and large manufacturing facilities, the essential step is a cap—a mandatory, declining limit on the amount of global warming pollution we send into the skies. Imposing a cap would put a price on carbon, thus making dirty energy more expensive and clean energy more economically viable. That would unleash a flood of private investment in alternative energy technologies, and speed the path to a clean energy economy. Pooley calls it The Great Energy Transition.
What’s holding us back?
A couple of things. First, some of the people who make their living producing and selling coal and oil don’t want to see their products get more expensive, and they don’t want to encourage cleaner alternatives (unless they control those too). Second, America relies on cheap, dirty energy—fuels that are cheap because their social and environmental costs aren’t factored into their price. Making these fuels more expensive means making food, electricity and manufactured products more expensive too, at least for a while. That’s a huge political challenge and also an enormous policy challenge, and the book introduces a number of unsung heroes who have devoted their careers to solving this policy challenge: How to make dirty fuel more expensive while cushioning consumers from its impact. The amazing thing is, they have pulled it off, with a system called cap and trade.
What is cap and trade?
The cap is a mandatory declining limit on carbon emissions. The trade is basically a cost containment device—it lets power companies and others buy and sell permits that give them the right to pollute. If they cut their own emissions they can sell their extra permits and make money. That means there’s a profit motive for going green. It harnesses the power of capitalism to help clean up the planet.
Would it work?
It worked when we tried it in the 1990s on the sulfur dioxide pollution that causes acid rain. That cap-and-trade system was devised by staffers at Fred Krupp’s Environmental Defense Fund, the same people who are at the forefront of trying to solve the climate problem today.
I hear a lot of people calling it “cap and tax.”
Many of those people are entrenched opponents of climate action. Some sincerely believe it is an expensive solution to a problem that doesn’t exist; others know that the best way to kill a bill in America is to call it a “tax.” They use hired-gun economists to exaggerate the costs in order to frighten Americans and derail the solution. This is a trick that the opponents of climate action have relied on for decades; Pooley’s reporting blows the whistle on it. As The Climate War points out, the best mainstream economic studies all agree that costs of a carbon cap would be modest and bearable. And the mainstream scientists overwhelmingly agree that the problem needs to be tackled now.
Why is positioning the argument as “Economy vs. Environment” a false choice?
A clean energy economy will bring with it short-term costs—some workers in traditional energy industries may lose jobs over time, and consumers may pay somewhat higher energy bills as the economy transitions. So it is easy for those against climate change legislation to say that cleaning up the planet comes at the expense of the American economy. Over the long term, as the cost of alternative energy sources comes down, the clean energy economy will bring with it millions of new jobs while providing abundant energy that does not contribute to global warming.
The longer we wait, the more damaging climate change will be, and the more expensive and difficult the solutions will become. The question isn’t whether or not to act; it is how to do so in the most cost effective manner, and how to summon the political will to do what needs to be done while there’s still time. The Climate War is the story of those fighting to take the first essential step, and those fighting against them. It explains why, after all these years, we still haven’t managed to get started.