When you tell people you are reading a book called “The Climate War” which is about the legislative battles surrounding climate change, it is nearly a guarantee that you can watch eyeballs glaze over like a dozen Krispy Kremes. But the truth, often so different than expectations, is that this book was as interesting and gripping as any political book I have read in years. Eric Pooley has access to some of the greatest personalities of this debate and he takes full advantage of it. It is easy to write a book about what Al Gore thinks about global warming. It’s far more difficult to write about what Al Gore thinks, plus what the CEO of Duke thinks, plus the activists, plus the Chamber, plus the international community, plus the enviros, plus the…you get the point. This is a masterful effort and it should be required reading for anyone even nominally involved in this topic.
Even if you have just a miniscule interest in climate change, this book is also a primer on the modern legislative process. It is a flat out description of, yes, the war that takes place in Washington on so many different issues. At the same time it is fascinating and disgusting. The book introduces you to the serious staffers who want to make a difference and to the flash in the pan activists who believe obstruction (or moon shots) are good strategies.
I know a lot about politics and close to a lot about sustainability and climate change. Yet this book was one of the first political books in a long time that really taught me something new. I was struck by the behind the scenes interactions of trade groups, legislators, lobbyists. I’m not turned off by any of the three (how could I be?) but I was struck by sheer volume of involved parties and organizations. When people complain about the glacial legislative process, this book explains why.
But this book, more than any political book, has convinced me that the beautiful system we have is also broken beyond repair.
It is also a shame that climate change is now on the Congressional back burner. There was a time, just 18 months ago, when many were convinced that legislation on this subject was a matter of when, not if. Now? It could be 2-3 more years before action is taken. So much of the rest of the world has acted on sound science that climate change is real. And here, we are back to debating the merits of the science. It’s disappointing, but it seems facts aren’t as stubborn as they used to be.
There are some great quotes in here—I dog-earned a slew of pages (can’t do that with a Kindle). Jim Rogers, the CEO of Duke, is probably my favorite character, though I admired Fred Krupp, the CEO of the Environmental Defense Fund. Rogers confounds everyone. Rogers claims he is “friendly and open and extroverted, in appearance. But [Rogers is] constitutionally introverted.” Rogers feeds off of the conflict with the activists that are chained to his new powerplant land and he delights in bouncing in and out off offices in DC. He’s certainly not without a significant amount of ego, so I bet he can be difficult. But I admire those who abide by the old adage that the arena is meant to be occupied.
Krupp is also a dynamic character. I was sold on him when they described his first, failed interview with EDF. He describes having a “Maggie Thatcher moment” and redoubles his efforts to be hired. He succeeds, proving that deciding what you want and going after it is almost always the right path.
This book ends with the climate fighters “marching toward the sound of the guns.” It’s an OK metaphor, but a better one would be the armless and legless soldier from Monty Python insisting he’s “not dead yet.” This was a colossal loss for our country and our planet. I’m skeptical that meaningful progress will happen in the next two years. If you believe even the most moderate scientists, it is not an understatement to say that our broken political system has imperiled our planet. Pooley shows how it happens, warts and all.