Author and Center for American Progress senior fellow Joseph Romm says if aggressive action on climate change is not taken soon, the effects on the planet will be dire. In his new book, "Hell and High Water: Global Warming -- the Solution and the Politics -- and What We Should Do," Romm explains why he thinks a state of "planetary purgatory" is inevitable. During today's OnPoint, Romm, a former Department of Energy official under President Clinton, discusses what he believes to be the most viable solutions for addressing and stopping the effects of climate change. Romm also challenges media coverage of global warming, saying too much attention has been paid to climate change skeptics.
Monica Trauzzi: Welcome to OnPoint. I'm Monica Trauzzi. Joining me today is Joseph Romm, author of the new book "Hell and High Water: Global Warming -- the Solution and the Politics -- and What We Should Do." Joe, thanks for joining me.
Joseph Romm: My pleasure.
Monica Trauzzi: "Hell and High Water" focuses on what's gone wrong in the climate change debate and it provides some solutions as well. You contend that we have a time span of 10 years so we can start making cuts to emissions and put the earth on the right track. You talk about these catastrophic effects that we might see and you refer to them as planetary purgatory. Explain exactly what you believe will happen if we don't start taking action on climate change now.
Joseph Romm: Well, I think on our current path we're going to see a whole bunch of things. We're going to see more and more super hurricanes, hurricane seasons like 2004 and 2005 with cities being destroyed, like New Orleans was destroyed. I think we'll see more droughts, more record wildfires, heat waves and especially sea level rise. And I think sea level rise is probably the thing we should worry the most about.
Monica Trauzzi: Planetary purgatory is a scary term. You also use the word hell in the title of the book. Are you using alarmism to get people onboard with your ideas?
Joseph Romm: Well, it's interesting. After my brother lost his home in Hurricane Katrina I started talking to climate scientists. They're the ones who are alarmed, and I think that I've laid out what I think is going to happen if we don't take action. And I think it's pretty dire. And I think that we have been given this earth with great abundance and it is a Garden of Eden and we are going to turn it into a hellish place if we don't take action pretty soon. I don't consider it to be alarming. I just consider that's what's going to happen.
Monica Trauzzi: Is there a fast, easy solution to global warming? Can we change things now and still come under that 10 year timeframe that you're setting for us? What can we do?
Joseph Romm: Well, I don't think there's one silver bullet, but we have to deploy every piece of technology we have today that can reduce greenhouse gas emissions. I do think that people tend to focus on the supply side. They talk about nuclear power, wind power. I think a key element of the solution that doesn't get talked enough about his energy efficiency. The state of California, in the last three decades, has kept electricity per capita flat, while it's gone up 60 percent in the rest of the United States. And they've done that with aggressive energy programs, so what you do is you use energy efficiency to keep demand growth flat and then you use these cleaner technologies, like wind power, to reduce emissions.
Monica Trauzzi: All right, let's talk about some of those cleaner technologies. You say that we should build a million large wind turbines. Where do we build them?
Joseph Romm: All over the world. I mean to give you an idea; Spain, Germany and Denmark, each have parts of their country where 40 percent of the electricity is provided by wind. In the United States we don't even have 1 percent of electricity provided by wind. We have vast wind resources in the center of the country, from the Dakotas down to West Texas. So I would make it a top priority for the United States and for the world.
Monica Trauzzi: There's also been opposition in the U.S. to building these windmills. The Cape Wind project is one example of that. Do you think that wind energy will have success at some point in the U.S.?
Joseph Romm: Well, most of the wind is where people aren't and the difficulty in getting it is just building transmission lines, and the federal government should support that. If you put wind turbines where people are some of them complain. I actually consider that to be very shortsighted opposition because if you don't build these wind turbines, then Cape Cod will eventually be underwater. You know, once people understand the consequences of inaction than they are more open to taking strong action.
Monica Trauzzi: You also talk about constructing 700 large nuclear power plants, but there's been controversy over the safety of nuclear. Where do you stand on that? Do you think that's a non-issue?
Joseph Romm: Well, I have a long discussion in the book on nuclear. I think, as far as the United States goes, we're so inefficient and we're still laggard on renewables that we can go a very long way towards achieving the cuts that we need without building nuclear. But nuclear is being built around the world and I just say to people I'm not the biggest fan of nuclear, but any technology that can provide energy without producing greenhouse gases can't be taken off the table.
Monica Trauzzi: In the book you say global warming is no longer an issue of science. It's an issue of politics and political will. What about those who say that the science behind climate change is not sound? There are those who say that it's caused by the Earth's natural cycle. How do you respond to those people?
Joseph Romm: Well, that is a dwindling group of people. I say, in the book, that you could fit them all in a bathtub or maybe a shower stall these days. It is important to address the natural cycles argument. People often use the phrase natural cycles and they think it means random cycles. It wasn't random, the climate change, in the past, when the Earth's orbit changed enough to bring more heat to the Northern Hemisphere during the summertime. We are now taking the place of those orbital changes by pouring out heat trapping gases that's not only bringing heat to the Northern Hemisphere in the summertime, but every other time also. So we're actually overwhelming the natural cycles and now it's human dominated. It's dominated by human emissions of greenhouse gases.
Monica Trauzzi: With the Democrats in power now are you expecting a shift in policy change or will it be politics as usual?
Joseph Romm: Well, unfortunately, the president doesn't seem to have changed his position. We can listen in the State of the Union address to see what he says, but I think he's just going to sort of give a lot of rhetoric and not do very much. But it's very clear that Nancy Pelosi, in the House, and Senator Reid, in the Senate, have said they're going to take strong action. And Barbara Boxer, in particular, taking over from James Inhofe in the Environment and Public Works Committee is a very big deal. So I expect we will see action. Are we going to see a trading system for carbon? I don't think so because Bush campaigned on that and then reneged on it. But I think we're going to see fuel economy standards for cars, renewable portfolio standards for renewable technologies, and a variety of other technology enhancing programs like vet more R&D and more tax credits.
Monica Trauzzi: You mentioned Jim Inhofe and I wanted to talk a little bit more specifically about the impact that he's had on the climate change debate. He's still a ranking member, do you think he's going to continue to have an impact and influence other Republicans?
Joseph Romm: Well, the question is, will the Republicans try to filibuster a bill? That's the big question. Do you need 51 votes or -- I mean there have been threats from Jim Inhofe and his staff that you're going to need 60 votes in order to pass something. Well, that's a tough threshold. So I think, and I've often said this, right now progressives understand the solutions to global warming and support them and are trying to enact them. Al Gore has been a real leader in this area. Conservatives have been sticking their heads in the sand and spreading disinformation. And when push comes to shove, really, the future of this planet will depend on whether conservatives are willing to embrace the solutions needed to avoid catastrophic warming.
Monica Trauzzi: And you refer to these conservatives as deniers and delayers in the book. If what they're saying isn't true, why have they been so successful in getting their opinions out?
Joseph Romm: Well, you could ask why they've been successful in a lot of areas. Why are we mired in Iraq where there are no weapons of mass distraction? The fact is that the conservative movement has been better at rhetoric and messaging than the progressive movement. And I have a long discussion in "Hell and High Water" of the rhetoric of the conservatives and how we can possibly try to overcome it. But what you say is certainly true, they have been very effective. They have been very well-financed. There was a study that just came out from the Union of Concern Scientists on how Exxon Mobil has pumped millions and millions of dollars into these shadow groups and conservative think tanks in order to fund scientists who would spread their disinformation.
Monica Trauzzi: The Energy Information Administration recently found that mandatory steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions could be achieved at low cost to the American public and wouldn't have a major effect on the economy. And the economic impact is something that the President and Republicans have been adamant about. They've said we don't want to cut emissions because we're afraid of the effect it might have on the economy. Do you think this recent report will change the rhetoric a bit and will get them to come onboard with cutting emissions?
Joseph Romm: Well, I think it's an important report. I mean I think it found that we could have some substantial reductions off of projected emissions and only 0.1 percent of GDP would be the impact. So I think it's now time for people to put up or shut up. You know, we've seen that you can have climate regulations without a big impact on the economy. The important point to realize is doing nothing is just not an option. Doing nothing, stay the course on global warming is going to lead to rapid sea level rise and a bunch of other terrible impacts that future generations will curse our name over if we don't prevent.
Monica Trauzzi: How much of an impact do you think the 2008 presidential elections will have, the run-up to the '08 elections? How is that going to impact the debate?
Joseph Romm: Well, I think 2008 will be the centerpiece because those of us who say we have 10 years to act are really saying, hey, the next president had better make this their top priority domestically and internationally or else we're not going to solve the problem. So I expect that this will be a major issue in the campaign. And the fortunate thing is that both the Republican front-runner, John McCain, and the Democratic front runners, Hillary Clinton and Barrack Obama, have stated that they feel strong climate regulations are needed.
Monica Trauzzi: A portion of the book is devoted to criticizing the mainstream media for its coverage of climate change stories. Why do you have issues with the media? And should the naysayers have a place, have a platform to speak about their opinions about climate change?
Joseph Romm: Well, the media has this notion that you have to give both sides equal time, even if, in this case, 99.9 percent of the scientists believe one thing and a small number of scientists, usually funded by the fossil fuel industry, state another thing. And I just think the media coverage has been incomplete. There have been a lot of stories about recent heat waves or the record wildfire season that hasn't talked about the impact that climate is having on that. This is a tricky subject, but I think it's incumbent on the media to understand what's going on and report what the growing, emerging consensus is and not spend a lot of time with industry flaks who are spreading disinformation.
Monica Trauzzi: OK. We're going to end it on that note. Thanks for joining me Joe.
Joseph Romm: My pleasure.
Monica Trauzzi: This is OnPoint. I'm Monica Trauzzi. Thanks for watching.
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