"Hell and High Water" describes what our future will be if we don't act or act soon enough to reverse global warming. (Perhaps this bears repeating: there is almost uniform scientific consensus on the matter, and the "almost" is a reflection of individual scientist's projection of degree or intensity, not whether warming is happening at all.)
High Water refers to the monstrous rise in sea level we can see- 10 feet per decade, or 100 feet per century- and Hell refers to the very high temperatures we'll see inland. (Note: most of the discussion is confined to the United States; Romm wants to drive the point home that prosperous nations will not be exempt from the effects of global warming, nor will they be able to buy themselves out of it.) The figurative Hell of Romm's description is that we will face this transformation even if we do act but act too late. Thanks to the sensitive "positive" feedback loops in the climate system, once we reach a certain threshhold, both the concentration of CO2 and the temperature will rise, regardless of what we do about emission levels.
Some of the scariest information was about the ice sheets and glaciers. We had previously been told by the scientific community that it would take thousands of years for those to change or melt; now, based on new evidence, it looks like that process can be accelerated to decades- or less. Not only can this lead to a rise in sea level, it can also release even more CO2, further condemning us to high atmospheric concentrations.
This is all preventable (or at least was at the publication of this book a few years ago). The author seems to alternately scratch and bang his head as he compares the regulation of greenhouse gasses to the regulation of chloroflouro carbons almost 20 years ago. There, although there was some grumbling about developed versus developing nations, at least the process began. Once in motion, the momentum built positively and the continuing depletion of the ozone layer was stopped. Now, it seems that the United States and China are locked in an epic game of chicken over being the first to agree to regulation. Remarkably, most of the rest of the world has decided not to play along.
This was a good book, but not perfect. He uses the "wedge" paradigm first published in, I believe, Scientific American several years ago. Unfortunately, one of those wedges is Carbon Capture and Sequestration, which many now believe is as lucky to be seen as a unicorn. While Romm includes that as a potential solution, he spends more than a few pages outlining its drawbacks, particularly where the carbon would be stored underground. He also notes that it will take two decades before these are built, which is odd, to say the least, when he continuously advocates for immediate action. He also includes the nuclear power wedge. I, like many, feel that's a bad idea, and he also mentions the high cost and potential inefficiencies. Finally, he doesn't include anything about agriculture, which we now know is a large contributor of greenhouse gases.
He also doesn't fully close the loop on the Delayers and Denyers (why he chooses to misspell the latter word, I have no idea) and what their motivations are. Read Climate Cover-Up: The Crusade to Deny Global Warming for more on that. However, he does rightfully spank the media for burying the seriousness of the issue under the guise of "fairness" and "balance". His comparison to the bird flu scare was classic.
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