BOOK REVIEW/Patrick Mazza

Climate in Crisis

Ross Gelbspan's new book turns up the heat

Our modern conveniences become necessities, but our cars, furnaces and electricity generators are sending a cloud up into the atmosphere as menacing as the nuclear mushroom: The energy that powers our lives also is heating up our climate.

The crisis is on us today. On a slippery slope lubricated by fossil fuels, we are sliding into a kind of hell on earth. We must act now to avert catastrophe.

Those with any doubt should read Ross Gelbspan's new book, The Heat Is On: The High Stakes Battle Over Earth's Threatened Climate (1997, Addison-Wesley). Not only does this Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist detail the overwhelming weight of new scientific evidence of climate change, which already is apparent in weird weather, disease outbreaks and ecosystem changes. He also explores why the biggest story on the planet is not the top story on the evening news, as he uncovers a relentless and unconscionable disinformation campaign waged by the world's fossil fuel industries.

Their purposeful obfuscation of the facts resembles nothing so much as the tobacco industry's long deception, except it is not just the health of customers at stake, but that of the entire planet.

THOSE WHO IMAGINE we simply face a slow but bearable increase in heat, like a room in which the thermostat is turned up to an uncomfortable level, might instead visualize a pan of water coming to a boil. One moment, the water shows only small bubbles. Next it is in a rolling boil. Gelbspan notes that recent discoveries in ancient polar ice cores that reveal the climate, which is extremely complex and very delicately balanced, moves by sudden jerks and leaps. Dramatic, global shifts can take place in under a decade. Temperatures are projected to go up in the next 100 years as much as they did in the last 10,000, forecasting a roiling climate marked by extreme and unpredictable swings and disturbances.

Last year the Clinton Administration officially acknowledged climate change is in progress, and embraced a proposed global treaty requiring rapid reductions in greenhouse gases. After the election, however, the administration backpedaled. It now endorses more limited reductions to begin only after 2013. All this despite having an "assistant president," Al Gore, who wrote a book on the issue.

Gelbspan has a far more drastic solution, but perhaps the only one equal to the crisis: Phase out fossil fuel burning in 10 years, and replace it with climate-friendly renewable energy.

That step is well within our means, the author says. And not only could renewable energy provide all the services we gain today from fossil fuels, Gelbspan says. It would "create a huge economic boom. In very short order you would see the renewable energy industry eclipse high tech as the central driving engine of growth of the global economy."

Patrick Mazza is a Portland, Ore.-based ecological journalist who edits Cascadia Planet, a Northwest bioregional website at He is also co-chair of the Association of State Green Parties. For more information, contact the Atmosphere Alliance at, 360-352-1763, or 2103 Harrison Ave NW #2615, Olympia, WA 98502.

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