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Hell and High Water

Hell and High Water: Global Warming — the Solution and the Politics — and What We Should Do is a book by author, scientist, and former U.S. Department of Energy official Joseph J. Romm, published December 26 2006 by HarperCollins. ISBN 0-06117-212-X. The author is "one of the world's leading experts on clean energy, advanced vehicles, energy security, and greenhouse gas mitigation."[1]

The book warns of dire consequences to the U.S. and the world if wide-scale environmental changes are not enacted by the U.S. government within the next decade. It reviews the evidence that the current initial global warming changes will lead to accelerated warming. According to Romm, the oceans, soils, Arctic permafrost, and rainforests may become sources of greenhouse gas emissions. The book claims that, without serious government action within the next ten years, sea levels will rise high enough to submerge numerous coastal communities and inland areas on both U.S. coasts and around the world by the year 2100.

Romm was interviewed on Fox News on January 31, 2007 about the book and the new IPCC Fourth Assessment Report climate report.[2]


Summary of the book

Part I, comprising the first four chapters of the book, reviews the science of climate change, setting forth the evidence that humans are causing an unprecedented increase in carbon emissions that is, in turn causing global warming. The book sets forth the research on "feedback loops" that would contribute to accelerating climate change, including:

  • melting ice at the poles that means less reflection of sunlight and more absorption of the sun’s heat;
  • melting permafrost in the Arctic, where more carbon is locked in Arctic permafrost than in all of the Earth’s atmosphere and where methane, which is about 20 times more powerful than CO2 as a greenhouse gas, is being released by permafrost in the Arctic faster than scientists previously thought it would;
  • the death of algae and phytoplankton from heat and acidity in the oceans, reducing the CO2 being absorbed by them; and
  • the reduced ability of tropical forests to absorb CO2 as they are destroyed.

Part I then offers extrapolations, based on various models and analyses, of what will happen to the U.S. and the world if decisive action is not taken quickly. called this "an explanation that is both comprehensive and comprehensible."[3]

Part II, comprising the next six chapters, discusses the politics and media issues that the author says are delaying such decisive action and also discusses the currently available technological solutions to global warming. The book asserts that there has been a disingenuous, concerted and effective campaign to convince Americans that the science is not proven, or that global warming is the result of natural cycles, and that there needs to be more research. The book claims that, to delay action, industry and government spokesmen suggest falsely that "technology breakthroughs" will eventually save us with hydrogen cars and other fixes. The book spends many pages demolishing the "hydrogen myth" (see also Romm's previous book, The Hype about Hydrogen) and "the geo-engineering fantasy."[4]

The book's conclusion calls on voters to demand immediate action. The conclusion is followed by over 50 pages comprised of extensive endnotes and an index.

Tyler Hamilton, in his review of the book for The Toronto Star, summarizes the book's contents as follows: "Whereas the first third of Romm's book presents overwhelming and disturbing evidence that human-caused greenhouse gases are the primary ingredients behind global warming, the pages that follow offer alarming detail on how the U.S. public is being misled by a federal government (backed by conservative political forces) that is intent on inaction, and that's also on a mission to derail international efforts to curb emissions."[5]

The challenges and solutions identified by the book

The book claims that U.S. politicians who deny the science and have failed to take genuine action on conservation and alternative energy initiatives are following a disastrous course by delaying serious changes that he says are imminently needed. Romm also criticizes the media for what he says is sloppy reporting and an unwillingness to probe behind political rhetoric, which he says are lulling Americans into accepting continuing delays on implementing emission-cutting technologies. The book posits that we have a window of opportunity of only about a decade to head off the most catastrophic effects of global warming and calls upon Americans to demand government action to require the use of emission-cutting technologies.

Romm writes that strategies to combat climate change with current technologies can significantly slow global warming and buy more time for the world to develop new technologies and take even stronger action. The book lays out a number of proposed solutions to avoiding a climate catastrophe, including:

  • capturing carbon dioxide from coal power plants and storing it underground;
  • building 1 million large wind turbines and 700 nuclear power plants;
  • launching massive energy efficiency programs for homes, office buildings, and heavy industry;
  • increasing the fuel efficiency of cars and light trucks to 60 miles per gallon while also equipping them with advanced plug-in hybrid technology; and
  • ceasing tropical deforestation and reversing the trend by planting trees.

The book states, "The IPCC's Fourth Assessment Report this year (2007) will present a much stronger consensus and a much clearer and darker picture of our likely future than the Third Assessment--but it will almost certainly still underestimate the likely impacts. The Fifth Assessment, due around 2013, should include many of the omitted feedbacks, like that of the [carbon emissions caused by] defrosting tundra, and validate the scenarios described on these pages...." (p. 94)

Critical response

The Toronto Star's January 1, 2007 review of the book says that Romm "convincingly shoots down the arguments of those who claim global warming is a hoax or some kind of natural cycle not associated with human activities." The review laments that the "'Denyers and Delayers' are winning the political battle in the United States, the world's highest emitter of greenhouse gases and a saboteur of Kyoto talks" and that the media's policy of "giving 'equal time' to Denyers gives the public the wrong impression about our understanding and level of certainty around global warming science." The review concludes, "The book itself is a short and easy read, not as intimidating as some other works, and it hits all the main points on the science and politics behind global warming, and the policy and technological solutions to minimize damage to the planet, economy and humanity."[6]

On January 28, 2007, The Detroit Free Press's wrote, "Joseph Romm's Hell and High Water is a great book for people who want to understand the complexities of global warming and, perhaps more important, what we could be doing about it other than wringing our hands or sticking our collective head in the sand."[7]

On March 12, 2007, Technology Review wrote, "His book provides an accurate summary of what is known about global warming and climate change, a sensible agenda for technology and policy, and a primer on how political disinformation has undermined climate science."[8]

On February 28, 2007, BooksPath Reviews wrote, Hell and High Water is nothing less than a wake-up call to the country. It is a searing critique of American environmental and energy policy and a passionate call to action by a writer with a unique command of the science and politics of climate change. Hell and High Water goes beyond ideological rhetoric to offer pragmatic solutions to avert the threat of global warming — solutions that must be taken seriously by every American.[9]

On February 21, 2007, Bill Moore at EV wrote: " seemed every paragraph, every page revealed some new outrage that just got my dander up. If it doesn't do the same to you, I'll really be surprised."[10]

Green blog "Gristmill" noted on January 14, 2007, "Joseph Romm's Hell and High Water may be the most depressing book on global warming I've ever read.... My hope is that a lifetime spent in insider elite politics causes him to underestimate what a bottom-up grassroots movement can accomplish.... A coalition that supported real action on global warming, as part of movement that supported real solutions on these other issues too, would have a much better chance of winning than a single-issue group. It would have a broader base and could offer more immediate relief from problems; because global warming wouldn't be its only or even main issue, it would produce quicker results in the lives of ordinary people.... Technically, Romm is sound...." On January 15, the writer amended his statement as follows: "I referred to the book as 'depressing', but the tone is frank, not truly gloomy.... Romm... is known as a level-headed, optimistic analyst. His book is no exception -- he documents the problem and the (quite mainstream) solutions he endorses thoroughly and meticulously."[11]

Similarly, "The Oil Drum" wrote on January 29, 2007,[12] "Anyone who thinks 'liberal propaganda' when they hear that assertion needs to read Joseph Romm's just-out book, Hell and High Water. It's well-documented, hard to refute and scary."

The Foreign Policy in Focus article of February 21, 2007, "An Inconvenient Truth II" cites the book with approval and references its analysis twice.[13]

On July 18, 2007, "Political Cortex wrote: "Hell and High Water might be the Global Warming work of most interest to the politically engaged (Democratic and/or Republican). Romm lays a strong case as to how Global Warming could be the death sentence for the Republican Party as reality becomes ever blatantly at odds with Republican Party rhetoric.... Romm also highlights how, in an ever more difficult world in the years to come, either the United States figures out how to lead in dealing with mitigating/muting Global Warming and its impacts or risks becoming a pariah nation, with dire implications for the Republic and its citizens."[14]

On July 29, 2007, Booklist's reviewer wrote that the book "presents a clear and effective primer on climate science. But the most salient aspects of this provocative expose involve Romm's documentation of what he calls the Bush administration's irresponsible and backward energy policies, the censorship of legitimate and urgent information pertaining to global warming, and the threats rising temperatures pose to "the health and well-being of this nation and the world." Romm explains that we already possess the technologies and know-how we need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions."[15]

See also


  1. ^ Romm bio at
  2. ^ accessible here Fox News interview, January 31, 2007
  3. ^ Summary of the book from review at
  4. ^ See this summary of the book from review at See also this article from The Wall Street Journal dated April 24, 2007, at p. B7 (requires subscription).
  5. ^ From Toronto Star review
  6. ^ Toronto Star review
  7. ^ Detroit Free Press review
  8. ^ Technology Review article of March 12, 2007
  9. ^ BooksPath Reviews, February 28, 2007
  10. ^ Bill Moore EV World article
  11. ^ Gristmill review
  12. ^ The Oil Drum review
  13. ^ Foreign Policy in Focus article, February 21, 2007
  14. ^ Political Cortex article, "Energy Bookshelf: Warming stories", by A. Siegel, July 18, 2007
  15. ^ Review from The Grist See also this August 7, 2007 review from Climate Frog, calling the book, "The most informative and persuasive book" on climate change.
  • Publisher webpage
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Hell_and_High_Water". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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