“Hell and High Water” Review

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           Joseph Romm writes that “we are on the brink of taking the biggest gamble in human history, one that, if we lose, will transform the lives of the next fifty generations” (p.11).   Romm claims that climate change, or global warming, is the biggest gamble in human history.   He says this because climate change will have catastrophic results on the whole world, results in which human kind has never known and may not be able to survive.          

            Romm writes on page 15 of Hell and High Water “We are engaging in a dangerous, planet wide, uncontrolled experiment as these emissions push our climate system into a different state, a far less hospitable state, that human kind has ever known.”  He is referring to greenhouse gas emissions such as methane, and carbon dioxide from burning natural gases.  Carbon dioxide makes up about 85 % of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States.  These emissions are causing the temperature of our great planet to rise and there are at least three well known cycles, according to Joseph Romm, that help perpetuate global warming.  First, global warming causes the glaciers to melt and to retreat.  Glaciers, which are highly reflective, are replaced with blue ocean water or dark land, which absorbs a larger amount of solar energy. The more absorption of solar energy the warmer the temperature gets, thus more glacial melting and retreating and loss of reflectivity, and so on and so forth.   Second, global warming increases the amount of water vapor in the air. Water vapor is a greenhouse gas and causes more warming and in turn the cycle perpetuates itself by casing more global warming.  The third cycle is that warming causes soil or oceans to release carbon dioxide and methane, which are both greenhouse gases.   The warmer it gets the more this happens and the cycle perpetuates itself as with the above two discussed cycles.          

            The largest contributor to our global temperature rising, according to Romm, is human caused greenhouse gas emissions.  On page 20 of his book Romm says, “On our current emission path, Earth’s average temperature will probably rise 1.5 degrees Celsius by mid-century.   By century’s end we will be more than 3 degrees Celsius warmer than today. ”   He goes on to talk about the last time we were 1 degree warmer sea levels were 20 feet higher then they currently are. And the last time we were 2 to 3 degrees warmer sea levels were more than 80 feet higher then the current level.  If we do not reduce our current greenhouse gas emissions we will cause the global temperature to keep rising and thus cause more damage until the destruction of humankind.          

            The ramifications of the rise in the sea level alone are huge, especially when considering that most of the world’s population lives on a coast or very close to one.  The people living in these areas would have to be relocated further inland which would bear a great cost.  In some cases this may be very difficult and more costly or even impossible.   Many people could die as a result of the sea level rise and or relocating.  Rise in sea level will also mean loss of carbon absorbing plant life and land for this plant life to grow on.  Aside from the rise in sea level, climate change has also caused the growth patterns of earth’s vegetation to change which in turn causes stress on food supplies for all the species of the world, including humans.  These and other factors or results of global warming have made migratory patterns for both land and water animals to change and cause stress on these species.   A growing number of plant and animal species are in turn becoming extinct because of the effects of global warming.  Weather patterns have, of course, changed as well.  We are now seeing more flooding and more droughts, as well as longer amounts of time between precipitation patterns and longer durations of precipitation and dry spells.  Also seasonal changes are coming at different times then they have in the past.   Spring is coming a few days sooner and summer is lasting a few days longer.  Winter and fall are becoming milder, and we are also seeing more storms and stronger storms such as hurricanes and lightning storms.          

            Can we save ourselves from the effects of climate change?  Can we make the necessary changes in time to save ourselves?   On pages 22 and 23 of Hell and High Water, the author, Joseph Romm, gives a list of changes that could be made that would make a vast difference.  He calls for: the national and global replication of California’s energy efficiency programs and codes for homes as well as in commercial buildings, he asks that we increase the efficiency of energy generation and the use of energy, he asks that we build one million wind turbines to help replace fossil fuels as an energy source, he wants us to implement carbon sequestration in our coal burning plants, he says we should build seven hundred more nuclear power plants globally to further replace carbon emitting energy plants, he asks that we increase fuel efficiency and decrease the number of drivers on the road, he asks that we develop and use advanced hybrid technology and bio fuels for our vehicles, and that we stop all tropical deforestation and double tree planting.   Even if we made all of his purposed changes our water levels may still rise by twenty feet or more in this century.          

            I think that it is possible for humankind to save itself from global warming.  I do not however think it is very probable that we as humans will actually make the global changes necessary to save ourselves and the rest of the planet.  Given the article I just read concerning the climate talks they are having in Bali, Indonesia as to a replacement for Kyoto I am beginning to think it is inevitable that we are all going to die because of global warming.  It seems hopeless to think we are ever going to make any effective changes. The United States, the biggest emitter of carbon dioxide, is still refusing to take any real action or make changes in emissions by corporations mandatory.  We should be leading the world in this great fight like we lead the world in most other fights, yet we are further causing our own demise.  The talks in Bali are suppose to last the whole week, and are for the purposes of a new global contract, replacing Kyoto, combating the effects of climate change and to help halt and reverse global warming.   Already the United States is making this already phenomenal and difficult goal impossible.  The U. S. still refuses to back a plan including mandatory carbon cuts, and I had heard no mention of developing countries being under any kind of restrictions according to the above mentioned article.       

              I would agree that the technology is there to make a huge difference in this fight against global warming. And I would also agree that governmental laws and policies could be enacted or improved upon that would further our success in combating global warming.  I would disagree with the possibility of humans changing even small parts of our lifestyle for the purposes of helping the environment.  I further do not think people will take global warming seriously enough to make a difference until it is too late to save ourselves and in effect all other species of life on this planet. 


Hell and High Water, by Joseph Romm, 2007

US works to block targets, Associated Press Dec. 10th 2007, www.msnbs.com


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