Walker's Bookshelf

Losing Earth

This short, well researched book is a powerful documentation of precious time lost to prevent climate change. The focus is on the years 1979-1989, a single decade that encompassed the Antarctic ozone hole crisis, and the tremendous flurry of scientific evidence and testimony about rising global temperatures that followed.

It wasn’t just the scientific community raising the alarm. Oil, gas, and coal companies had done their own studies and had known for decades about the climate effects of long term unrestricted extraction and combustion of fossil fuels. Initially, they were on board to begin moving to renewables. In Congress, there was strong bi-partisan support to resolve the ozone hole problem and to take climate change seriously.

George H.W. Bush included in his campaign speeches, a promise to address climate change issues, but after winning, appointed John Sununu of New Hampshire as his Chief of Staff. Sununu perhaps did more than anyone to stymie action. He advised U.S. representatives to global summits not to sign protocols, insisting the science was weak. He ordered NASA scientist James Hansel to submit congressional committee speeches to his office where they were censored and re-written. James Hansen, to his great credit, refused the changes, testifying as a U.S. citizen rather than a government employee.

In 1979, Rafe Pomerance was Deputy Director of Friends of the Earth, based in Washington, D.C. After reading a technical EPA report on coal that said there would be”significant and damaging” changes to the global atmosphere withing two to three decades, he was immediately alarmed. This man, who most of us have never heard of, had widespread connections to all levels of government, from his years with the Sierra Club. He set in motion congressional hearings, press coverage, and the education of legislators by scientists. He and James Hansen are perhaps the original heroes of our growing awareness of our existential peril.

Losing Earth is a very accessible, quick read that you may be tempted to read a second time. Its authenticity and accuracy is based on many dozens of interviews with the major players (scientists, legislators, CEO’s, presidential staffers, etc.) involved in the governmental action and in-action of the 80’s.