THE HEAT IS ON, by Ross Gelbspan
Addison-Wesley Publishers, 1997
278 pp. with index. $23 hardcover

This is the first volume written for the lay person that makes sense out of all the confusing rhetoric for and against the issue of global climate change. Ross Gelbspan in a first rate environmental journalist, who has covered such issues since the first U.S. Conference on the Human Environment at Stockholm in 1972. Now with the most burning eco-issue of the mid- 1990s he shows he has not lost a bit of his ability to make sense out of the most complex topics.

Mr. Gelbspan does the science well, but he also shows how the fossil fuel industries have deliberately set out to confuse the public and politicize science and stymie the US Congress. With a revenue exceeding two billion dollars a day, oil and coal industries constitute the single biggest business ever. These corporate giants hire public relations firms, buy uncounted politicians, employ scientists for their interests, and - much like the tobacco industry has done till recently - they tamper with the data in order to keep fossil fuels on the market. In the meantime, six billion tons of heat-trapping carbon is being pumped into the atmosphere every year.

Yet there is hope according to Gelbspan. He analyzes the billion-dollar insurance industry's counter attempt to support the truth. Because global climate changes have made stormy weather more frequent and devastating, the insurance business and other enlightened business leaders have joined the ranks of those who are now speaking the truth about the greenhouse effect and climate change worldwide.

Gelbspan indicates that, though the coal and oil lobby are trying to blunt the work of good scientists and eco-activists, we must continue the effort to limit carbon emissions for several important reasons. One of these is economic. In reality a concerted global effort to stabilize the climate can result in an unprecedented economic boom as well as a healthy and sustainable planet.

In the chapter on positive business leadership Gelbspan makes much of some within the insurance industry who are advocating more responsible investment and admitting the reality and impact of the greenhouse effect. I only wish that more could have been included about other industries and more from the perspective of business leaders who are trying in a variety of ways to show courage in the face of great hostility and economic risk.

Aptly subtitled "the High Stakes Battle over Earth's threatened Climate," Gelbspan's overview manages to expose the negative side of things without falling into a hopeless funk over this problem that faces huge counter-forces.

While firmly grounded in the scientific evidence, The Heat is On is also a value-oriented work written with flare. Future generations should not be punished for today's economic gains, and Gelbspan sees that as everyone's personal stake in averting climatological disaster. He's not afraid to wear his heart on his sleeve, and perhaps that is what makes this book interesting as well as worthwhile reading. Most treatments of the topic are either drily scientific or so involved in advocacy that they skew or oversimplify the evidence.

(Reprint, Eco-Letter, Fall 1997 edition - Published by NACRE (202) 462-2591)

Copyright © 1996. The Light Party.

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