Tuesday, Sep. 22, 2009

Joe Romm

I have to admit — sometimes Joe Romm ruins my mornings. As the author of Climate Progress, one of the most influential global-warming blogs on the Internet, few debates on energy or the environment get past his ravenous attention, and he takes particular pleasure in targeting mainstream journalists who've written something he deems stupid. That's been me occasionally — like the time Romm took me to task for referencing an analysis on energy research and development he found wanting. At least I'm in good company: writers from the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal have all been the subject of Romm posts.

But here's the thing — more often than not Romm's right. A physics Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Romm, 49, clearly has brains to spare. He combines that intellect with a strong sense of moral outrage. He also possesses a Jon Stewart-like quality for pointing out the absurdity of his opponents.

Unlike many climate bloggers, Romm comes at global warming not from an environmental background but from a national-security one. After graduating from MIT, he worked at the Rockefeller Foundation. His job in the twilight of the Cold War was to identify the world's new big problems — and as he talked to experts across the ideological spectrum, he found them: energy and climate change. "These were the sleeper issues that were really going to dominate the coming decades," says Romm.

The 1990s were spent working for the Clinton Administration in Washington, where for several years he was an acting assistant secretary at the Department of Energy, an experience that put him well ahead of the curve on green power. But it wasn't until Romm's brother lost his house in Mississippi during Hurricane Katrina that climate change became personal. Romm began an in-depth research project to determine whether his brother should rebuild there. The result was the 2006 global-warming book Hell and High Water, which displayed a trademark urgency that bordered on hectoring. "The consequences of doing nothing were far more than what people realized," he says.

It's become Romm's mission to make people realize that — and his Climate Progress blog is the perfect vehicle for this son of a newspaper editor. What began as a once-a-day side job has become full time, with Romm scouring the Internet for climate studies and filtering them through his own firmly fixed values: that global warming is a potential human catastrophe, but that it can be fixed with today's green technology, applied relentlessly. It's "excellent and indispensable," as New York Times columnist — and new green champion — Thomas Friedman likes to say.

It's also much needed therapy for a writer who spends his time worrying about the fate of the world. "I used to be very frustrated," he says. "But the blog keeps my blood pressure down."