The first book review of “Straight Up”

Solar Today: “Climate Progress blogger says: Deploy without delay”

Buried on page 95, midway through his chapter titled “The Clean Energy Solution,” Joe Romm summarizes the only workable strategy for saving the planet from catastrophic climate change. That strategy focuses on rapid commercialization of existing renewable energy technologies. Our plan, he says, must be “Deployment, deployment, deployment, R&D, deployment, deployment, deployment.”

That’s a powerful message for wind, solar and geothermal businesses to run with.

Seth Masia, Deputy Editor of Solar Today, has a review of my new book Straight Up (click here to buy).

There’ll be a lot of reviews in the next couple of weeks, and I won’t print them all.  But since the book cuts through the crap on a broad set of subjects, I’m most interested in the different takeaways people have.  Here’s more from Masia:

Straight Up is a collection of short articles from Romm’s blog If you read that blog, you’re probably a passionate fan. If you don’t, you should know that Romm, an MIT Ph.D. in physics, ran a number of renewable energy programs at the Department of Energy from 1993 to 1998. Since then, he has consulted with a number of major corporations on energy issues, written several books and joined the Center for American Progress as a senior fellow. He has consistently beaten the drum for fast commercialization of concentrating solar power (CSP), wind, photovoltaics (PV) and geothermal energy sources. These are mature, scalable technologies that must overcome policy barriers, not technical hurdles.

Straight Up, however, is not mainly a book advocating policy and tax code changes. It’s a collection of spirited and readable critiques of the delaying forces — the corporations and institutions who want to see no changes in national policies and tax codes that now work to make them rich. In particular, Romm eviscerates the American news establishment for ignoring climate catastrophe issues, even while journalists around the world have made climate the story of the century….

Romm notes that a favorite delaying tactic is to call for research breakthroughs before carbon-neutral energy sources can be competitive. He summarizes critical data proving that mature and scalable renewable sources are at grid parity now and can be profitably commercialized wherever utilities have incentive to use them.

Straight Up probably won’t convert true believers in a fossil fuel future, but it may stiffen the spines of some renewable energy advocates. It’s full of solid fact-based arguments, properly referenced within the text (no footnotes!), along with a lot of low-carbon fire and brimstone.

The book’s release date is April 19, in time for Earth Day, but it can be ordered at now at a pre-publication price of $19.75.

This is my first book without an extensive set of notes.  The point of notes is to allow readers to go to original sources to check the accuracy of what is written (or to follow up on a subject of interest).  It seemed like a waste of paper in an age when people can use Google to look up a fact or quote and when I have active links in all the original blog posts on which the book is based.  It seemed redundant to reprint the references in the book in a less useful form.

So I decided to put the references either in the text or refer people to posts here.  I will try to do a post in the coming week with links to some of the key references to the book.

Related Post:

19 Responses to The first book review of “Straight Up”

  1. mike roddy says:

    This is a really important message, and Masia was sharp to pick up on it.

    Historically the media has interviewed people like utility or fossil fuel company executives about alternative power, and they always get the same answer: “We will need to depend on coal and other fossil fuels until 2030 and beyond, when alternatives will be ready”. Reporters eat this up, because they view these people as “serious”. What these executives are really serious about, of course, is staying in the same ruts, and making money at the expense of the environment and our children’s futures.

    Clean power is cheaper right now, if fossil fuel tax breaks and environmental externalities are factored into the costs. If utilities- most of which are supposed to operate in the public interest- are encouraged to incorporate these costs into their balance sheets, the world would change, even in China and India.

    It’s the solar and wind developers who are the serious ones, since their teams typically include brilliant scientists and engineers, obsessed with making the world a better place. This includes you, Joseph Romm.

  2. Jeff Huggins says:

    Great book reviews are great, but we should save our best bottles of Champagne for when atmospheric concentrations of CO2 get back to, and stabilize at, 350 ppm or less, yes?

    I trust that the next book is already in the works and that you’ll be in front of the Capitol with a bull horn on Thursday?

    Congrats, Joe!


  3. malcreado says:

    > “Deployment, deployment, deployment, R&D, deployment, deployment, deployment.”

    Absolutely, the problem is not technology, the problem is climate change. Technology is just tools in the toolbox and we have a big enough toolbox to deal with the problem right now. Climate Change is a moving target; we continue to make matters worse. If we wait for better tools, we are betting that technological advancement will outpace the development of the problem. That is far from certain, 10 years from now the technology may be twice as good but the problem 3 times more complex. Down the road the tools may be better but less able to fix the problem.

    Deployment, deployment, deployment!!!

  4. Wit's End says:

    I, in all modesty, have just also featured my very own copy of Straight Up here:

    with eggs.

  5. fj2 says:

    Yes, yes! “Deployment, deployment, deployment, R&D, deployment, deployment.”

    There’s stuff that’s been around for literally hundreds of years or more that makes civilization much more environmentally compatible such as passive solar design, wind power — the right type of education! — but there is such a thing as the unforeseen emergence of positively disruptive technologies and practices like cell phones, personal computers and the internet or even extreme sports like skateboards, inline skates and snowboards, often alarmingly simple things that go viral.

    One thing may well be small vehicles as mobility machines small enough to be easily human powered yet capable of using other power sources as well; broadly deploying sufficient efficiencies equivalent to incredibly large reserves of distributed on-demand low-cost energy.

  6. fj2 says:

    4. fj2 (continued),

    . . . in addition, potentially providing for highly resilient transit somewhat immune to the disruptive and unforeseen on the scale of the Iceland volcano event and increasingly extreme weather.

  7. Wit's End says:


    In paging through my newly arrived copy of “Straight Up,” I have come across this entry:

    which perfectly exemplifies the false distinction between environmentalism, and approaching the transition to clean energy for economic, political and security reasons. They are not and should not be mutually exclusive policies, as many of the excellent comments to that post explain.

    Energy security isn’t going to mean much without a functioning ecosystem. CO2 is only part of the existential threat that humans must confront – the degradation of the environment, the availability of food free of contamination, and clean water – are critical for humans as well as frogs and polar bears.

    We will share their fate.

    JR, please revise your stance to be more like, REVIVE EARTH DAY than the original “Let’s Dump Earth Day.” We aren’t going to be spared the loss of butterflies, bees, and trees, just because we THINK we are superior. We will share their future, and if that is extinction, that will be our fate, as well.

    Hope to see you Thursday!!!

  8. Alex Carlin says:

    Deployment – yes, heck yes. And because we have only 10 – 20 years to replace coal, we, as a “movement”, must have a specific, simple, doable deployment demand that we can hammer our politicians with, relentlessly, until they finally submit and do the peoples’ will. We need a bumper sticker length phrase, something that can be put on a placard, short, yet fully makes this point – and makes it vividly. Any suggestions out there? My suggestion is “100 Miles of Mirrors”, since we only need 100 miles by 100 miles of CSP Solar Thermal mirror arrays to completely replace coal for burning electricity in the USA – the same applies for China, India, and Europe (from the Sahara). This CSP can be built up in time (much faster than nuclear), and, with thermal storage, it runs 24/7 just like coal. The question is: do we have the time to demand deployment strategies that are more complicated than that? Or have we reached the state of time urgency where we must keep our demand extremely simple? As Dr. Hansen says, if we stay at 450ppm long enough ALL THE POLAR ICE WILL MELT, and 80% of the solution is to stop burning coal by 2030. But one thing is for sure: our movement needs a specific demand that people can repeat, remember and understand. Again: any suggestions?

  9. unreal2r says:

    Wit’s End is right.

    It is impossible to separate climate issues from larger environmental concerns. In my view, the greatest failure of climate science, at least to date, has been its seeming disinterest with integrating information that does not fall within a, relatively speaking, narrow band. All of the fixes we deploy for ourselves will be meaningless if they don’t prevent the intentional exploitation, or correlative eradication, of other species. This goes beyond being smart about energy. A broader approach is required.

  10. David B. Benson says:

    Alex Carlin — If we even just stay around the current concentrations, much of the ice will eventually melt and sea levels will go up tens of meters.

    Not good.

  11. Leif says:

    Planes cannot fly but guess what, ships still work. Three or four days on a large cruise ship and 5,000 or more folks could be across the puddle. They might even enjoy the journey.

  12. mike roddy says:

    I agree that working on climate solutions and doing something about ravaging the environment are entertwined. Tactically, though, we have to be careful here.

    Plenty of Americans are caught up in their trucks and TV’s, and don’t care about the environment. And the oil and gas companies are clever. I have seen them join forces with fake environmentalists to scare people into believing that a carpet of mirrors would cover the whole Mojave Desert, or by exaggerating bird deaths from wind turbines. Wind and solar are way ahead in this argument, but it could be neutralized somewhat, especially since so many people have swallowed the lies about gas fracking and power plants being safe and clean.

    Everyday Americans would benefit just as much from clean power, so a more universal approach might be called for. Remind them that they are the ones who are getting screwed the most by coal and oil companies, through the high proportion of their incomes that goes for their vehicles and homes. Plenty of Americans are out of work, too, and there are no better jobs programs than solar and wind arrays, and building a smart grid. Remind all those Republicans why we are sending our young men to get killed in the Middle East, too. These arguments resonate with everyone, especially since the oil and coal companies have successfully muddied the emissions issue through bizarre spokesmen like Anthony Watts and Glenn Beck.

    Alex Carlin, I like the 100 miles of mirrors idea as a serious marketing approach. Most people don’t know about this- maybe McKibben can step up here with his organization. A catchy ad campaign could be effective. Maybe the solar energy trade association needs to do it- solar execs themselves are geeky types, and don’t think in terms of broad marketing programs.

  13. Roger says:

    Great book review. Congratulations! I can’t wait to get an autographed copy in WDC on Thursday!

    Picking up on what Wit’s End and you say about Earth Day, calling it “Triage Day,” as you’ve suggested, is fine, as long as it will help save the damn climate for our offspring. In fact, if we did apply the logic of triage to our national problems, we would have put climate change before health care, because climate change is likely life threatening for six billion homo stupidians, while US health care will only impact a small fraction of this number. The same goes for financial reform–how many people will die from delaying this for a year?

    Whatever you want to call Earth Day, we hope you’ll stand up for the climate, for the love of your own family, and join us when we convene the Citizens’ Climate Congress at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue at 1:00 PM on Thursday. Look for our blues-singing coal plant, our boisterous, rapping polar bear, and our earth-tone banner asking Obama to Lead on Climate!

    If you can’t attend the CCC on Earth Day, Joe and/or gentle CP readers, then do your part and sign the “Obama, Please Educate and Lead” petition that we plan to deliver to the president at the conclusion of the congress. (You can find the petition on, or on GWEN’s home page–just Google gwenet.)

    Just think: if Obama would throw his full power as president into getting Americans to understand and fight climate change, we could pull this out of the fire before we all go down the tube. Is that too much to ask, after 200,000 years of evolution—to avoid putting our kids and grandkids through hell and high water?

    I, for one, don’t think so. Where’s the change we can believe in?



  14. sailrick says:

    Speaking of climate change books; I was at Barnes and Noble bookstore today, to buy a copy of Climate Cover-Up for a friend. They didn’t have it on the shelf. They said I could order it. Later, browsing the shelves, I didn’t see “Hell and High Water”, nor Ross Gelbspan’s books, nor “Science as Contact Sport”. They did have Hansen’s new book. There were more denier books than mainstream, it seemed to me, including a few books by Roy Spencer, a book called Climate Gate etc. They had both books by Lomborg, but not “The Lomborg Deception”.

    A similar thing happened when I was in LA’s San Fernando Valley this winter. The local Barnes and Noble store didn’t have a copy of Climate Cover-Up. When the clerk looked it up on the computer, only one store of five local stores had a copy.

    Wotts up with that?

  15. Irv Beiman says:

    With accolades of praise to Joe for your deep sense of purpose and your awesomely accelerating strategic impact…
    You make possible, i.e. you enable the development, alignment and execution of coordinated strategic solutions through the network of networks within which you are enmeshed. You have strategically chosen your focus with an understanding of the multiple causal factors contributing to the inadequate response, to date, for mobilizing a strategic set of solutions for our common problem(s). Your focus is enmeshed within a broader network of interrelated and individual issues, all of which have combined to create a period of evolutionary crisis, i.e. opportunity paralleled by great risk.

    I suggest the following for consideration by Joe, CAP, and readers of Joe’s blog, as well as organizations with whom CAP and its leadership system has a connection, formal and/or informal:

    1 To achieve your purpose, go beyond that purpose to stimulate the connectedness of a larger network or organizations & individuals/groups. Strategic System Level Intervention Hypothesis [1]: You can increase yoiur desired strategic impact by developing cross-organizational alignment for common purpose > A key issue for strategic impact in solution execution is the degree of alignment across sources of human energy/intelligence/analysis/brainstorming/planning/action and resources. Alignment creates orders of magnitude improvement in system response in an accelerating function. Focus is required on key leverage points, which vary across levels of potential strategic solution impact [global, regional/national, organizational, cities/communities; and individuals/families].

    Proposed common purpose: Global Resilient Sustainability, clarified by six strategic pillars: jobs & economy, infrastructure, food, energy, water & shelter
    > with the 5 levels for coordinated action identified in 1 above [global, region/nat’l, org’al, cities/com’ties, indiv’s/families]. These six pillars can be considered Strategic Outcome Themes, beneath which lie the issues associated with commercialization of technologies identified by Joe, including policy adjustment, et al.
    > Joe Romm and CAP/CP website and blog can be identified as primary & referential source of information and PoV [point of view] for climate science. This includes consideration of contributory human system factors at multiple levels touched by Joe&CP/CAP, with specific reference to American media, their failure to report information needed by the public for RS, which should be a required common public good and right for their license, and the causative factors contributing to that failure, with an eye toward creating a solution for that cause, through further networked discussion, b’storming, decision making, planning, execution and adjustment based on results, in a purposeful problem solving process.

    Description of my own PoV about RS strategy execution can be downloaded. I reference JR and as the only specifically recommended site for information/analysis of climate science and analysis at: Cross border alignment for RS is a critical requirement for sufficient solution response. The initial stimulus for discussion is presented at the above link.

  16. mike roddy says:

    Sailrick, #15, I noticed the same thing, and it pissed me off, too. When I was in a Barnes and Noble in Palm Desert last year the climate change section was about 75% denier garbage.

    I think this represents the opinions of Barnes and Noble corporate ownership. Even Palm Desert is not that right wing politically, and certainly San Fernando Valley (Waxman’s district) isn’t, where you were.

    I live in Seattle, where I doubt if that’s the situation (though I haven’t checked the Barnes and Noble here). Maybe you should follow up with B&N management, and take it to the top. A lot of curious browsers are getting hoodwinked.

  17. johna says:

    #15 Sailrick Re: Bookstores that lack good climate books.

    Order your choices from local bookstores (and don’t sweat the wait.)
    It encourages them to stock the titles; no one sees what we buying online.
    Go back later and order gift copies seperately.

  18. RunawayRose says:

    I got up to about page 100 today, just past the “deployment” mantra you quote. I hope we can get some kind of carbon price this year; it looks to be an uphill fight. Then, if it isn’t accomplished in this bill, we’ve got to focus on demolishing the deployment barriers. Decoupling, feed-in tariff, interstate transmission lines, renewable percent requirement…