Notes on an Important Book: Ross Gelbspan’s “Boiling Point”

Boiling Point: How Politicians, Big Oil and Coal, Journalists, and Activists Have Fueled the Climate Crisis—and What We Can Do to Avert Disaster. By Ross Gelbspan. New York: Basic Books, 2004.

The author of this book, journalist Ross Gelbspan, sounds the alarm on what he contends is the most critical challenge facing the world today, global warming. He contends that those who are denying the reality of global warming, and thereby delaying any response to it, are precipitating a “crime against humanity.” He lays this “crime” firmly at the feet of the fossil fuel industry, which he contends co-opted the administration of George W. Bush—admittedly that might not have required much effort since oil entrepreneurs were everywhere in the administration—but he also gives an assist to the media and environmental activists whom Gelbspan believes are at best not reporting accurately on the crisis.

The situation is dire, as Gelbspan makes clear; climate is changing at an accelerating rate, polar ice caps that have been in place for millennia are melting, and evidence of more catastrophic weather events ranging from severe hurricane and tsunamis to droughts to ocean and atmospheric patterns changing in ways that wreak havoc on whole populations are everywhere about us. All the while scientists document the manner in which the average temperature of the planet is rising. At the same time, in something out of Roman history with Nero fiddling as Rome burned, the forces of the status quo—especially corporations in the coal and gas industry—fund think tank studies and public relations campaigns to sow seeds of doubt in the public mind about the nature of the crisis in an effort to ensure that nothing happens to change the current regulatory/economics regime. Politicians beholden to corporate campaign contributions, furthermore, use their positions to forestall actions that might seek to curb this crisis. Perhaps they honestly believe there is no crisis, Gelbspan admits, but if so they have failed to come to grips with the reality that science has been analyzing and making clear for more than two decades.

After documenting the nature of what is happening in a breezy, journalistic manner, Boiling Point offers a passionate call for action. Gelbspan insists that life on this planet is on the verge of major changes because of this drastic climate change. He does not mince words and does not try to offer anything that might be considered scholarly detachment, or even journalistic balance. He is arguing a case. He makes no apology for doing so; the other side in his mind does not give equal time to those arguing that global warming is at a critical stage and he sees no reason to do so as well.

This is a powerful, evocative, and frightening book about this current issue, perhaps the most important one, in modern society. It is a bit out of date now, written as it was in 2004, but since then the situation has only gotten worse. Regardless, Boiling Point is still an important work and well worth reading and pondering.

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2 Responses to Notes on an Important Book: Ross Gelbspan’s “Boiling Point”

  1. RC says:

    Surfed across your blog while searching for a related word combo search.

    You might want to swap out the photo you have of the hardcover version of the book for the paperback one. Gelbspan never won a Pulitzer, a demonstrable fact when you search the site or ask them directly.

    But then, as a historian, would you not be re-writing history if you wiped out that hardcover photo? Or would it prompt you to ask yourself why Gelbspan’s dust jacket for his 1997 “Heat is Online” book says he won a Pulitzer, or why the back cover of his 1991 “Break-ins, Death Threats and the FBI” says he is won a Pulitzer?

    Even more questions arise when you dig into his book here. Why does he refer on the bottom of pg 51 to a coal industry memo (supposedly ‘smoking gun proof of skeptic climate scientists’ corruption), which he cites in his notes as ultimately being on pg 34 of his 1997 book, which he in turn cites as “documents in author’s possession”? He never shows them in their full context.

    Funny, isn’t it, how no other book author, blogger, reporter, video presenter or speaker who quotes that same memo sentence as proof to indict skeptic climate scientists for ‘crimes against humanity’ ever shows the memo in its complete context?

    As a historian, this sort of thing doesn’t bother you a bit? The appearance of re-direction of historical inquiry resulting by purposefully hiding information? Perhaps like what was noted in the latest issue of Smithsonian regarding people in the ’50s who were whitewashing details out of narratives about Thomas Jefferson?

    You see, if Gelbspan is revealed to be the common source of an accusation that turns out to be literally unsupportable, and that skeptic scientists were not in fact ‘manufacturing doubt’ about the climate but instead were whistleblowers about pre-existing doubt in IPCC science assessments, then “Boiling Point” takes on an entirely different kind of importance.


  2. Dale Martenson says:

    Global warming ( climate change ) , deforestation, overpopulation and really stupid people who either can’t or won’t accept that these issues must be addressed, collectively will be the source of dramatic deterioration of the quality of life for people in the west (Europe and N. Am), especially the very wealthy Wall St. capitalists, fossil fuel developers and their ilk. One would think that these people didn’t have children or grandchildren because they will all be equally, negatively affected. And great job politicians and bureaucrats. Where are all of you going to go with your money, Is all of this the reason for the race for Mars? Good luck!!!


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