Thursday, March 5, 2009

James L. Powell

James L. Powell holds a Ph.D. in Geochemistry from MIT and several honorary degrees, including Doctor of Science degrees from Berea College and from Oberlin College. He is the Executive Director of the National Physical Science Consortium at the University of Southern California.

He is the author of six books, including Dead Pool: Lake Powell, Global Warming, and the Future of Water in the West.

Last week I asked him what he was reading. His reply:
I’ll mention three books, one fiction and two-nonfiction. One of my favorite fiction authors is Thomas Perry. In his latest, Runner, Perry returns to the heroine of an earlier set of books, Jane Whitefield, who uses her Native American heritage to help people in danger disappear and re-emerge with new identities. Since the books are about people escaping, I suppose they are the ultimate escapist fiction. Perhaps at some level we all dream of escaping our humdrum existence. If we had a guide like Whitefield, we might just try it!

I don’t know if most writers continue to read books about writing, but this one does. A recent one that I enjoyed is Writing Tools, 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer by Roy Peter Clark. Even if you wind up using, say, only five of his strategies, the book is worth your time. His first tip is, “Begin sentences with subjects and verbs. Make meaning early, then let weaker elements branch to the right.” This is evidently how great writers, of whom I do not claim to be one, begin to construct their sentences.

The most important book I have read in a while is The Discovery of Global Warming (Revised Edition) by physicist and historian Spencer Weart. When I began Dead Pool some four years ago, I knew no more about global warming than the average nonspecialist: that both the scientific consensus and the evidence were building strongly and, if they were not already, would soon be overwhelming. Exactly how this had come to pass and exactly what the evidence was, I did not know. But as I began to see the impact of global warming on the Colorado River and its reservoirs, the subject of Dead Pool, I grew first concerned and then alarmed. Now I am scared, scared for my children and grandchildren and the world they may inherit. I have decided that my next book must be about the threat of global warming.

Weart starts at the beginning and in engaging fashion traces the long, up and down path that has led to the present nearly unanimous opinion among scientists that global warming is likely to be the greatest threat that humanity has ever faced. If you want to understand how the evidence accumulated, why the skeptics get at least equal time, and why so far we have been powerless to prevent global warming—we still subsidize fossil fuels, for God’s sake—read this book. Though for parsimony of words, it is hard to beat Governor Schwarzenegger, “If my daughter is ill and I consult 100 doctors, 98 of whom tell me to take her to the emergency room immediately, and two of whom say there is nothing wrong with her, I’m going to go with the 98.”
Visit James L. Powell's website and read more about Dead Pool.

--Marshal Zeringue