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Bummed Joe Romm on Failed Climate Policy

By Robert Bradley Jr. -- January 29, 2024

“So, it seems the [COP 28] agreement establishes that we can ‘abate’ fossil fuel plant emissions to produce more fossil fuels. Does anything capture the Orwellian nature of this agreement better?”

“After eight years, not one of the top 10 greenhouse gas emitting countries has adopted ‘policies and action’ capable of meeting the Paris climate targets.” (Joe Romm, 12-20-2024)

Yes, Joe. The international crusade against carbon dioxide (CO2)–really affordable, reliable, storable, convenient energies–has been a failure. The futile crusade is now in its 36th year with 28 annual COP meetings come-and-gone. Fossil fuels are presently in a tripartite boom with no end in sight.

This reality is an open secret that the Climate PR Complex does not want people to know. Meanwhile, every day of fossil fuel dominance makes a reversal of atmospheric CO2 less and less feasible. The log-over-linear effect of CO2 forcing, specifically, means additions have less and less of an effect. For example, a metric ton of CO2 avoided today has 18 percent less effect than a ton avoided when the debate started in the late 1980s. Bad mitigation math (but good for the plants).

Joe, any regrets at all the time and resources that have been wasted over the decades? Any more real, pressing human needs that could have been addressed? Feel that your efforts have been wasted–even backfired with your hateful treatment of scholarly opposition?

The landscape and seascape could have been spared from green industrialization. A lot of social injustice for average energy users and taxpayers could have been avoided. And carbon capture, carbon offsets, and greenwashing–all the things you long decried–could have been avoided also. The wrong crusade. The futile crusade.


Do readers remember Joe Romm? The angry voice of (defunct) Climate Progress? He sort of disappeared, or got demoted. Was it from a blown gasket (“doubly head-exploding“) from all his vitriol at his learned foes? I asked at the time:

Nothing is forever. But if the “indispensible blog” for climate alarmism/forced energy transformation (per Thomas Friedman) is shut down in an age of virtually unlimited green funding and rampant climate media alarm, then something seems amiss.

With its last post dated September 5th, there is no new content at ClimateProgress (2006–2019).

Maybe, just maybe, the creeds of the founder/leader of Climate Progress (2006–2019) grew tiresome and turned off the incremental audience the site was intended to influence. Joe Romm, after all, was only for the hardcore, although MasterResource tracked him closely as a leading scribe of modern Malthusian angst.

MasterResource has dozens of posts chronicling Romm’s emotional outbursts, errant analysis, and false prognostications. It was easy pickings (sort of like with climate scientist-activist Andrew Dessler) where their own words do the damage.

Romm was a bully who would not debate but smear. He criticized his opponents as “climate disinformers” and then Holocaust-like “deniers” (with some apology). He has called me a “sociopath” in private communications. And he is in total denial about his own doomism.

Joe Romm does not have the megaphone he once did, but he is fussy and mad (and losing) in his Come Hell or High Water world of climate alarmism. But at times, he is realistic at the lack of progress and public traction with his religious issue.

His Latest: Political Realism

In “An Orwellian Outcome for COP28’s ‘Breakthrough’ Climate Deal“(December 20, 2023), Romm looked at the fakery of what can be called by friend and foe The Climate Industrial Complex. It is a masterful takedown to make an important point against his own effort.

He begins:

“In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible,” George Orwell argued in Politics and the English Language, his classic 1946 essay. “Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism … and sheer cloudy vagueness.”

Few things are more indefensible in my view than our multi-decade failure to address fossil-fuel-driven climate change. So, it’s no surprise that euphemism and vagueness were apparently the main product of the recent United Nations climate summit, known as COP28. The supposedly “breakthrough” wording the world agreed on is essentially meaningless — it’s just a murky rehash of the same pledge with the same target we made eight years ago in Paris at COP21.

Romm then gets to the details:

The negotiators gave the UAE oil executive who was running the summit a standing ovation. And the media ran headlines like “Countries clinch unprecedented deal to transition away from fossil fuels,” and “Two Words That Could Change the World” and the slightly more nuanced, “World agrees to climate deal that makes unprecedented call to move away from fossil fuels, but ‘cavernous’ loopholes remain.”

Yet, all that really happened, from my perspective, was the introduction of two words that had never been explicitly used —“fossil fuels” — but had always been implicitly understood.

Romm then harks back to the Paris agreement, which was realistically called by none other than the father of the climate alarm, James Hansen, as

a fraud really, a fake. It’s just bullshit for them to say: ‘We’ll have a 2C warming target and then try to do a little better every five years.’ It’s just worthless words. There is no action, just promises. As long as fossil fuels appear to be the cheapest fuels out there, they will be continued to be burned.”

But Romm goes magical in his interpretation of the Paris Accord:

To be clear, in Paris in December 2015, the world’s nations unanimously and unambiguously pledged to transition away from fossil fuels. At the time, the BBC quoted an expert in climate diplomacy: “The transition to a low-carbon economy is now unstoppable, ensuring the end of the fossil fuel age.” UK publication The Guardian explained in 2016 that the agreement “would effectively phase out fossil fuels.” Everyone knew what they were agreeing to in that deal.

Achievement Hoax?

Romm to his credit discounts the trumped call that COP 28 was a world call for a transition from oil, natural gas, and coal.

So, what exactly was this historic and potentially world-changing breakthrough in COP28? The Foreign Affairs Minister for Norway — a leading oil producer — told Reuters, “It is the first time that the world unites around such a clear text on the need to transition away from fossil fuels.”

I disagree. Let’s compare this “clear text” from the COP28 final document with the COP21 text.

The much-heralded Dubai text is the single line that calls for “Transitioning away from fossil fuels in energy systems, in a just, orderly and equitable manner, accelerating action in this critical decade, so as to achieve net zero by 2050 in keeping with the science.”

I’d argue that this sentence is as clear as a dust storm. Net zero is a euphemism for “a balance” between carbon emissions and removals. It doesn’t actually mean you have to transition away from fossil fuels entirely — if carbon capture and CO2 removal efforts are playing a role in enabling continued fossil fuel production.


The critical question this euphemism raises is what counts as removal and what doesn’t — a hotly debated topic. But the term is never defined. Nor is “transitioning away” or “in a just … manner.”

Compare this to the crucial part of the 2015 Paris text: “Parties aim to reach global peaking of greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible … and to undertake rapid reductions thereafter in accordance with best available science, so as to achieve a balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases in the second half of this century….”

It’s the same pledge with the same end state — achieving zero, in keeping with the best available science. But for COP28, “zero” is really “net zero,” whatever that is in practice.

The Paris language is more transparent. “Zero” is defined as a “balance” between human sources of emissions and removals by sinks. The Paris text points to a definition of “sinks” in the original 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) as “including biomass, forests and oceans as well as other terrestrial, coastal and marine ecosystems.”

Unlike how “net zero” was used at COP28, those COP21 words paint a picture of the natural systems that absorb CO2 and, thus, of human-caused emissions being eliminated, which can be achieved only by rapidly phasing out fossil fuels. Crucially, this definition includes only natural processes — not controversial carbon removal technology.

To Orwell, that’s the point of euphemisms — “to name things without calling up mental pictures of them.”

Thank you Joe Romm for being realistic! He continues:

When the term “net zero” is used today, it’s almost always in the context of removal technologies like direct air capture. These are massive and costly devices that consume huge amounts of energy (in the best cases, renewable energy) to suck in vast amounts of air to remove the CO2 — yet, these efforts would actually result in increased emissions and faster warming for decades, as my own research and that of others has shown.

Despite this, the COP28 deal does call for the use of “removal technologies.” This departs from the COP21 understanding of natural carbon sinks — and from the UNFCCC’s 2021 primer, which explains “net zero” is “where global emissions are in balance with what is naturally absorbed in ‘sinks’ such as forests and oceans.”

So, “net zero” turns out to be one of those phrases that, according to Orwell, will “think your thoughts for you, to a certain extent — and at need they will perform the important service of partially concealing your meaning even from yourself.”

Keep going Joe–we love your take-down ….

The same is true of the phrase  “transitioning away.” Reporting from the climate summit revealed this vague phrase was used because big petrostates “rejected” the clearer wording the Europeans and others desired, that we must rapidly “phase out” fossil fuels.

The phrase has no specific meaning. We only know some believe it doesn’t mean an eventual end to fossil fuels: Saudi Arabia’s energy minister said “the issue of immediate and gradual disposal (of fossil fuels) has been buried.” He explained the final deal would not affect the Saudis’ ability to sell their oil.

Indeed, while we may have some vague idea of what these words mean in English, we have no idea how they are being translated into the dozens of other languages most member nations use.

Similarly, Western environmentalists may believe they have a clear idea of what a transition “in a just … manner” means — something related to the popular but equally ill-defined terms “climate justice” or “social justice.” However, what is “just” to us is perhaps different from what is just to India or Nigeria or Kuwait. Kuwait’s oil minister said near the end of COP28 that he was “surprised” the insistence on phasing out oil was made “with such ferocity that perhaps is matched by the greed of the West in general in seizing control of the economy.”

“Polluted” COP

Romm reaches a verdict:

Given all of this, my view is that the entire document is polluted. It “recognizes that transitional fuels can play a role in facilitating the energy transition while ensuring energy security.” The undefined term “transitional fuels” is apparently a euphemism for natural gas, which is already contributing to climate change in two ways: when it’s burned and releases CO2 and when it leaks, since it is mostly methane (CH4), one of the most potent heat-trapping gases.

The COP28 text also endorses “Accelerating efforts towards the phase-down of unabated coal power.” The term “unabated” is undefined but typically means the CO2 emissions are not captured. The text promotes “utilization” of captured CO2 — and most such CO2 has been utilized for squeezing more oil and gas out of depleted wells.

So, it seems the agreement establishes that we can “abate” fossil fuel plant emissions to produce more fossil fuels. Does anything capture the Orwellian nature of this agreement better?

And more:

These problems are being called “loopholes” in the media. Yet, the Cambridge Dictionary defines a loophole as “a small mistake in an agreement or law that gives someone the chance to avoid having to do something.” These problems are not small, and they are certainly not mistakes — as they were meticulously negotiated and central to the agreement.

How can anyone praise the opaque COP28 text when the world still isn’t seriously trying to meet the less opaque COP21 text? After eight years, not one of the top 10 greenhouse gas emitting countries has adopted “policies and action” capable of meeting the Paris climate targets.

The English language “becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish,” Orwell wrote in 1946, “but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts.”

What emerged from COP28 is just the latest example of how easily we fool ourselves.

Fooled? Joe, have you been fooled yourself? Not only that CO2 is a pollutant but that government failure would be less than what you see as market failure? So how many more years or decades before you and other climate activists admit that it was a futile, misguided quixotic quest at odds with human betterment?

One Comment for “Bummed Joe Romm on Failed Climate Policy”

  1. John W. Garrett  

    Romm is (and has always been) a genuine foaming-at-the-mouth climate nutcase. You’d think someone with his intelligence and education would find something better to do. Instead, he’s chosen to tilt at imaginary windmills. What a wasted life!


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