Sustain What?

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In this Dot Earth edited interview of Andrew Revkin, he says the key to engaging people in the subject of climate change is to get to the “root of the story” = energy.  Revkin believes if we focus on new energy choices and use the right language to discuss the issues, Americans have the potential to lead in innovation of climate change solutions.

Supporting Revkin's thinking, ecoAmerica's Climate and Energy Truths: Our Common Future is a communications research project conducted to determine effective frameworks and messages for speaking with the American public about engergy climate change, climate solutions, renewable engergy and carbon based fuels. Download the Climate and Energy Truths summary report.

 

Posted on New York Times' blog Dot Earth, January 30, 2011 

Sustain What?

By Andrew C. Revkin

During a recent visit to the University of Connecticut, I was interviewed by Bob Wyss, an associate professor of journalism, for a climate issue of Wrack Lines, the magazine of the Connecticut Sea Grant College Program.

The issue is out and contains a variety of interesting articles. In the interview, I articulated a few ideas that are worth posting here, in part as a starting point for you to ask me a question or two, as well. Have a look below, then fire away with what’s on your mind.

You can watch the lecture I delivered there online (go to minute 22). As is the case at almost every school I visit, I probably learned more in Storrs than I conveyed. For example, that is where I met Margaret Rubega, who found  a great way to employ Twitter in her ornithology class.

Here are excerpts from the interview, with a link to the rest:

Q. Is there a way to engage the public on climate change…?
A. I think there is, and it is to get to the root of the story, which is that we don’t have the energy menu we need to have a smooth ride in this century as human appetites and numbers crest. We just don’t have that and that is non-controversial. For most people, if you talk about energy, you can get a lot of traction and it is a forward-looking situation. We need new energy choices. America, for generations, has been a great innovation engine and it could be again if we get engaged on this.
Q. What were you trying to do in developing your Dot Earth blog?
A. In October 2007, after months of brainstorming with some of our web people, I launched Dot Earth as an ongoing exploration of one question, which is, as we race toward a population of nine billion people, how do we do it with the fewest regrets. That’s the framework. It is basically a way for readers to look over my shoulder as I explore questions.

I am not spouting. Most blogs these days are spouting. I do express my views sometimes, but I also express my view of uncertainty, when things are not clear, and for a chunk of readers, this is a useful thing. What I am thinking is that journalism is going to shift from the old mode of us handing out information from on high. I think the best role for journalists with specialized experience is to serve as a guide, not as a reporter.

I feel sometimes like an experienced  mountain guide after an avalanche. I have a general sense of where to step and where not to step and what’s true and what’s false and where the path is but I’m not going to tell you I know for sure. If you follow me, you probably have a decent chance at coming out OK.

Q. And obviously sustainability is an important element of the blog.
A. Yes, I was recently at a meeting of biologists called “Sustain What?” That is always the question. Sustainability as a word is utterly vague until you apply it to a specific issue–sustainable ecosystem, sustainable energy system, sustainable transportation system, sustainable lifestyle. Then you can kind of get an answer. So sustainability is a trait, and not a fact, and yes, that is really what it is all about.
Q. One of the compelling images you displayed during your talk was  the picture of young boys in Guinea, West Africa, who as darkness falls have migrated to the airport where there is enough illumination for them to do their homework.
A. I try and remind people that there is this stark reality that there is still a large chunk of humanity that, for the lack of a light bulb, cannot do their homework, or thread a needle, or do work around the house. They can’t accomplish the most basic tasks. Here we are in the 21st Century having our comfortable little debates about things here, while that has to be part of the energy challenge….
Q. But they aren’t part of the debate right now. What is it going to take to make them part of the debate?
A. Q. As you join this journey to a planet of nine billion people, you have indicated that you are an optimistic about the future. Why are you?
A. I am optimistic overall because I see that when people have access to information, once kids have the opportunity to learn, then I have seen explosively flowering potential in humans. There is  a guy who is from Zambia that I met at a population conference and he spent three minutes telling me his life story. It started in a rural village where his father sent him into town because he was worried that his kids were all going to die, because he had already lost several.

He went to school, he was living with an uncle, and then he went to a university, then he got to a post graduate program and now he is one of the world’s leading experts on population and development in Africa. It all happened because his father found a way to get him to a school. Every time I see or hear of something like that, I get excited.

We have great innovative potential and there is a great deal of unrealized potential out there, and while there are a number of signs tracking in the wrong direction, there are many going in the right direction. [Read the rest.]

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