Revkin on the Environmental Story Bigger than Climate

Over at the Columbia Journalism Review, Curtis Brainard offers a must-read interview with the NY Times Andrew Revkin, the environment beat's most influential reporter. Revkin has been covering the environment for a quarter century and was recently awarded by Columbia University the prestigious Chancellor Award for sustained career achievement.

At the award ceremony, Revkin asserted again his view that climate change is not the dominant story of our time. Rather, as he puts it, climate change is a symptom of the much bigger challenge of sustainability: coming to terms with explosive population growth and consumer appetite on a planet of finite resources.

In his interview with Brainard, Revkin discussed just how difficult it is for the media to cover the story of sustainability. In fact, he notes that one of the reasons he started the blog Dot Earth at the Times site was to create a news space where the story could be featured and discussed.

CB: Given the lack of public engagement with sustainability issues, would the world have been better off if the media had clued in to the bigger story sooner?

AR: Well, in that sense, I think the media inevitably migrates from theme to theme. That's almost unavoidable. There's interest in the news, and when you have a confluence of events that make something seem important--Katrina, Al Gore's movie, the IPCC reports in 2007, [melting sea ice] in the Arctic--that kind of defines the issue.

So we're always going to be bouncing from one thing to the other, and there's no way for the media to take up the more nuanced issue. In fact, one reason I started Dot Earth is that it's hard to find space in the newspaper for these other issues. Many of them are what I call "slow drips," or "iffy" looming catastrophes. We don't do well with "if" stories and we don't do well with dispersed stories. So the blog created a space to keep sustained focus on them.

The rest of the interview is more than worth reading. On Feb. 10 I will be joining Revkin on a panel at the American Museum of Natural History where I am sure these topics and others will be discussed.

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