We are running out of time and energy.
The New York Times environment reporter Andrew Revkin’s message could not have been clearer. Speaking before a packed Bowers Auditorium at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, Revkin said that the world would soon be crippled by a rising population faced with declining resources if governments and individuals do not take aggressive steps to reverse consumption patterns. The reporter hammered his point home at the end of his talk by performing a self-written song, titled “Liberated Carbon,” criticizing global dependence on fossil fuels.
The most prominent manifestations of the global resource gap, he said, are our changing climate and ever-increasing greenhouse gases. Displaying slides showing articles from as early as 1890 that predicted warming climates and rising oceans from more carbon dioxide in the air, Revkin argued that climate change has been an issue for over a century.
“Frank Capra made a mini-‘Inconvenient Truth’ film in 1952,” Revkin said. “This problem has never been a mystery.”
But Revkin criticized modern media outlets, saying they do not convey environmental news appropriately. For example, a story on curbing consumption might run next to an ad for a $5,000 watch, he said.
Anastasia O’Rourke FES ’09 thought this characterization accurately identified the importance of public perception in dealing with climate problems.
“The way the environment is framed affects the debate tremendously,” she said. “The use of strong imagery and visuals governs what stories can run.”
Revkin also lamented the recent politicization of environmental policy.
“It used to be bipartisan,” he said. “We had a Republican president sign the Clean Air Act, create the [Environmental Protection Agency] and urge independence from fossil fuels in the ’70s. It was just about cleaning ourselves up and making a functional society.”
But in recent years, the EPA has edited key climate reports at the request of White House staff and industry lobbyists control the environmental debate, Revkin said.
While Revkin urged that reforms start at the level of individual actions, one attendee, Richard Levine, the director of the Center for Sustainable Cities at the University of Kentucky, countered during the question period that bigger steps are required to make a difference.
“What we need is a model for sustainable cities,” he said. “Not lots of little steps.”
In September, Revkin was awarded the John Chancellor Award for more than two decades of coverage of the science and politics of global warming.