Andrew Revkin: on climate change in a post-media world

Covered a talk by the dean of climate reporters, Andrew Revkin, last week at UCSB, for the Santa Barbara Independent. In part because he got so sick of "the yelling" around climate, a couple of years ago Revkin gave up traditional reporting to teach at Pace University, and to run the great Dot Earth blog on sustainability (and related questions, such as climate) for the New York Times.

This year, seemingly in a better mood, Revkin is promoting the concept of the Knowosphere, a portal for the exchange of ideas useful in getting us humans through "the bottleneck" that E.O. Wilson spoke of a decade ago. Revkin brought up the analogy of yeast bacteria in a sugar solution in a petri dish. They will multiply until they consume all the food, or until they foul their nest with waste, or both, and crash.

In his talk, Revkin pointed out that:

"Scientists for the last fifty years have been saying, "Hey, there's an edge to the petri dish!" Essentially the question is will we be able to find a "peak us" before nature imposes a limit on us." 

Revkin had some nifty examples of how Internet ideas have proved useful in facing problems; for instanct, a site for Pennsylvania residents called Fraktrack, that puts all public documents relating to hydraulic fracking on-line in a searchable form. He also thinks education — which can teach the well-accepted fundamentals of climate science to young people — offers hope.

AndrewrevkinimageBut when it comes to "the yelling," in an answer to my question, Revkin put it with pithy vigor:

“In a post-media world, which is what we’re entering, it’s a great opportunity for institutions, or for individuals who understand these issues, to create a new space for scientific discussion,” he explained. “I think that’s the way forward.”

On the one hand, he's absolutely right about "the yelling." My little story led to immediate attacks on Revkin, inadvertently and ironically proving his point, and making me feel guilty for causing him pain.

On the other hand, I'm troubled by his blithe reference to a "post-media world."

Really? Do we not use the media and need the media today as much as we did twenty-five years ago?

To be specific, aren't we actually more dependent on The New York Times than ever?

The culture without the media. Talk about a post-apocalyptic landscape…

5 thoughts on “Andrew Revkin: on climate change in a post-media world

  1. Kit, I suppose we all need heroes to worship, but I continue to be astonished at how folks in the media blinder themselves regarding Revkin. His advocacy of a “new space for scientific discussion” neglects to describe what’s wrong with the current one (occupied by, you know, all those scientists) and also fails to make a case that the new space won’t be just as prone to distraction-by-yelling as the old one. (And yes, I’ve followed his blog trying to find good arguments along these lines.)

    Cynical, hard-bitten consumers of journalism might be forgiven for thinking that all of this talk is just aimed at legitimizing Revkin’s own preferred (non)solution, epitomized by the Breakthrough Institute crowd.

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  2. Do you mean this “hug the monster” piece, Stebve?

    http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/technology/2012/05/hug-the-monster-for-realistic-hope-in-global-warming-or-how-to-transform-your-fearful-inner-climate/

    It’s a great metaphor for our culture and the position we are in. I don’t blame Revkin for not taking on that question, because I know that he’s been a science wrigter since the l970’s. I don’t think there’s nay doubt he’s a good reporter. But is global warming still a science story?

    Arguably not — it’s too late for that. In the same way our culture cannot leave war to the generals, we can’t leave global warming to the scientists and the science reporters — we (as a culture) have to take on responsibility. Sez me.

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  3. It will always be at least in part a science story, else we have no means of gauging a response. Of course it acquired a political component the moment it was realized that there could be bad consequences. Note that the partisan aspect developed later, in large part thanks to the media for being so willing to cover both sides of any issue. These days the media mainly just don’t cover it, the plains apes being mainly interested in their own frolicking.

    Back to Revkin, notice that he went off the rails again on the very same day you wrote your post. The headline on the post (attacking Jim Hansen’s recent NYT op-ed) is too perfect, “Varied Views on Extreme Weather in a Warming Climate” being so very evocative of Krugman’s formulation “Views on Shape of Earth Differ.”

    But yeah, he has the chops to do some really good work.

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