“Should we dive in?” asked Andrew Revkin. For the next 90 minutes he talked at full speed, animatedly jumping from topic to topic. The famed science and environmental writer was speaking in the Knight Science Journalism conference room to the largest crowd of the first semester. He was there to discuss his take on climate change, which he has covered for more than two decades — as a reporter and the founder of the Dot Earth blog at The New York Times and, starting in December, as senior reporter at ProPublica.
One of Revkin’s favorite themes is that anything can be connected back to climate change — and as he talked, it became clear that he really did mean “anything.” At his KSJ seminar, he touched on everything from politics to folk music to social media to the Singapore Botanic Gardens.
Revkin explained how he got “stuck on” climate change and its relationship to global sustainability in 1992, and has been writing about it ever since. To demonstrate his enduring dedication, he stood up and unbuttoned his shirt — eliciting bemused laughter from the crowd — to reveal a themed T-shirt that he found in his house that morning. It was from a 1992 exhibition on climate change at the Museum of Natural History, for which he wrote a companion book.
“People wonder how can you write about something for so long, but it’s just the prismatic richness of it as a story,” he said.
He replied that climate change is a prism through which he can look at many topics. “I’m going to test the waters,” he said, adding that at ProPublica “I sold them on the idea that this is really complicated and not a simple story.”
Asked about the large numbers of Americans — including the one who became president — who deny or don’t know about the scientific consensus on human-caused climate change, Revkin said he was more concerned that the people working to address climate change disagree about how to do it. “It’s like when you see people who are rowing in the same direction, but then start to fight over which oar to use,” he said.
In the highly politicized realms he covers, Revkin said he saw himself as a guide whom readers can trust to provide balanced, data-based reporting. “If you present the world in a simplistic way and it turns out to be more complicated,” he said, “then people won’t trust you.”
As the KSJ fellows and others in the room asked more questions about how to tackle climate change, and how to be a good journalist in an age where facts sometimes seem not to matter, Revkin never gave the easy, uplifting answer. “Have I depressed you?” he asked near the end of the talk. But he stressed that it’s still possible to find beauty in the midst of disaster — or as he put it, “You still have to celebrate humanity as you work on these real hard problems.”