Dot.Earth (N.Y. Times blog), December 1, 2008

CLIMATE, 'NOT THE STORY OF OUR TIME'

[Rachel's introduction: One of our best environmental journalists, Andrew Revkin, recently won the John Chancellor Award for journalism. His speech on that occasion is worth a listen.]

By Andrew C. Revkin

Along with Jane Mayer of The New Yorker, the other winner of a 2008 John Chancellor Award for sustained achievement in journalism, I spoke with graduate students in journalism at Columbia University (in my tux) on Nov. 19. The school just posted video of that conversation.

The session explored a wide range of issues, including:

1) How to cultivate (and protect) sources deep inside a government under an administration fixated with secrecy.

2) How to explain a century-scale change in the human relationship with the planet in a way that fits into traditional journalism (of course, part of the answer is this blog).

Here's how I explained (around minute 20) why climate change is not "the story of our time":

Q. Obviously climate change is the biggest story on your plate right now, but looking ahead what do you see?

A. My coverage has evolved. Climate change is not the story of our time. Climate change is a subset of the story of our time, which is that we are coming of age on a finite planet and only just now recognizing that it is finite. So how we mesh infinite aspirations of a species that's been on this explosive trajectory -- not just of population growth but of consumptive appetite -- how can we make a transition to a sort of stabilized and still prosperous relationship with the Earth and each other is the story of our time.

And it's a story about conflict. It's a story about the fact that there are a billion teenagers on planet earth right now. A hundred thirty years ago there were only a billion people altogether -- grandparents, kids. Now there are a billion teenagers and they could just as easily become child soldiers and drug dealers as innovators and the owners of small companies in favelas in Brazil. And little tweaks in their prospects, a little bit of education, a little bit of opportunity, a micro loan or something, something that gets girls into schools, those things -- that's the story of our time. And climate change is like a symptom of the story of our time, meaning our energy choices right now come with a lot of emissions of greenhouse gases and if we don't have a lot of new [choices] we're going to have a lot of warming.

I hope you'll watch it, and post your reactions.

If some statement in particular irks or pleases you, try to indicate its position on the tape by the elapsed time. Columbia will soon post video of my acceptance speech, in which I explore the clash between old journalistic norms and the complex, uncertain nature of these times -- when the things we don't know, some of which we can't know, are likely as important as what is clear.

Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company