And earlier, when you said that most of the questions seem consumer-oriented, I would say that the balance is about 50/50. Maybe I should go back and check, but that’s what I really aim to do. I try to print one question every week that is more consumer-oriented and one that is a little more about overarching, somewhat more complicated topics. Quite honestly, a lot of the subscribing editors tend to fall back on the easier things that aren’t controversial, but sometimes they surprise me and they don’t. I think what we’re trying to do with the column is very much what we’re trying to do with E: we’re trying to define environmentalism for people. It used to be thought of as just the great outdoors, and it has been labeled tree-hugging and stuff like that, but environmentalism is quite a lot bigger than that. It boils down to public health and other very important things. So over the course of time, if you read E or EarthTalk, I think you get a really good sense of what it means to be an environmentalist, and about the relevancy of environmental issues.


CB: Because you’re trying to reach an audience that is not very familiar with environmental issues, the questions tend to be very basic. For example, “What defines a wetland?” What is the best question you’ve ever received, published or unpublished?


DM: Hmm. The best? I know we get an awful lot about hydrogen fuel cells and cars. People like to ask about cars. People are skeptical about hydrogen: “Where are we going to get all the water for fuel cells?” and “What are we going to do with all of the water that spews out of the tailpipe?” and “Isn’t hydrogen what exploded the Hindenburg?” — you know, stuff like that. I think they’re thoughtful questions. They’re the things that are on people’s minds — especially that Hindenburg thing. Hydrogen has that reputation, which is sort of unfair, because it wasn’t the hydrogen in the Hindenburg that started the fire; it was an oil-based skin that caused it. But I think that’s one of the big questions that people have on their minds when they think about fuel cells — they think about the Hindenburg.

Curtis Brainard is the editor of The Observatory, CJR's online critique of science and environment reporting. Follow him on Twitter @cbrainard.