So we’re always going to be bouncing from one thing to the other, and there’s no way for the media to take up the more nuanced issue. In fact, one reason I started Dot Earth is that it’s hard to find space in the newspaper for these other issues. Many of them are what I call “slow drips,” or “iffy” looming catastrophes. We don’t do well with “if” stories and we don’t do well with dispersed stories. So the blog created a space to keep sustained focus on them.
CB: But a while back, you wrote that you’d be spending less time on Dot Earth in order to do more for the paper. It doesn’t seem like that’s happened. Or am I wrong?
AR: Twice—at the six-month point and at the one-year anniversary—I posted that I was going to slow down, and I find it almost impossible to do. The flow of stuff is just too interesting, and how do you not engage? But yeah, this year, I’ll be shifting gears significantly toward the print side of things to examine some of the same issues.
We’re all grasping for the balance here, and when I ask it of the Times management, there is no answer to the question of how much of our vigor and our resources we should be devoting to our online efforts and how much to print. No one really has an answer for that. They want all of both. A page-one story still matters and being active and innovative on the Internet still matters. So we’re being tugged in several directions, and I think that’s appropriate.
CB: Thinking specifically of the climate-change story, you said in your acceptance speech that we’re just now moving into the second act of what might be a three-part story. What do you mean by that, and what are the parts?
AR: Yes, the first act being recognizing, for the most part, that humans are influencing climate even though there are still big questions about specifics.
The second act would be a reality check on what’s feasible, given that awareness. And that’s where I think most of the media and public have not really absorbed what would be required. How do you take a world that is 80 percent dependent on fossil fuels and go to a world 80 percent free of fossil fuels as the population grows toward nine billion and its appetite for the things that come with ample energy grows? Within half a century—or within a century even—that’s a transformation the likes of which has never happened in human history. It makes the agricultural revolution seem easy, and the reality is that this doesn’t just come by turning off the lights, driving slower, or creating green jobs (unless, as I’ve written, those jobs include scientists, teachers, and innovators). That’s Act Two, and the media have only just started to nibble at it.
CB: And Act Three?
AR: Actually putting in place the programs, initiatives, and policies that would be needed to make [the transformation] happen. And awareness. Act Three definitely depends on Act Two, and having a broader awareness of what’s necessary and a broader of awareness of why it’s necessary—not to save our climate, which is the way it’s been popularly portrayed, but as a way to limit risks of real unexpected, turbulent, and harmful changes that might be avoided with a vigorous change in direction now.
CB: Speaking of change, you broke a number of stories on the Bush administration’s interference with communications about climate science. Do you expect that, as far as access to information is concerned, your job will be a little easier under the Obama administration?