AR: He and I both said that was just a snapshot. Frankly, there’s not as much meaning in that curve as there is in the other graph that I attached to the bottom of that post, which is the curve going from 1980 to 2006. That was from Boykoff’s earlier paper, which shows a huge uptick in coverage. So I think, whatever the little wiggle is right now, overall this is an arena that is not going away. But a big chunk of it is driven by energy. So as gasoline gets down to a dollar a gallon—without that added component of energy urgency—you’re going to see the climate issue fade a little bit.
CB: When you wrote about the twenty-year anniversary of your first climate cover story in Discover, you pointed out that a lot of details, particularly the lack of public engagement, haven’t changed much. Do you think that will change any time soon?
AR: That, to some extent, depends on what Mother Nature throws at us over the next few years. As some people have cynically predicted, it may take something like a mega-drought in the southwest to get the country totally engaged, and the media as well. But a mega-drought in southwest is one of the harder things to ascribe to a human influence on the climate system because, as we’ve learned historically, that’s kind of the norm for the southwest, and we’ve just been lucky to have wetter conditions over the last hundred years. But if we have a big eruption like a Pinatubo-style volcano [which would cause temporary global cooling], then this whole issue could get derailed by that. So if I had to predict, being a realist and somewhat jaded, yeah, I may have to reprise the post I’ve done at least once, riffing on the Talking Heads line, “same as it ever was.”
CB: In your Chancellor speech you mentioned that one thing isn’t the same, though. You wrote a song called, “Liberated Carbon,” but recently changed some of the words?
AR: Well, folk music is a plastic and evolutionary process. Originally, it said, “Satan came along and said, ‘Hey, try lighting this.’ He opened the ground and showed us coal and oil.” And, you know, I thought a lot about that. I probably approached the song initially in the voice of your traditional, Bob Dylan rabble-rouser. And now I look back, and I think, you know, it’s not Satan; it’s normal. It’s just us.
So I changed it to, “Someone came along and said, ‘Hey, try lighting this,’” which is much more human and real. And as many of my free-market, blog-commenter friends would say, look at all the benefits that have come from burning fossil fuels. So I evolved the song. And I don’t see it as an apologist saying, “Oh yeah, that was bad.” I do think it’s correct, so I changed it. And someone can say, “Oh, Revkin, you’re caving to fossil fuels.” I don’t think I’m caving; I think it’s true. And it’s been blogged on before by climate contrarians who thought they had a big ‘gotcha’ thing.
It’s all a process, and when people jab at me like that, I say, look, my journalism stands or falls on its own merits. I’m a thinking, breathing person as well as reporter, and I was a musician before I was a journalist.