Andy Revkin
Journalist, Director, Initiative on Communication Innovation & Impact at Columbia University's Earth Institute

How we communicate about climate change and climate science has been a challenge and a growing concern for decades. 

In this edition of Columbia Energy Exchange, host Jason Bordoff is joined by one of the pioneers of climate-change reporting, Andy Revkin. Andy is an award-winning science and environmental journalist and one of the most recognized and experienced environmental journalists in the United States. He was one of the first to tackle the issue of climate change in journalism with reporting dating back three decades. 

Andy wrote for the New York Times for more than two decades, was a Strategic Advisor for Science and Journalism at the National Geographic Society, and was a senior reporter for ProPublica. He recently joined Columbia University to launch and head a new initiative on communication and sustainability at the Earth Institute. 

Jason and Andy sat down to discuss how Andy became a climate-change reporter, the current state of climate reporting, what he hopes to achieve with his new initiative at the Earth Institute, and much more.

View the transcript

[00:00:03]

Jason Bordoff: Hello and welcome to Columbia Energy Exchange. A weekly podcast from the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University. I’m Jason Bordoff. How we communicate about climate change and climate science has been a challenge and a growing concern for decades. And our guest today is one of the pioneers, Andy Revkin, an award winning science and environmental journalist. One of the most recognized and experienced environmental journalist in the United States. One of the first to tackle the issue of climate change in Journalism dating back to reporting, I won’t age Andy over three decades. He wrote for the New York Times for more than two decades, was a strategic adviser for science and Journalism at the National Geographic Society. A senior reporter for pro publica. He recently joined me here at Columbia University as a colleague, launching and heading a new research initiative on communication and sustainability at the Earth Institute. Andy Revkin, thanks for joining us on Columbia Energy Exchange. It’s pleasure to have you here today.

[00:01:04]

Andy Revkin: It’s great to be with you.

[00:01:05]

Jason Bordoff: A pleasure to have you as a colleague now. So, let start by talking just for a minute about what we’re gonna do together at Columbia.

[00:01:10]

Andy Revkin: Sure.

[00:01:11]

Jason Bordoff: So tell me and our audience a little bit about what the new initiative is all about.

[00:01:16]

Andy Revkin: Yeah, well Columbia is kind of like a microcosm of the world. It’s got all these branches and layers from students to post Dr. to lifetime faculty to alumni and it’s a huge network that is. And so, my first goal is to understand the ecosystem. Find people around it. Whether they’re in the arts or humanities or energy and engineering or environmental science and find the ones who are marginally thinking about communication, innovation or trying new ways to not just convey these issues but to have better conversation around them which is a really, that’s a frontier journalism, we can talk about. And then build a dynamic network. So, we can really get someone who is an anthropologist talking to someone who is an engineer, talking to someone who has got a background in psychology, talking to someone who is a teacher and teachers are freaked out about global warming, how do we teach this in a polarized environment. And then coming up with more laboratory, you know, ways to test those ideas. Not, I’m not a scholar you know I’ve been writing thousands of stories about global warming. I’ve been in the peer reviewed literature in my work on the anthropocene but always as a non-PhD kind of guy. So, its research into action is…

[00:02:34]

Jason Bordoff: One of the motivations, I had for starting this on global energy policy, nearly seven years ago now. It’s hard to believe it’s been that long of you I had as a policy maker that there is so much insight and power in academic research. But it wasn’t often made available in formats and time frames that was useful to the policy world. So, talk a little bit about that from the standpoint of how we think about climate communication, academics often don’t know how to, it’s not their skill set to communicate effectively on issues of climate change and climate science. Has that changed over time and what lessons can we learn? What can we do better?

[00:03:11]

Andy Revkin: It’s not even a function of skillset. The incentives aren’t there in academia. Academia getting advancing in academia, you’re looking at things that mostly don’t involve exchanging ideas with the world outside academia. They’re about getting papers in the literature. Frontier knowledge is more useful and more in getting your career forward than applicable knowledge, quite often. You know, maybe decades later, you’ll get another prize for an application but your strategy for success as a young scientist or a scholar is really not framed around communication with others and there is this need out there, community scale from New York City to individual neighborhoods, to, you know, how do we do an energy audit or up in the Hudson valley where I am now, communities can get locked in through this community CCA. You can become an aggregated buyer of electricity but how do you spread the knowledge of how that’s possible. Even in my little village in the Hudson valley, you know, we’ve voted to be a climate smart community but what does that mean? If you don’t have engagement with knowledge foundations like those in academia, then you’re always going to be behind the ball and universities can do more.

[00:04:24]

Jason Bordoff: Talk about how you have started and how you came to write about climate change initially. What was it like writing about it in the mid-80s when there were not as many as they are today?

[00:04:33]

Andy Revkin: Well, I started out wanting to be a marine biologist and grew up in Rhode Island, love the ocean. Jack Cousto was on TV, telling you, putting your camera into order and go like ooh la la, you know, so that pulled me toward marine science and then I realized getting a PhD is hard. I majored in biology. I think, we went to Brown, both of us. I didn’t realize it.

[00:04:55]

Jason Bordoff: I spent a lot of time on the Rhode Island shore.

[00:04:58]

Andy Revkin: Yeah. And…

[00:04:59]

Jason Bordoff: Beautiful south county.

[00:05:00]

Andy Revkin: So and I realized science is really hard and takes a lot of time and you have to focus on one thing for a number of years and I’m kind of like in everything guy, a systems person. And so I got into journalism and I wasn’t born to be a climate reporter.

[00:05:15]

Jason Bordoff: Was there a climate date when you…

[00:05:17]

Andy Revkin: No, no, that was the first thing I read about were a herbicide called Paraquat that was being mislabeled and people were dying by accidentally ingesting it and I was always writing about the space, the early days of space, the space shuttle program and super computers. It was super computers and actually nuclear war. An article, I did on nuclear winter, starting in 1984 that came out in 1985. That was the first time, I encountered climate. And I went to Boulder talking to people running these computers and the models. Models at that time were being used to judge if all these schmutz we put into the air after apocalyptic nuclear war would actually make the apocalypse even worse by cooling the climate and I’ve met Steve Snyder, 1984, 85 and that I kind of thought, you know, like I won the journalism award for this big story, on nuclear winter which kind of after a more scrutiny became nuclear autumn. Literally Steve and another scientists who wrote a foreign affairs piece saying it’s more like nuclear autumn. But then where is your headline in nuclear autumn, right. How did, that’s not a story and that’s when I really started understand science doesn’t always makes things clear, you know crystal in warning nuclear war is bad. Guess what, it’s even worse. Nuclear winter, right. That’s a big deal.

[00:06:33]

Jason Bordoff: So, what does that mean, I guess you said, science is always full of caveats and uncertainties and academics understandably highlight those and feel they’re important and then the criticism is that muddy is the water in communicating the urgency of the challenge like climate change. So, what do you think that means for her journalist cover the issue?

[00:06:52]

Andy Revkin: It’s a, makes it a nightmare. Not just nor journalism, for science, for the IPCC, for anyone who’s a campaigner. If you want to be true to the facts, including the known, unknowns. Yeah, like the deep uncertainty around sea level is about the same as it was in my 1988 article on global warming. That then how do you both. How do you convey urgency and complexity at the same time.

[00:07:17]

Jason Bordoff: A huge uncertainty. The knowledge of uncertainty is not to deny that climate change is real but it’s caused by human activity and emissions but in terms of what the impacts will be, there is a lot of uncertainty.

[00:07:29]

Andy Revkin: Well, but you’re on the national security council, at some point, right. So, we deal with uncertainty and very consequential all the time. There is even the society for decision making under deep uncertainty. Some of my biggest, one of the people I’m really super fan of are people who dug in on that. That uncertainty is knowledge. At least bounded uncertainty. It’s not ignorance. And if there is one thing I think that we all need to figure out how to convey to the public in a way that is meaningful is that uncertainty is not ignorance. Those are very different things and bounded uncertainty plus or minus x is actionable information and manage or retreat and sea level rise, we had a big conference here going to this is a perfect articulation of that. Sea levels are going to be rising for centuries to come, fact. Warming world like freezer door open, right. And the pace of that between now and 2100 is deeply uncertain. New paper just said it’s actually a bigger range meaning the higher end is possible but it’s more uncertainty. So, we have to figure out how to grow up and deal with that and as storytellers, that’s been anyone who is a storyteller. That’s a really hard time of that. And that’s why I’m here. You know, I was in journalism for 30 years and I saw the strictures of journalism making it really hard to get that bundle of important knowledge on the front page because of the distillation, the need for, you know, catchy headline and that’s all been even further amplified now with the online media environment. So at Columbia, you know the idea is are there new models for engagement with audiences for learning process as opposed to telling process where these are what teachers are doing the same thing now and my works in environmental education. It’s about inquiry based learning. We need enquiry based readers, who are thinking wow. How is it gonna get? How can we find that out. So that’s what I’m here to work on.

[00:09:34]

Jason Bordoff: Yeah. How do you think journalism is doing today in covering climate change?

[00:09:38]

Andy Revkin: I’m pretty worried about today’s coverage. It’s unfortunately like all coverage right now, we’re still kind of captured by the need to engage the reader and even a momentary engagement, if that’s your monetization point and if that’s how you measure impact, then we’re doomed. Because that’s easy. There is a whole science now there is a guy Tristan Harris who used to work at Google and who now is creating center for how do we take back our attention. It’s so easily robbed from us by search engines, by headlines that validate or challenge us in ways. But that don’t fluster us to learn more. That, that the environment we’re in now is we’re rewarding the wrong things.

[00:10:28]

Jason Bordoff: And for climate change that means that we are not covering it enough because it doesn’t give the same.

[00:10:32]

Andy Revkin: And it’s not a matter of enough. You know, I’m…

[00:10:36]

Jason Bordoff: We’re doing it the wrong way.

[00:10:38]

Andy Revkin: Yeah, I think to my mind and you know, I’m not saying that I’m right. This is the other reality. We’re dealing with a complex new information environment. No one knows how it works. Trump stumbled into knowing how it works. You know, Twitter as a way to circumvent the media and the media are still scrambling to figure out how to catch up with that. So, it’s like, but I think, the issue with climate change, if you’re stuck with this model of just more, putting more headlines or doing what the guardian is doing now saying that there are now new rules for what they call it. The guardian news room now. It’s a new style book. It’s no longer climate change or global warming. It’s climate crisis, climate emergency, climate breakdown. They recently had a story that had those three terms in one story.

[00:11:25]

Jason Bordoff: And do you think that’s right or does inject editorial.

[00:11:27]

Andy Revkin: I think it is deeply flawed. But again, that’s just me. I’m not saying, I’m right. Show me some evidence that it does anything to actually change the world. As you know, energy systems, the ones we have are built on infrastructure and norms that were created over a hundred years and changing that is not a function of a new label. And climate change is complex and there are warm years and cold years. And if you dig in on, there was recent, you know flurry of stories and papers, the last four, five years about cold winters linked to global warming and the study just came out that for family under cuts that, so it’s actually called winters, always see ice in the Arctic, reduction in sea ice is linked to cold winters in the northern mid-latitudes. And now, that there is a study that’s robustly challenging the new stuff and that’s not surprising to me at all because it’s a knowledge frontier and that’s where the media go, that’s where as I said earlier, that’s where science, you know, likes to go to advance itself, to advancing your career. Hey here’s a new thing. What’s up with sea ice and its relationship to extreme weather in the northern hemisphere? That’s where I want to do my work. That’s where I will get funding. I did the papers, but that’s when you’re on a new knowledge frontier, the papers tend to kind of whiplash and ten years ago, I wrote a piece for the New York Times on the whiplash, I called it kind of the whiplash journalism which to my mind can end up this engaging readers because it’s like and this is not unique to climate. Think about coffee causing cancer or, you know, coffee is good for you, it’s bad for you. How many times, you’ve seen a story about you know, a glass of whiskey or wine and then no, no, it’s actually worse than. Those, that ends up disengaging readers and that’s, so that’s what I worry about.

[00:13:20]

Jason Bordoff: And how do you think the nuances, the need to be objective would some time manifest itself with this someone saying something and you need to find someone on the opposite side to counter that and it’s like false objectivity or how important is that or how you talk about specific events. There have been storms and droughts and wildfires forever. We know those things are becoming more severe and more frequent. So, when they occur like the California wildfire or something else, how does journalism should and how does it draw connections to the phenomenon of climate change.

[00:13:52]

Andy Revkin: Well, to me, this is one of the challenges, I think now to possibly a function partially of lack of experience. I hate being the grey beard but I am increasing their gray beard, you know, like the finger wagging uncle at Thanksgiving or whatever. But when there is a terrible fire or a terrible, you know at California all kinds of wackiness last ten years. Wet year, dry, super dry year and epic fire years. And the responsibility of any journalist is to stop and say what am I seeing? What do I know about the causes and what do I know about the solutions? If you have time for the solutions, usually, it’s just bad stuff happen, what happened here. And if you are just quoting people, Jerry Brown for all of his you know, activism on climate has been very, when his governorship, when there was a fire season, that was really bad, he would proclaim, link at the global warming. But he never talked about communities building fire zones like implicit zones of danger. Most of the California, north and south has distinct and profound wildfire risk that’s been there. It’s in the system. And it’s been worsened by, you know, a fire suppression for hundred years. There are a bunch of papers in the literature on fire debt. Wildfire deficit. So, this is like debt waiting to burn. And that’s a profound forcing that’s driving the losses we’ve seen. Bigger than climate change. Climate change is in the mix, absolutely. Especially when you get extreme rain and a lot of weeds grow, you know, creating tinder and then extreme drought. And you’re in heat, you know, that’s prime conditions. But if the gun is way loaded already and if you’re not looking at those other elements, you are missing a really big part of the story which is the region on local responsibility to deal with the environmental risk growing on you. It’s not just adaptation. Its adaptation is to change that’s coming. But this is vulnerability to known risk that’s being ignored. And I’ve written repeatedly in my blogging and tweeting. I use the hash tag these days. Expanding bulls-eye. There is a two geographers have kind of coined this idea. It’s a way to look at see how climate change and you have community change and so far community change is the dominant driver of losses and climate events like these fires. And they showed us and it’s, what it is, is a wake up call for any coastal, woodland community, say, you know, a big part of what’s gonna happen to us in the next few decades is for us to do, to work on right now. That’s a big story. It’s a really important story but it gets kind of subsumed if you are just focused on the issue of the day and you need it too because as you know, the inertia, even if, you know, even if Grada and Al Gore and Kristin Ferraris took controls of the world economy tomorrow.

[00:16:54]

Jason Bordoff: Grada is the young, sailing for Europe to New York for the UN meetings.

[00:17:03]

Andy Revkin: I’m jealous because I did spend a year and a half on sailboat once, going halfway around the world. But if you’re, so, if we suddenly some magically decarbonizes or suppose, we hit the Paris, you know, trajectory starting now, that would be amazing. The climate system is gonna, doesn’t notice for decades. So, what are you doing in the meantime. We’re building vulnerability in coastal zones and wildfire zones. That’s avoidable and will result in huge losses, whether without what happens with the climate. And, so it’s like a, there is a wide array of stories and that’s what cool about it.

[00:17:38]

Jason Bordoff: So, what do we need to do to communicate better, more effectively on the issue of climate change? I’m moving away from journalism for a minute, but how do we talk about it which is I feel like on the one hand, there, you know, we need to supply the world with affordable energy and pull more people out of poverty, all of which is true. On the other, you may see, you know, we have 12 years left and then the world ends and that we know, what’s wrong with that narrative but it doesn’t mobilize some groups. If there was like a Revkin guy to help, everyone should communicate on the topic of climate. How would it look different than what we are doing today?

[00:18:12]

Andy Revkin: Well, first, I did this recently. I went back to the dictionary to the definition of communicate and commune, commune means a two way thing as a community. It’s not just storytelling. I grew up all my life half of my life literally, you know, I’ve been communicating in the traditional way, the story of climate change and of the solutions. But the models that most excites me right now are a two way model where you’re engaging, you’re listening. You can actually have a really good solid conversation on renewable energy, incentives in Woodward County Oklahoma, the most skeptical county in America on global warming with a guy, this happened in 2015 and a CNN journalist went there. Here is a guy who says at one point, most skeptical county in America, the oil patch. This blue shirt, you know, the conservative tie guys says, God controls the environment one minute and then he says, you know, we’ve covered half of roof with solar panels. We’re gonna get rid of the grid entirely. And he showed John Sutter the reporter his panels and you think about that just, roll that around your head and when you understand the resistance to saying global warming emergency in Woodward County Oklahoma, it gives you a total pathway forward but it’s not necessarily having a conversation about climate. It’s saying, this here the context is renewable energy. I can find a very profound passionate journey for you and me. You for your libertarian interest in getting off the grid and me, because I’m worried about global warming. And not talk about global warming which might feel like, I don’t know, what’s that feel like a cop-out or something or but it is the most important thing. Well, yeah, to you, right maybe not to the person who you would need to talk to in a way that gets some construction traction in that context. So, this is a prime opportunity. For journalists, for organizations, this fall at the society of environmental journalist on running a panel on this is kind of engagement model of journalism. But two of the models that we’re using. We’re gonna explore this through are not journalist. It’s, there is this thing called rural climate dialogues which is happening in the heartland. A group called Jefferson Center, that’s for 50 years, it’s been running kind of citizen engagement exercises around the world. They’re working with the newspaper in Ohio on an engagement form of journalism where the journalist just go to the meeting to report on the IPCC report. They hold the meeting. They engage the, experts and the community and what do we want here. What do we want energy system to look like. How do we want to be more resilient in the flood zones in the West? And it seems to be working and so, that’s a frontier for journalism, for organizations, I think academia, universities can play a big role in being the regional conveyance hey you know, hey out there, whatever you’re part of the world is from the university standpoint, we’re here to help, you know, we’re here to, we can hold the convening. We have people here who know but actually here in Columbia in the earth institute, we have Peter Coleman’s group which is they have a difficult conversations lab which is a fantastic innovation that grew out in peace and conflicts studies that drove him initially. Now they are moving into sustainability. That’s the kind of, if we can engage that template that they’ve developed for conflict resolution in the context of clean energy, of even here in New York City, where I was just recently at a meeting on this building law. Huge challenges and complexities in getting that building law to work. This is, you know, making buildings more efficient. How do you get the right people in the room, how do you fix the law. It’s got some real problems. So that building owners and residents and everybody else can actually decarbonizes. It works all those scales.

[00:22:16]

Jason Bordoff: So, if I hear you right, part of what you’re saying is kind of broadening the tent for people who care passionately about climate change, care about nuclear security and U.S. leadership and nuclear others who like in Oklahoma, they want to may their utility or want resilience to get off the grid. Do you worry that the environmental movement may go in her direction and narrow the tent sometimes? Should we have nuclear be part of the mix? Should we have carbon capture be part of the mix? What’s the role of the oil and gas industry is to cooperate or demonize?

[00:22:47]

Andy Revkin: This is one of the challenges right now, I think environmental community is locked into a strategy that’s still punitive and us versus them in many ways. And when I say environmental community, I mean a chunk of it that’s pretty influential. But in a way you need it all. It’s kind of like, if I could widen, and this one one example that’s not from climate but it shows, I think what’s possible. The supply chain transparency is like the issue of climate. Who, where the sources of emissions in cases like of deforestation. If you want to be Unilever and you want to know that your palm oil is coming from a plantation and not freshly shut cut forests, how do you do that? Well green peace is really good in Indonesia working with local groups. They’re putting pretty hardcore pressure on palm oil folks, identifying problems, communicating that really creatively through YouTube to customers of companies that have products with palm oil. And then what happens is these big companies have to figure out how to take control of their supply chains. So, they go to a certification process like with a more mainstream environmental group. So, you have sort of. You have to have that whole ecosystem. You have to have edge pushers. You have to have people going to court. You have to have people going to the streets. And then you have to have more mainstream kind of part of the ecosystem, do that say how to work with companies, like environmental defense fund for example on gas, natural gas. Show this to take a lot of heat, you know, for working with oil companies and gas producers to see, to find that sort of a map who want to cut emissions from your natural gas facilities where we do it. And if we only had one of those components, you know, this probably wouldn’t be happening as much as it is. So, some of these is like, how do we relax about goals and policy and just enable a pretty complex ecosystem to push in a certain direction. You know, so you have, I’m not saying that Grada don’t march or don’t, you know, don’t do your thing. We need young people during those things and you can have a date about whether, I know teachers who are worried about the strike like don’t get out of school. Work in your school. That’s fine. And you have to have…

[00:25:17]

Jason Bordoff:  This is September 20th and 27th is strikes coming up?

[00:25:21]

 Andy Revkin: The Friday is for future climate strikes, you know, the New York Times ran an Op Ed that was kind of a chiding gray beard thing, hey 16 year old, you don’t have a place in this discussion which is like what wtf. Excuse my language. It was, you know, it’s like…

[00:25:37]

Jason Bordoff: And what’s the proper response to that Op Ed because whether it’s that or Brad Stevens who is a friend of mine calls for people to cancel their subscriptions to the New York Times.

[00:25:49]

Andy Revkin: I think that’s a deeply flawed response. The Op Ed pay the opinion pages, a distinct place from the rest of the paper and everyone, you know, if I was the Op Ed editor, I could think of ways to have a interesting discussion about where do young people go, what do they do using Grada as an example. But it wouldn’t be some child, I wouldn’t call older conservative guy to be the voice to do that, you know. Everyone makes choices and there are a lot of young people, I have to think about, let’s have a little young page. Like an Op Ed page for a day that’s just teenagers. That will be interesting. And then you could have a really good sense of a menu of things that kids can do. Including college kids to pursue progress on energy or resilience. And there is tons to do. But again, it’s not a right or wrong thing. It’s a menu thing.

[00:26:45]

Jason Bordoff: What’s your reaction been to the green new deal? Has that helped?

[00:26:50]

Andy Revkin: I wrote a long piece for national geographic because that’s where I was early this year and what I liked about the initial vision of the green new deal, the February, just February this year, I think it was that document that came out and because it had a lot of serious words in it. The media coverage and the politicians, framing very simplistic but it had the word research in it. It had the word mobilization in it. You look up mobilization, it’s the beginning of something. And any idea there is a 12 year path to save climate is fantasy. Fantasy on both resilience and energy transition. But we can get going in a way, we haven’t been. It had the word education. I’ve written about here in New York City, you know that actually nationally, we don’t have the work for us, trained around efficient building systems. The New York City schools system, they had this issue crystallized a few years ago when they got a grant, a big federal grant to install more efficient heating and cooling systems in city schools. Lots of buildings. They went to the union and the union said, we don’t have people to run those things and a woman who was in the city sustainability office at the time, Ozgem Ornektekin, she came up with a plan. She then created high school. A specialized high school. A high school for energy and technology that trains kids to become the folks who have the capacity to run these new efficient building systems. And that, that school has, they have a boiler room tour. When I think about marching and Grada and some next steps, one would be to marching to the boiler room of wherever you are. Whether it’s this building or a high school and say wow, how does this work? Why are we using so much oil? Can we do something more creative that’s affordable and can save us money and get on the clean energy chart? Tons of things to do. But they’re mostly about enabling creating a communicative system that’s more an enabling system than a storytelling system.

[00:28:58]

Jason Bordoff: How do you think about the effectiveness in communicating climate of hope versus fear? So, you know, post Trump withdrawing from the Paris agreement, one narrative is it doesn’t matter. We’re in a clean track. Renewable costs are falling. Cities and states and progressive businesses are gonna lead the way and get us there anyway or another narrative which is also true. We are no where close to be on track for 2 degrees. Emission continue to rise each and every year. Most countries that have talked about goals of 2 degrees have not put policies in place to take those kind of goal seriously. And tell people and the impacts of climate are more we learn, the more the reason to think might be worse than people realize they would be. So, which mobilizes people.

[00:29:42]

Andy Revkin: Well, one thing I did learn actually specifically in 2006, I wrote a piece called yelling fire on a hot planet for the New York Times which was the first time, I dug in on behavior and social science. This is after 18 years of prize winning writing about climate change. That was the first time, I reviewed a non-climate scientist pretty much. And it was like my real, oh my God moment because that’s when I realized, you can’t really convince people to be hopeful or fearful like hope and fear grow out of internal processing of information and the idea that we can in the media or anyone else could sort of say be worried and have that transfer into something, something we hope for is fantasy and as a journalist, that was a tough thing to absorb because everything I’ve learned was output to change. So, but and they are both true. It’s like, there is a numerable reasons to be concerned. By the way for biodiversity laws, as much as climate change, you know, we are, what we are doing to the world’s living fabric is astounding and largely invisible and hugely consequential. But that same long tail of impacts going, you know, we’re changing evolution, taking away species and you can get pretty quickly bummed out by that but every where around the world, I see great examples every day of people innovating around the species conservation issue or new energy choice. Just here this week at Columbia, I met, he’s still in his mid-20s, this Zambian born master of public administration student here and environmental policy and his name is Brighton Kaoma. When he was 14, growing up in a copper belt of Zambia, he became a radio reporter at 14. There is a station there, that gave him 30 minutes. I think 30 minutes a week and now, he’s like this, he’s this sort of this pioneering promulgator, propagator of radio for young people and he’s a student here and he’s gonna work with me and you, if you wanted to see what we could do to amplify his potential, to amplify other folks ability to use radio which is unbelievably powerful medium and especially on rural development, developing countries to foster more awareness of energy, clean energy choices, to foster awareness all kinds of things. Better cooking energy options. You know, on the vulnerability side for sure, to offer better awareness of agricultural choices and like. So, I met him, you know, he’s like a huge spark in my week of otherwise kind of down beat thinking and learning about climate change in the Arctic and this is whacky year. So, it is both. Just like life, you know, you want to, every year, you’re always torn between how much of your day, you focus on the future, that you’re on the future, your welfare and health and then focus on the day, enjoying the moment. And so, this journey is of sustainability is kind of like that just that. We have to figure out how to deal with hope and with fear and with despair, almost on a daily basis and but then what do you do with that is your own. Everyone has to find their own path, their own comfort zone with all of these feelings.

[00:31:37]

Jason Bordoff: So, let’s close by talking for a minute with people listening about what we are gonna do together here. We have a policy center here that we have built which does research on policy relevant questions. But also is engaging on a regular basis with policy makers and so, how do we take the lessons from effective communication and what does it look like to work more effectively with the policy community on these issues?

[00:33:29]

Andy Revkin: Well, I think there is a lot of, I mean, the learning that I did this mid-career as a journalist on the importance of social and behavioral science and figuring ways to set aside grievances and suspicions and find something to work on is for policy makers, pretty good historically. And I guess the challenge there is, you know, from the policy sphere, how much is that, how much, what’s the communication menu? How much of those should happen behind closed doors? How much should be on social media? You know, if you want to get a policy promulgated, it’s always different in each country. That is a key challenge for, let me back up slightly.

[00:34:22]

Jason Bordoff: Why it’s so different… Well, what Europeans think so differently about climate or do they?

[00:34:23]

Andy Revkin: Well my strong sense of a lot of reporting is European entities with power tend to be very precautionary in how they approach problems involving new technology and Germany noticed this about nuclear power right now is a function of internal politics that’s unique, pretty unique to Germany. Germany’s whole energy window, how do you pronounce energy window project has so many layers behind it and it feels very green and lusterie but as you know, probably more than I do that they’re still huge dependence on oil transportation hasn’t moved at all.

[00:35:09]

Jason Bordoff: Coal has barely declined but Lignite coal…

[00:35:09]

Andy Revkin: Yeah, I know, it’s…

[00:35:14]

Jason Bordoff: There is a push back on the cost. There is Yellow Vest Protests, people in Germany don’t like paying electricity rates that are many times higher than other parts of Europe. But that the view that climate change is real is an urgent problem and it is the role of government to do something about it, there seems to me, there is more consensuses about that, than those in this country.

[00:35:32]

Andy Revkin: Yeah, although, structurally Europe is small, geographically Europe has a, I think an easier path to a lower carbon economy than we have had at least so far. I think the heavy lifting comes now for Europe. Whether they can continue this success they’ve had.

[00:35:49]

Jason Bordoff: And they’ve been able to get their carbon permit price from 5 to 30 Euros in the last year and we’ll see how the public response to that.

[00:35:56]

Andy Revkin: Well, right as you say that, that is yet to be determined. Brazil is a, shows you how policy can flip in ways that can really be problematic, you know, Brazil has huge gains in slowing deforestation rate and uptake now is still actually small compared to the gains that Brazil made and deserves its credit for. I guess, I mean, my approach to policy, you know, is enabling environment, what can we do in the rest of the world to give policy makers more choices, feels like a better way for me to think about how do you make progress going forward. And some of the things that have been happening in the real world, I didn’t mean the policy world isn’t part of the real world. But improve the increasing transparency, observational capacity, I wondered if, what you’d think. My sense is that China, they revised their targets for coals and emissions ahead of the Paris agreement upward, I’m pretty sure in what they’ve done and I’m pretty convinced by what I’ve seen that, that’s a function of its harder to cheat anymore because now we have satellite monitoring of you know, which coal fire power plants are running which runs are in construction or still in construction are not running. And on deforestation, that you can’t lie anymore. This was Paul Sereno’s when he fired the head of the space agency, said you know, actually deforestation is increasing and Paul Sereno thinks that just firing him will make that go away. But it’s there. It’s a fact and so, those conditions can then prompt more ambition in the Paris framework because it’s harder to say, just make stuff up. So, I think the enabling environment and then they are enabling more technological choices. You know, we still have enough focus on innovation. We can have a whole another session on R&D and the deep sustained global disinvestment and basic sciences related to energy. I wrote about this first in a page one story in the New York Times in 2006 and it hasn’t really changed.

[00:38:01]

Jason Bordoff: Yeah. But lack of progress can be depressing sometimes. It is inspiring and one thing that gives you hope is being at a university like this and seeing how much young people care about this issue and passionately, they feel and it’s very exciting what Columbia University has planned for what we are gonna do to try to help address these issues of environment and climate and it’s great to have you as part of that effort. Great to have you as a colleague here at Columbia now and look forward to working together on many of these issues in the years to come. So, thanks for joining us to talk a little bit today.

[00:38:34]

Andy Revkin: Thank you very much.

[00:38:36]

Jason Bordoff: On Columbia Energy Exchange. For more information about Columbia Energy Exchange and the Center on Global Energy Policy, visit us online at Energypolicy.columbia.edu or follow us online at Columbiauenergy on social media. Thanks for listening. I’m Jason Bordoff. We’ll see you next week.