Andrew Revkin in Copenhagen, via flickr
You usually know you are doing something right when you are attacked from both sides. Rush Limbaugh thinks Andy Revkin is part of a radical environmentalist fringe and suggests he should kill himself to reduce his carbon emissions; Joe Romm accuses him of making "egregious mistatements" and "repeatedly screwing up the facts." The Columbia Journalism Review wrote:
Revkin has increasingly found himself--and his paper's coverage--the target of critics on both the right and the left, particularly in the often vitriolic blogosphere. He described himself as "an advocate for scientific reality," not for either side of the debate.
That is a difficult position take in these polarized times. But it is also what used to define journalism. Andy told NPR: "My way is to say, 'What do we know? What don't we know? What can we learn? What's essentially unknowable?' And then, 'What does society do with that body of information that's left?'"
That sometimes leads to controversial positions, such as his statement that got him in such trouble with Limbaugh, cherry-picked out of a more complex message:
"Probably the single most concrete and substantive thing an American, a young American, could do to lower their carbon footprint is not turning off the lights or driving a Prius -- it's having fewer kids."
He made the point more clearly and controversially last year in a speech at Columbia University:
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.
That isn't a message people want to hear. It is tough and complex in a world where people want short and simple and fast.
Andy has acknowledged that blogging is different than writing in the paper, that stuff goes up faster and rawer and is more interactive. "It's more like being a mountain guide after an avalanche, than being the old-style, 'Here's the news, take it or leave it, thank you very much, goodnight.'" He says the pressure of doing both has been wearing. So when the buyout offer came from the Times he took it, and will teach at the Pace Academy of Applied Environmental Studies.. He is leaving print journalism behind, physically and metaphorically, as he talks of web-based portals and wikis and even perhaps a presence in Second Life.
According to his goodbye post, Andy will have his students study the "perils of oversimplification and advocacy when science meets the media and politics." It is probably a class we should all take.