Columbia University’s Earth Institute is starting a new initiative to assess, develop and disseminate communications innovations that can speed and spread progress on climate change and other sustainability challenges. It will be headed by well-known journalist and author Andrew Revkin, who has covered environmental and human sustainability for more than 30 years.
The Initiative on Communication and Sustainability will, among other things, develop toolkits and forums to help scientists and journalists communicate more effectively with each other and with the public and policymakers. It will put a particular emphasis on bridging the sciences, arts and humanities. Reporting to Earth Institute director Alex Halliday, Revkin will work with people in many other parts of Columbia, including the Journalism School, the School of the Arts and the Office of Public Affairs.
Halliday said he envisions starting partnerships with outside media outlets and nongovernmental organizations, developing tools to help scientists and journalists more effectively explain the implications of climate change, and exploring ways to convey data using novel story-telling methods and visualizations. The initiative will work within the university to develop workshops, events, and undergraduate and graduate courses.
“We want to tackle specific climate and sustainability challenges where the impediment to progress is an information gap, a paralyzed conversation, or a missing connection between disciplines or sectors of society,” said Halliday. “This reflects the reality that values and culture shape environmental decisions as much as, or more than, data alone.”
Revkin was one of the first journalists to take on the subject of climate change, starting in the 1980s as a magazine reporter and editor. In 1992, he predicted that earth scientists would soon identify a “geological age of our own making,” helping mark the beginnings of the now commonly discussed Anthropocene epoch.
From 1995 to 2016, he covered environmental issues and natural disasters regionally and globally for The New York Times, first as a staff reporter and later via his popular Dot Earth blog. Among other things, he exposed efforts by the George W. Bush administration to silence climate scientist James Hansen, then director of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies. He has also held positions at the Los Angeles Times, Discover Magazine and the nonprofit public-service newsroom ProPublica, and taught at Pace University and Columbia’s Journalism School. He was most recently strategic advisor for environmental and science journalism for the National Geographic Society, where he remains a member of the advisory Committee for Research and Exploration.
Revkin is the author of four books. These include The Burning Season, an account of the violent struggle to defend the Amazon rain forest; and The North Pole Was Here, a volume for young adults exploring the fast-changing Arctic. He has won most of science and environmental journalism’s top awards, including those given by the National Academy of Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the American Geophysical Union. He is a 1982 graduate of Columbia’s journalism program and, in 2008, received the school’s John Chancellor Award, which is given for sustained excellence.
On Thursday, July 4, Revkin will run a discussion of new models for covering climate resilience and adaptation at the World Conference of Science Journalists in Lausanne, Switzerland.
Learn more about what Revkin hopes to achieve with his new initiative at the Earth Institute here.