7 June 2011

This week our guest is Andy Revkin, who is a New York Times blogger for the Dot World site, and a professor of the environment at Pace College in New York. He has a wide range of environmental interests, but tonight will talk with us mostly about population and global tipping points.

Listen to the Program

Our Conversation with Andrew Revkin

Andrew Revkin writes regularly for the New York Times Dot Earth blog.  He’s also a senior fellow at Pace University’s Academy for Applied Environmental Studies. In addition to writing on an array of environmental topics from the Amazon to the Arctic Pole, he’s also a songwriter and musician, and he’s even played with Pete Seeger. During the first part of the program, he will be focusing on his concerns about global population. 

  • You have an incredibly broad background in journalism writing books, articles, and the Dot Earth blog.  But you also have a degree in biology and have worked an environmental studies institutes.  Please tell us a little about yourself and how you became engaged in environmental issues.
  • One of your biggest current concerns is population. We know that the world’s population will pass 7 billion this year, and estimates for the “final” number range from 9 to possibly even 11 billion.  What do those numbers mean for our ability to take care of our environment? 
  • You note that on the first Earth Day, 1970, the planet’s population was 3.7 billion, so we’ve almost doubled in 41 years.  How has that already affected our environment (and social justice)?
    We recently interviewed Paul Ehrlich, who popularized the phrase “population bomb” in the 1970s.  You use the metaphor of population “cluster bombs.”  What do you mean by that?  What do you see as:
    population effects by geographical locations?
    population effects by socio-economic level?
    population effects in by levels of technological sophistication?
    effects in/via developed vs. developing countries?
    [See the article at http://dotearth.blogs.nytimes.com/2007/10/25/the-population-cluster-bomb/  ]
  • Immigration is another ”hot button” issue. What is the status of population growth in the U.S., and what role does immigration play? You’ve said the issue is usually perceived as being a poor-country problem but it’s not. Please explain  [Link to related post: http://dotearth.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/07/31/whats-the-right-number-of-americans/]
  • Population is only one side of what determines human resource issues, consumption is another.   You’ve said “9 billion vegan monks wouldn’t have much chance of overloading Earth’s systems. And of course we’re not going to all become vegan monks, so….”  Please explain.
  • You had an encounter with Rush Limbaugh, in which he compared you to jihadists and told you to kill yourself. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
  •  In the first part of the program, we focused on population issues–“cluster bombs.”  We’d like to start this next part of the program with a cluster bomb one might not ordinarily see as related to population: tornadoes.
  • In several recent blogs, you have explored this year’s current outbreak of tornadoes (We had several in the California Northstate just a couple of weeks ago–a rarity for our part of the world.) Why has why “this year has been one that we will likely never forget”?
    History and record keeping.
    Population densities and suburban sprawl.
    Climate change?
  • There’s an old joke–not that funny–that tornadoes have an affinity for striking trailer parks.  You’ve done research on ways to increase survivability in the event of a tornado.  What are they?
  • BUT, beyond the issue of survivability and technological fixes, there’s the much larger question of what the world will do to cut down on population sprawl and its effects on the environment.  A question we regularly ask guests on this program.  What will it take for humanity to wake up and stop practicing brinksmanship with the planet? 
  • “Can Humans Move from Tweaks to Leaps” as you discuss in a recent blog?  What’s your optimistic/pessimistic answer?
    What will the necessary big leap require?
    legislation (possibly including population control)?
    green capitalism?
    a voluntary change in human values?
    being driven to or over the edge of the cliff?
  • In addition to looking at your wonderfully comprehensive and educational blog http://dotearth.blogs.nytimes.com/ how can listeners best inform themselves about these “cluster bomb” issues?
  • [Outside our studio hangs an autographed picture of Pete Seeger, who says kind words about the role of KZFR and other community radio stations in the world.  We hate to go vicarious, but what’s it like to play with Pete Seeger?!]