Andrew Revkin gives “green” lecture

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Talk gives insight into creating a sustainable path for humanity

On Wednesday, February 19, at 3:00 p.m., a guest speaker named Andrew Revkin visited Stevens to give his lecture about Greening the Planet. Light refreshments and drinks were served as students and professors gathered into BC 122. Co-sponsored by the Center for Stevens Science Writings and the Stevens Green Team, Revkin’s lecture was the first of ESW’s semesterly Lecture Series. Revkin’s lecture gave insight to the audience about how there is plenty of evidence to suggest that it is possible for the younger generations of today to lead the creation of a sustainable path for humanity this century.

Speaker Andrew Revkin is a distinguished environmental writer who writes the Dot Earth blog for the NY Times’ Opinion section and is currently the Senior Fellow for Environmental Understanding at Pace Academy. In the past, Revkin has been heavily involved in the Discover Magazine and Science Digest and has written books such as “The North Was Here: Puzzles and Perils at the Top of the World” and “The Burning Season: The Murder of Chico Mendes and the Fight for the Amazon Rain Forest.” In addition, two films have been produced based off of his work, one called “The Burning Season” and the other called “Rock Star.” As if that isn’t enough, Revkin is also involved in musical endeavors and produced his first album, A Very Fine Line, which contained music of a variety of sounds, ranging from Celtic to twangy and from stirring to sweet.

Stepping aside from Revkin’s numerous accomplishments to his lecture, Revkin started by speaking about his personal experiences growing up with the public perception that the state of the Earth’s environment was dire (which wasn’t helped by the Cold War) and that the main perpetrators are the big companies that consume tons of non-renewable fossil fuel energy. He then went on to explain that while it is true that big companies consume enormous quantities of energy, the “Woe is Me and Shame on You” model of individuals perceiving the world isn’t suitable. Individuals consume fossil fuel energy as well and their cumulative impact on the environment is noticeable. Revkin described the ‘human thirst for energy’ and the fact that energy is the lifeblood to keep our civilization running.

Revkin explained how news in science is often shaved off and polished before it finally reaches the public press as a small article pushed to the side of the paper. He told the audience about his experience as a journalist for 31 years and about his first story written about global warming. In 2005, Revkin shifted lenses to further analyze the social science aspect of climate change, such as how people are perceiving and taking in this information about the Earth’s environmental state. He then went back to explaining that our thirst for energy dominates our long term understanding of risks, demonstrated by our continued use of fossil fuels.

Shifting gears in the discussion, Revkin expressed his optimism for our ability and potential to create a sustainable path, especially focusing on the younger generations of today. That even with a hard-nosed examination of global trends and the overall destruction of the environment from us humans, it is still possible for a sustainable path. Revkin strongly emphasized the importance of the Information Age and that all this information (a global instantaneous soup of ideas) available can make a difference in educating others. Of course, there is a lot of noise in the internet and some news is distorted to fit set opinions of others (cue the articles denying climate change). But the arrival of the hashtag has become a good measure of streamlining the information a person may seek and according to Revkin, data has meaning if presented in a meaningful way. There are so many possibilities for what can be utilized with just a click away: network learning, children communicating to others beyond the borders of their country, YouTube channels devised to help students learn concepts (Bozeman Science for example), and even farmer-to-farmer communication to teach other farmers to optimize their crop output. Even Charles Darwin wrote in the “Descent of Man” over a hundred years ago that “There is only an artificial barrier to prevent his sympathies extending to the men of all nations and races.”

Revkin also elaborated that we tend to think of innovation in terms of what more we can build and create. There is more to innovation however, as new ideas can relate to sustainability, resource management, and communication: all of which are needed to create that sustainable path. Ultimately, Revkin formulated his simple strategy for sustainable human progress: Bend, Stretch, Reach, Teach, Reveal, Reflect, Rejoice, and Repeat.

Bend refers to flexibility in structures and policies; stretch refers to testing boundaries in exploration and innovation; reach refers to empathy, collaboration, and the sharing of ideas that matter; teach refers to nurturing children to develop the capacity to sustain the human adventure; reveal refers to sustaining the capacity for observation and transparency; reflect refers to analyzing and “learn and adjust” strategies; rejoice refers to enjoying the gift of life and humanity; and repeat refers to going back through these steps and maintaining the discipline to retest systems.

After Revkin finished his talk, a Q&A session was held in which some interested individuals asked questions regarding Revkin’s work. A few people left during the Q&A session, but those who stayed gained the pleasure of hearing Revkin sing and play the guitar for one of his songs.
A lot of the professors at Stevens who came to the event were pleased with the turnout of the lecture and were pleased with the new perspective Revkin brought to the Stevens campus. Revkin himself expressed his approval for what Stevens had to offer to students and faculty alike and commented that “I think Stevens embodies the focus in innovation with the humanities and philosophy mixed in because you can’t get there with just better technology.”

For anyone interested, Andy Revkin can be followed on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/Revkin