No one can deny the power of the media to get the word out. Green Inc. is a New York Times blog, dedicated to the green re-shaping of society. It looks at everything from "renewable energy policy to carbon markets to dubious eco-advertising."
Tom Zeller, Jr. is the editor of Green Inc. and a writer for The New York Times covering alternative energy and green business (and before that, he worked as an editor-at-large for National Geographic magazine). You asked him your questions. He answered them.
Q: What area of sustainable living do you think is misunderstood most by the general public? (by teej)
A: First, I’d like to thank Huddler for inviting me to participate. And thanks to all readers who submitted questions. I’m more than happy to respond.
In answer to the question, I’m not sure I could identify a single aspect of “sustainable living” that is misunderstood. The term itself is fairly nebulous, and can include everything from generating your own electricity and growing your own food to taking the bus and switching off lights in your home when you’re not using them. All of these contribute, in one way or another, to sustainable living. I suppose, though, if I were to identify one area that people underestimate, it would be simple efficiency. It’s hard to overstate the impact that simple adjustments to residential and commercial building efficiency can have on overall energy consumption.
Q: Do you believe our society will be able to move to become a leader in green technology or will business and government drop the ball? (by Marshal-Green)
A: I wouldn’t dare venture a guess on that one. We’ve had similar spikes in interest in “green” – most notably during the 1980s, in the aftermath of the oil crises of the preceding decade. But that interest waned as oil prices stabilized and Americans could resume consuming on the cheap. In its own way, such fickleness is economically rational. When things are tight, we look for alternatives that might provide immediate or medium-term relief. When things are flush, we tend toward the status quo. What might be different this time is that real policy has been explored and enacted at both the local and national levels. Renewable portfolio standards and carbon trading schemes have been established in a variety of places. Meeting these standards and nurturing these markets (if it can be done) will necessitate new jobs and infrastructures – and avoiding these standards, in many cases, will require the passage of new legislation.
Q: Who is the most inspiring, dedicated person you've come across in your interviews and research related to sustainability? (by Deej)
A: It’s very hard, again, to pin down one name, but off the top of my head, I’d point to Steven Chu, the Nobel laureate and President-elect Obama’s choice for energy secretary. I met him at an energy conference in Las Vegas earlier this year, where he talked about the prospects for Enhanced Geothermal Systems. If you don’t know what that means, look into it. Fascinating stuff.
Q: What role does the media have in stopping greenwashing? (by kiwi)
A: Great question. I think it is a key responsibility of the media in this new era of emphasizing conservation, efficiency and environmental gentleness. There is no question that companies and individuals are seeking to capitalize on the current wave of “green” sentiment, and it is incumbent on the press to uncover specious green claims wherever they occur.
Q: How do you think media coverage of the "green movement" has changed over time? Do you think it has impacted public perception and attitudes? (by jessg)
A: I’m not sure I’d say it has changed, per se. The Times has been covering the “Energy Challenge,” as the series is called, for years, and my friend and colleague, Andy Revkin, has doggedly covered climate change as our environmental reporter for far longer. Across the press landscape, as the finite nature of fossil fuels became better understood and the looming impacts of climate change became clearer, coverage has certainly exploded. More widely, a tipping point appears to have been reached within the culture, and the conviction that new energy and environmental strategies are needed for the long term has proliferated. Of course, just what those strategies will be remains unclear. It’s one of the chief questions that the Obama administration will be facing.
Q: How do you feel about the roll of blogs in green news versus more "mainstream" forms of media like newspapers and TV? (by Eli)
A: As the editor of Green Inc., a New York Times blog, I’m obviously going to be quite partial to the role of online journalism. Of course, I also write for the newspaper, and read many others. I also listen to news radio, watch news broadcasts on television, and surf the Web for all manner of news and information. In other words, I think all of these “forms” play a role in the larger mission of informing the public about who’s doing what and why – not just in the realm of “green,” but in all matters.
Q: There are so many potential green news stories these days. Does Green Inc. focus mainly on those related to business, and how do you choose which stories to write about? (by dana1981)
A: We are a business blog, yes, though to my mind, it’s difficult to separate dollar-and-cents from the lives of every person on the planet -- from the C.E.O. of a wind power company in California to a rural resident of sub-Saharan Africa benefitting from a small-scale solar installation. Choosing what to cover is a rather fluid process, and I suppose I rely equally on my own reading (to identify trends and priorities), and the advice of my colleagues at The Times, who know far more about many of these topics than I do. Other times, the news just hits you in the face, as when an ethanol producer files for bankruptcy, or when quarreling between Ukraine and Russia causes a cut in natural gas flows to Europe – both items that have appeared on the blog.
Edited by stins - Fri, 16 Jan 2009 22:09:43 GMT