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Audio: Listen to the Andrew Revkin talk

LEWISBURG, Pa. -- No quick fix is likely for global climate change, award-winning New York Times science reporter Andrew Revkin said Thursday night.

A multi-generational "energy quest" is the logical answer to combating increasingly higher levels of carbon dioxide that are warming the planet, said Revkin, whose talk capped the daylong Focus the Nation teach-in in which Bucknell University was one of more than 500 colleges and universities across the country focusing on climate problems and solutions.

In an introduction of Revkin, Bucknell President Brian C. Mitchell announced that he would sign the American College and University President's Climate Commitment and initiate a broad series of steps designed to reduce the University's carbon footprint. || Story || Audio: Mitchell

Need for energy quest
"If there is one thing you take away from this talk tonight, I hope that is that what we face here is a need for an energy quest that begins at the socket on the wall and goes through the boardroom, the classroom, the laboratory, to the streets," Revkin said. "There has to be some kind of change.

"We have been stuck on the same step … the coal rung for about 200 years. We need to try to move forward," he told a capacity crowd at Trout Auditorium. "We are at an extraordinary juncture in our species' history on this planet."

That more urgency isn't being brought to bear on reducing greenhouse emissions is the result of opposing and confusing points of view, said Revkin, who has written about the environment for more than two decades.

Laden with uncertainty
"It's no wonder to me that there is a sense of doubt or a sense of stasis. People, when they're confused and maybe a little worried, tend to hunker down rather than jump forward," he said. "There is no facet of the global warming question that is not laden with uncertainty."

One clear message, though, "that is not in dispute: warmer world, less ice. Less ice, higher seas. There is no one out there who can debate that question."

Revkin spoke about pollution in the Hudson and Susquehanna rivers in the 1970s. "You actually could see it, taste it, feel it in your eyes and lungs. … The thing about it in those days is that that kind of pollution you could clean it up on your watch."

Multigenerational challenge
Atmospheric carbon dioxide pollution, he said, is hard to portray. "It's bubbles in beer. … It's cumulative. It builds like unpaid credit card debt" but it is a "multigenerational challenge. It's not something you can fix on your watch for yourself."

Citing one scientific report, Revkin said even if emissions were frozen at year 2000 levels, the climate system wouldn't notice for 20 or so years.

"This is a handoff problem," he said. "Most of the big environmental issues of our time are a handoff question. It's not so much about what's there now or how you're being affected by climate change now. It's much more about what's going to come not just later this century but for centuries to come."

Lack of research investment
Revkin, whose latest book is titled The North Pole Was Here, also decried the lack of investment in research to combat global climate change.

"We are so far from engaged, it is a scandal," he said. "Our annual budget for all energy research is something like $3 billion a year" and even if doubled would not be enough begin the task of reducing an energy world 85 percent dependent on fossil fuels.

The writer also spoke about what he called the "climate divide," in which countries like Australia are already insulating themselves from climate dangers by virtue of their wealth and technology, but a poor country like Namibia has neither resource available.

"There is this big divide in terms of capacity to do anything" about climate issues, he said.  

Contact: Office of Communications

Posted Feb. 1, 2008