Why is it so hard to focus attention on the climate crisis? We know the damage we’re doing to the climate and we know why we’re doing it. We even know the obstacles to the solution (fossil fuel companies, denialist political parties) and yet it’s still a challenge to keep the issue front and center.
After spending 30 years covering the climate crisis, Andrew Revkin knows what it’s like to be sounding the alarms that seem to fall on deaf ears. In this episode, Revkin talks about the huge role social science plays when it comes to talking about climate, explores what it would take to get the world to pay attention, and explains why he says, in his expert opinion, we’re already “in the shit."
ANDREW REVKIN: Any time I think of a Tesla, I try in my mind to remind myself about the Ford F-150 pickup truck. It's the best-selling car in history, year after year after year. It's not a car, but it's technically kind of a car.
CHRIS HAYES: It's a great truck.
ANDREW REVKIN: So don't talk to me about Teslas without talking to me about Ford F-150 pickup trucks too. So I'm like this bummer, you know? I just kind of ... People call me all those things.
CHRIS HAYES: Why, because you're describing the wickedness of the problem?
ANDREW REVKIN:Someone has to do it.
CHRIS HAYES: Hello and welcome to "Why Is This Happening?" with me, your host, Chris Hayes. So, I'm going to do something in this episode that I almost certainly shouldn't do, particularly in this intro. In fact, even as I think about doing it right now, I'm telling myself that maybe this is a terrible idea, but ... Tiffany Champion's giving me side-eye ... But I'm going to try to do it anyway, because it sets important context for the context we're going to have today.
So, a little while ago, I retweeted an article about just some of the crazy climate chaos that's been happening this summer. I mean, specifically, there were wildfires in Greece that were driving people to jump into the sea to escape them, and there were a lot of deaths there. And I retweeted it, and I said something like, "The crisis continues, it's coming for all of us." And someone that I follow on Twitter and really like, a writer that I really like, said something like, "It would be nice if the television news would tell us about this." And I got a little defensive, I will admit, because I work in television news and have a little bit of a complex, I think, like a guilt ... Frankly, like a guilty complex about how much we do or don't cover climate. And I responded and basically said, "Look, when we have done it, when we do do climate, it is a palpable ratings killer, and so the incentives aren't great."
This caused like a mini-uproar. I wouldn't call it a full-fledged uproar, it was like an uproarlet. There was a little ... There was, like, clickbaity articles about it, people were angry at me. I think there's a little bit of breaking the fourth wall when you invoke ratings or you talk about that, and I understand why that frustrates people. I think one response is like, "Look, your job is to be a journalist and cover the news, and not just chase ratings," and that's true. It's also true that attention, where attention flows in the current news economy creates a set of incentives. And that's not even just true of commercial media or corporate media, which I think people really fixated on. Attention flows in ways that are often outside the control of those of us working to get people's attention.
So, we can do a show, and we can do topics on the show that people will turn away from. I'm telling you, they will. And sometimes, those are important topics, and a lot of times, you just have to do them anyway, and when it comes to climate, we do climate probably more than anyone on cable news, I'd say. We were nominated for an Emmy last year for a climate special we did in various parts of the U.S. that are experiencing frontline climate change. We spent a week in California two summers ago just looking at the drought every night, at great expense. That week did not rate that well, just to be clear. It did not rate that well, people ... It just didn't. We did it anyway.
But this is part of a broader set of problems. I mean, one is just the general issue you face if you're working in the media today, which is the competition for eyeballs and the competition for attention, and people use terms like "tabloid" or "clickbait," "if it bleeds, it leads," which is the sort of old cliché about the evening news. But you're fighting for people's attention, and certain topics do grab people's attention more than others, and you kind of got to wrestle with that as you think about what you're doing on air. It's just a fact of doing this. Again, doesn't relieve anyone of their journalistic responsibilities to cover the news, but it is a factor, it structures incentives for everyone who's operating in that universe, and I'm one of those people.
But the other thing is particular to climate, which is that climate is a particularly difficult problem. It's like this particular problem that has a bunch of attributes that are almost, if you designed a problem to invade us in all our weak spots, it would be this problem. Like, you can't see it, is one. You can't see it, you can't see the climate problem. You can't see the climate, you can't see CO2. Literally, even if CO2 was just a color, or you could see it, we would be dealing with it much more. You see this happen in all these different countries. As soon as they get a certain amount of development and they start getting a ton of smog, they start dealing with the smog. Because it shows up, and people feel it in their lungs, and the stimulus and the response are there, and you see societies start to deal with it.
So you can't see it. It's a collective action problem, right? The U.S. could literally zero out all of the carbon that it emits, and that would help a little bit, but we can't do it alone. If everyone else emits twice as much, then that just gets erased, so everyone's got to do it together. Collective action problems are really hard, particularly a collective action problem that's global. Like, we have one atmosphere, and we've got 200 countries, all governed in all sorts of crazy ways. It's also a problem with these crazy long time spans. So, you pump the carbon in the atmosphere for 10, 20, 30 years, and then you got to come up with a way to reduce carbon emissions, maybe even take some of it out of the atmosphere for 10, 20 years. And the results come slowly, the disastrous consequences build up over long periods of time.
So you've got this crazy time scale, you've got this global collective action problem, you've got the invisibility of it. It's like, all of the things that we use to think about how we're going to respond to a problem ... Like, we have lots of plane crashes, we see the plane crashes, we cover the plane crashes, then we pass regulation to increase air safety. And we've done a really good job of that. Air traffic, air safety's a great example of, like, when I was growing up, we had tons of air fatalities, it got a lot of attention, they were very crystal clear that there was a problem, and we did a lot, both on the commercial side with the airlines and regulatory, to solve it.
And then on top of that, on top of the ways in which the problem exploits some of our social human weaknesses, the problem is caused by a set of wildly powerful and rich interests, which is the industry that takes the fossil fuel out of the ground and burns is one of the most powerful, wealthy interests in the entire world. There are entire countries they effectively run. They have billions and billions of dollars. The most profitable companies in the U.S. year after year tend to be oil companies, particularly when things are going well for them.
So you've got all these ways in which the problem itself already is a confounding and difficult and wicked one, and then on top of that, there's the political economy of the problem, which is that a small group of massively, massively wealthy and powerful interests are the ones making the money off making the problem worse, and are going to do everything they can to stop us from solving it. Because the physics of climate are clear, we know ... All that's clear. We know what we're doing to the climate, we know why we're doing it, because we're burning fossil fuels, and we know that it's going to make the earth warmer. What that warmer earth will look like, how warm it will get, those are all uncertain, but the basic physics are just clear as day. The mystery is why we won't do anything about it, and unlocking the mystery of why we won't do anything about it so that we can do something about it.
And so, in the midst of the fallout from this, you know, micro-controversy ... What did I call it before, a ... uproarlet. Micro-controversy, uproarlet. That in the midst of this, I got an email from a guy by the name of Andy Revkin. Andy Revkin, if you ever read climate or environmental reporting, is a legend, maybe the most legendary climate reporter. He's been reporting on climate for three decades at various outlets; he was a New York Times reporter for a very long period of time. He's written multiple books on climate. He's been there. He wrote a cover story back in 1988 for Discover Magazine about climate, and he's been following it since then, and he covered it for the New York Times.
He's now at the National Geographic Society, and he reached out to me to say, "Hey, I thought it was sort of an interesting exchange you had on Twitter about the kind of challenges of drawing attention, keeping people's attention on climate, and how to talk about it." And I said, "You know, I would love for you to come on the podcast and talk about it." So he came down; he brought with him some artifacts that you will hear us describe. We also talk about a ton of different articles and pieces of writing, all of which we link on our website, which is nbcnews.com/whyisthishappening.
But I think Andy Revkin ... You know, it's so important, we are now in the period of climate change that there's a history to the scope of fighting it, right? The warning has been there now for over 30 years, serious conversations about combating it have been around for 30 years, and so Andy is in a really unique position to talk about how, over the course of the 30 years that he has spent covering this problem, he has reached deeper and deeper levels of understanding about just how wicked a problem it is.
So it's summer.
ANDREW REVKIN: Yeah.
CHRIS HAYES: You know, there's this funny thing about this weather/climate slippage, right? Because obviously, people who are denialists, which again, I actually think is kind of a shrinking rump. Like, I don't even think it's a worthwhile group of people to talk about. To me, it's a shrinking-rump caucus of people. Would you agree with that?
ANDREW REVKIN: Well, I put caution signs around the word "denial" in some ways, because everyone's in denial on one aspect of the story or another.
CHRIS HAYES: That's interesting.
ANDREW REVKIN: I'm not going to get into false equivalence arguments about who's in more denial, and people who are motivated denialists.
CHRIS HAYES: Right.
ANDREW REVKIN: I call certain people "stasists," people who want to maintain the status quo, and who have ... Some have a professional interest in maintaining the status quo, you know, lobbyists for oil companies and coal. So that's one thing, but denial is different. Denial has this sense of, like, it's partially conscious, you're in denial.
CHRIS HAYES: Yeah, although I think-
ANDREW REVKIN: I'm in denial about the fact that I'm going to die someday, you know? I don't think about it every day.
CHRIS HAYES: Well, that ... I mean, hopefully. I mean, that's basically my lifelong quest, is to be in denial about that as much as possible. Basically, that's the recipe for human happiness for me.
ANDREW REVKIN: Yeah, so setting aside-
CHRIS HAYES: If I don't work enough, and I don't occupy myself, that reality just creeps into my consciousness, and then I'm bummed out.
ANDREW REVKIN: Yeah. Like, I wrote this piece where I called myself a recovering denialist, because I assumed, the first 20 years of my writing about global warming, like any science writer writing about science, I assumed if I enlighten you, you will then feel the way I do about the thing, and change your practice, change your-
CHRIS HAYES: I'm laughing because that's such a ... It's such a rational way to think about it, but so untethered from actual reality.
ANDREW REVKIN: Oh my God. Yeah, but it took me 20 years. It took me, you know, 1988, my first cover story on global warming, and I-
CHRIS HAYES: It took you 20 years. You thought, like, "I need to take a pickaxe to this rock of ignorance and just chip away at it, and eventually, I chip away from it, it'll be clear, and then we will, on the other side, will be ..."
ANDREW REVKIN: Oh, yeah. And cool graphics and stuff. You know, I started in magazines, so this is my ... This is an artifact from my little museum.
CHRIS HAYES: Andy Revkin is currently holding up a Discover Magazine with the title The Greenhouse Effect, and the Earth melting into a puddle, that is from when?
ANDREW REVKIN: October 1988.
CHRIS HAYES: You know that because at the top, the top line drop is "Exclusive Interview: Dukakis on Science."
ANDREW REVKIN: That's right. Yeah, yeah, that says a lot right there. So, you know, it has all these cool graphics. We had a graphic that a California climate scientist recently tweeted about, because it's like what they've been saying all this time. It's the snowpack issue in California. If the winters get warm enough, you have less snow, it comes down as rain, they don't have the reservoirs to capture the rain-
CHRIS HAYES: Right, you'll get droughts.
ANDREW REVKIN: So we had that in 1988, you know, and we had heat, obviously, more hundred-degree days, and we had sea level rise, and we had a farmer keeping his field. There was a record drought and heat that summer, and here's now-
CHRIS HAYES: Wow. That's 1988.
ANDREW REVKIN: Yeah, so ... And then the kicker, I love this, here's the visual kicker, is a farmer in his field kicking the dust. But the kicker on the story-
CHRIS HAYES: By the way, I'm glad that you recognize this is a visual medium, and you're really leaning into that.
ANDREW REVKIN: Yeah. You mean the medium that we're speaking on.
CHRIS HAYES: Yeah, it's a podcast.
ANDREW REVKIN: No, I'm describing it-
CHRIS HAYES: You’re sitting there showing me.
ANDREW REVKIN: The sun is heading toward the horizon, a farmer in his field is silhouetted, and there's dust where his boot is hitting his ruined crop. But the kicker, the written kicker on this was ... This always haunts me, because it's like, this is the Groundhog Day aspect of my life. Michael McElroy, he's still at Harvard, he was at Harvard then, climate guy, he concluded, "If we choose to take on this challenge, it appears that we can slow the rate of change substantially, giving us time to develop mechanisms so that the cost to society and the damage to ecosystems can be minimized. We could alternatively close our eyes, hope for the best, and pay the cost when the bill comes due." 1988. How many times have you heard a speech since 1988, whether it's Al Gore or a scientist, saying the same thing?
CHRIS HAYES: Well, okay, that, though ... So that gets to part of the issue with the ... The meta-issue of how you think about, process, draw attention to, publicly reason about this issue. There's a clarity to the problem. Like, we know what the problem is. The physics were developed back in the 19th century. That part of it is clear, and we know we need to reduce the amount of carbon we put in the atmosphere. But you spent 20 years pointing out those basic things, right, and the effects of it. What did you learn in those 20 years? Like, when you say that you were in denial, what were you in denial of, and what did you learn?
ANDREW REVKIN: Well, I won awards, and then in 1992, I wrote a book that accompanied the first big museum exhibition on global warming, the Museum of Natural History. And Al Gore was there, and actually, Charlton Heston was there. It was this weird big party, you know, and 1992. So I was on a roll, I was kind of doing that cool thing that environmental journalist get to do when you're riding this wave, and what I hadn't really kept track of was the data on what people think and do. Clinton/Gore White House through the '90s did hardly anything on this. Oil prices were low. Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines had erupted, which kind of cools the climate.
CHRIS HAYES: Right.
ANDREW REVKIN: We had this thing called the Gulf War, you know, the distraction issue. And so it was asleep, and I was asleep. But then what happened was, 2006, the issue got so polarized that a Week in Review editor said to me, "Hey, Andy, why is everyone freaking out about it? Why is there this big fight going on?" And so I did this piece, it was the front of the Week in Review section of the Times, called Yelling "Fire" on a Hot Planet, and it was the first time ... So, 1988 to 2006, that was the first time I interviewed a social scientist about climate change. First time. And Helen Ingram at UC Irvine, who was in that arena of social and political science, she said to me, and there's a quote in that story, you know, things that people vote on are things that are "soon, salient, and certain."
And that kind of is reverberating in my head as I'm thinking about climate change, which has this endless feeling of "it's just over the horizon." I did a piece in ... I had done a piece in the year 2000 called Global Waffling. When are we going to have that moment that everyone keeps looking for? And so, having had that kind of experience doing reporting, where I was really trying to figure out why there was such stasis, and then having social scientists for the first time telling me, "Well, you don't know?"
And then this is when I interviewed psychologists and behavioral scientists who ... It was a whole new body of science. Here I am, a science journalist, I'd won these science awards for my environmental coverage, but this was the first time I got into that science, peer-reviewed work showing you that most of the time, information actually doesn't matter. You know, cultural cognition is this important line of work a guy at Yale, Dan Kahan, has been doing for a long time, and that work was particularly devastating to a journalist, because it ... His work basically says more science literacy is not an indicator of your position on a polarized issue like global warming.
CHRIS HAYES: No, and in fact, one of the things we know, which is one of the most interesting pieces of data on this, is that more-educated Republicans are more denialist and worse on the facts of climate than less-educated Republicans, and that's because they bring their education and their erudition and their reading to the cognitive task of post-hoc rationalizations for what the tribal belief is.
ANDREW REVKIN: Absolutely. There's great evolutionary value in adherence to your tribe. You go back through human history. So basically, it's logical, rational, smart to put your tribe above your data. This happens on every side of these issues, and it's vaccines, global warming, evolution. Once an issue has those components ... abortion, Middle East policy, you know, there's these certain issues that get people into that mode. And then, when you think about it in an evolutionary sense, or cultural evolution, you realize, you go back to our origins on the African plains, I mean, do you want to be the hunter who goes off into the wilderness and comes back and says, "You know, really, I don't believe in our god anymore, I saw this really interesting thing"? Or do you want to be the one who says, "Hey, hi guys, yeah, I saw something interesting, bye, let's have dinner"? So it's like, it's actually purely rational.
CHRIS HAYES: Okay, but that ... So, what I'm hearing from you is sort of a turn in your work from thinking about this, conceiving of this as a physical problem of the physical world, physical science, to being a problem of social science, right? I've seen this in a lot of the people that cover this issue, right, because it's ... At a certain point, it's like, there's a lot of interesting, complicated things about what's happening vis-à-vis the physics of the climate, and the modeling, and stuff we don't know, and we're still figuring out what it does to hurricanes, because it might make them less frequent but more strong, and it's a very complicated, dynamic system. But the basic physics we know; the black-box mystery is, why can't we get humans to do what they need to do about it, right?
ANDREW REVKIN: Yeah.
CHRIS HAYES: And you're saying that your turn in work was like, it was the trajectory of 20 years of talking about the physics to talking about the humans.
ANDREW REVKIN: Yeah, although there's another element, so ... And this is my learning curve, going in one direction, hitting a wall, recalibrating, going in another direction, hitting a wall, recalibrating. And the other wall was learning more and more about energy history, and about the profundity of our relationship to abundant energy. There's a guy named Dan Botkin who's an ecologist. He wrote sometime in that stretch about democracy and energy. You only really get a flourishing society when you have too much energy to even think about, so it's abundant, arts, culture. There's some weird aspects to this, because he wrote that ancient Greece and Rome, they had abundant energy; it was slaves.
CHRIS HAYES: Right.
ANDREW REVKIN: So this wasn't, like, freedom and wonder for the slaves who were carting ice from the mountains so they could have air conditioning in their houses in Rome. But for those in the society, it was like, "Cool, great." So we absolutely care about energy more than we do about climate, and the climate is a back-loaded issue, and energy is a front-loaded issue. You need it right now-
CHRIS HAYES: We're sitting ... Yeah.
ANDREW REVKIN: And if the air conditioning died in this building, we would all be freaking out. If you're poor, it's even more primal, because it's everything to you.
I spent time last year in India, in households where they cook on wood and dung, and no one wants to be cooking on wood and dung. So, you had this psychology, you also have this profound reality that progress is basically built on abundant energy. And the source that's abundant right now is fossil fuels. The impacts of that are long term, not short term.
And there's another factor: uncertainty. The thing that I had been writing about a lot, got me hammered also by, sort of, climate progressives, one of the things we know profoundly about climate change, one of the most profoundly understand things about climate change, is the things we powerfully don't know.
CHRIS HAYES: Right.
ANDREW REVKIN: Like, how hot it's gonna get? Pretty basic question. And, how fast the sea level is gonna rise? Still, about the same uncertainty as it was in 1988. And you can paint that over, but it's real, and it's ... That gets exploited by everybody.
CHRIS HAYES: Sure, but, meaning that we know the direction. Right? It's gonna get hotter and the sea level's gonna come up.
ANDREW REVKIN: It's not gonna get colder, unless there's a volcanic eruption.
CHRIS HAYES: Right, right. Over time, it's gonna get hotter, the sea level's gonna come up. The big questions are how quickly those changes happen. And what second order, or third order, of dynamic effects they have on the most complex dynamic system on the Earth, which is the Earth's climate.
ANDREW REVKIN: Yup.
CHRIS HAYES: Right? We still ... That's just a tough question to answer.
ANDREW REVKIN: Yeah, and it's interesting, when I look back at my early stuff, this article. I wrote a book in 1992. I brought this in like a collector's item for you to ... You can get these now on Amazon used for like free actually. Because I can get free, plus shipping. Shipping is about $4. You can get my "Global Warming, Understanding the Forecast." I get not a penny out of this. I can talk about it, without promotional ... You can see I have ... Look at my hairdo back then. I have, what do you call it?
CHRIS HAYES: A mullet.
ANDREW REVKIN: A mullet, yeah. A really big mullet.
CHRIS HAYES: This is ... I'm looking at this picture again, because it's a visual medium. It's like a picture of Andy Revkin with a mullet, and a baby on his back, and one of those neat hiking backpacks, standing on a cliff over-looking some water.
ANDREW REVKIN: That was at the Pacific Ocean, and that baby is now 28 years old, and working in Hollywood.
CHRIS HAYES: There you go.
ANDREW REVKIN: Anyway...
CHRIS HAYES: And the Earth is still warming.
ANDREW REVKIN: And, Al Gore is on the back cover as Senator Al Gore. That was just before he-
CHRIS HAYES: And Bill McKibben, who's of course, still in the fight.
ANDREW REVKIN: Of course.
So, you have uncertainty, which can then be used as a tool for delay. And it's real. It's like, they're not lying about it.
You also have ... There's this other screwed up aspect of the climate problem, which is inertia. This is something you never hear about from those pursuing aggressive action. Which is, the climate system, as you just said, is huge. It's huge and complicated and suppose we did that Paris agreement, and did it twice as good at slowing emissions, or reducing them? The climate system won't notice that in a way that you can measure, for several decades. Sea level and fires, and whatever. Whatever's happening in the climate now, doesn't immediately go, "Hey, cool"
CHRIS HAYES: All the carbon's there.
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ANDREW REVKIN: Yeah. So, in the momentum, the heat in the ocean. If you're really pursuing this aggressively, you kind of paint that over, it's a problem.
CHRIS HAYES: So, to the point about why it's hard. Why it's a hard human problem. Which I think is the thing that we're talking about, right. You're, sort of, discovery over 20 years. And something I kind of deal with every day, in how to program a new show that's gonna get people's attention.
You know, when you think about when you go to the elevator, I'm the kind of person that presses the button four times. Or watches someone press it, and then presses it. Because, it's like, I just need the feedback. I'm antsy, and I'm impatient. And people will tell you Tiffany's here smiling, like in segment meetings. It's just like, "I want to go to the next thing." That's how I ... I want to like, I don't like futzing around, I want to do the next thing, and that's just the kind of person I am.
There's a satisfaction in action, reaction. It's a stimulus response, there's a reason that the people who design elevators, design an elevator so that the button lights up when you press it. And if they don't design it so the button lights up when you press it you press it and you keep pressing it, right?
There's this huge complex dynamic system that's invisible, carbon can't be seen, and there's no light on the elevator button. So, even if you start doing the right thing, you're not getting the response from the system. So, then it's really hard to go around and be like, "We did it guys, good work! Let's do more of this." That's the sort of thing that you were able to do with CFCs.
ANDREW REVKIN: Oh, yes.
CHRIS HAYES: Like, in the Montreal Protocol, which got basically got rid of chlorofluorocarbons, which is a great victory. A great environmental collective action thing, where we said, "We're gonna ban there chlorofluorocarbons, they're putting a hole in the Ozone layer." That was all the rage back in 1988. You're thumbing through your magazine.
ANDREW REVKIN: It was worse then.
CHRIS HAYES: That was the thing dude. Like, elementary school. The Ozone layer. I was a freaked out, anxious nine-year-old worrying about the Ozone layer. What the hell's gonna happen to the Ozone layer? We actually solved that problem. But, part of the thing that happened was, the stimulus response there was so direct.
ANDREW REVKIN: There's several really cool things. I just was at this roll-out thing they had for the New York Times for Nathaniel Rich's epic 30,000 word, magazine-filling, story.
CHRIS HAYES: Which is a piece about this 10 year window. A decade that he says we almost got our act together, then missed the window, and it became this polarized issue.
ANDREW REVKIN: Right, and I dispute that. On Twitter. I disputed it on Twitter last night. I asked a gentle question about it. I like that the piece has amazing granular detail on some of these moments that to my eye illustrate this wicked nature of the problem.
There was some meeting in 1980 at a hotel in St. Petersburg, Florida. The Pink Palace, I guess there was like a dozen, really smart policy people got in a room, that Congress wanted them to draft legislation on climate. They couldn't come up with one sentence. The problem with the problem, you know?
So, it has lots of that great stuff, but it had this premise, which is there was this magical moment. And part of that was we did it with CFCs. 1987, so, just a year before this was the Montreal Protocol, and it was a great achievement. And it is. We are seeing slowly, this bruise in the atmosphere is starting to heal.
So you think, "Oh wow, so, this is a revolution. Because we had a long term problem, most of the risks are for in the future, we did it." But, what was missed in his story, and I was at ... There's a scene in his story, this Toronto meeting on the changing atmosphere. Which is a week after the testimony by Jim Hanson, the NASA scientist that really put this issue in the news, in a big way, for the first time.
At that meeting, this guy Pieter Winsemius, this Dutch guy, I asked him, "Well, so CFCs, right?" And he kind of said, "Well..." He said, "With CFCs, with these Chlorophora carbons, these refrigerants, you could get the CEOs of all the companies in the world that made them into one room, there are 38. Think about that in the context of climate change. CO2. CO2 is to like CFCs. And it was tiny part of our economy. A refrigerant, and there were already substitutes. Industry had already had substitutes. This issue was on the books for 10 years since the 70s.
So it was really a minor blip. Then you compare that to carbon dioxide, which is a proxy for progress, essentially. So this idea that that was a magical turning point, it misses the reality that no, the thing that didn't happen at that point, 1988, was China, for example, didn't become the modern China. While we were at this event, at the times, I was googling for China's GDP. It was $350 billion a year in 1988. It's $11 trillion now. 35 times over.
CHRIS HAYES: Right.
ANDREW REVKIN: That was all from burning coal to bring people out of poverty.
CHRIS HAYES: Right.
ANDREW REVKIN: That was another thing that was in my piece in 1988. I had this section on China, who are we to limit China's right to grow using coal?
I'm kind of proud of the fact that I was in there, and I didn't really fully absorb those realities yet at that time. I still was on this kind of magical mystery tour, environmental progress, kind of guy. Because the issue, as it became more and more wicked, the other thing that happened, I realized what a bad fit it is for the news process.
CHRIS HAYES: Yeah, let's talk about this. It's so bad for the news process.
ANDREW REVKIN: It's like the worst possible thing. It's like the national debt.
CHRIS HAYES: It's another part of the wickedness of the problem.
ANDREW REVKIN: Yeah.
CHRIS HAYES: Which is that it's ... Yeah, although national debt, people talk about ... No one actually cares about it. It's like national debt is like this weird, bad faith thing that's marshaled as a sort of weaponized talking point.
ANDREW REVKIN: Totally. And you know, the scale of the climate problem is so much more profound than that scale.
CHRIS HAYES: Of course, because you can't move because atoms versus dollars.
ANDREW REVKIN: Exactly.
CHRIS HAYES: Dollars can be moved, I can move dollars instantaneously. Right now, I can move money from one account to another account. I cannot move carbon molecules from this part of the atmosphere to that part of the atmosphere. Can't do it. That's a physics problem, not an accounting one. Accounting problems can be solved very quickly.
ANDREW REVKIN: There are scientists working on ways to get those molecules out of the atmosphere. But they run up against, so, we've got uncertainty, we've got momentum, we've got all these issues, right? Scale. The word scale, it's become to me this marker. There's certain things I listen for when someone emails me or calls me. "Hey, I've got the solution." Scale is the first word that comes to mind. I'm like, "Okay." Let's talk about scale.
CHRIS HAYES: Can you scale this?
ANDREW REVKIN: Right. Even with the Teslas. Any time I think of a Tesla, I try, in my mind, to remind myself about the Ford F-150 pickup truck. It's the best selling car in history. Year after year, after year. It's not a car, but it's technically kind of a car.
CHRIS HAYES: It's a great truck.
ANDREW REVKIN: Yeah.
CHRIS HAYES: It's a great truck.
ANDREW REVKIN: And we just started exporting them to China last year. The Raptor, I think it's called.
CHRIS HAYES: Al is nodding his head.
ANDREW REVKIN: Yeah, see.
CHRIS HAYES: Great truck.
ANDREW REVKIN: Yeah. So, don't talk to me about Teslas, without talking to me about Ford F-150 pickup trucks too.
I'm like this bummer. I just kind of ... People call me all those things. What-aboutist, et cetera.
CHRIS HAYES: Why, because you're just describing the wickedness of the problem?
ANDREW REVKIN: Someone has to do it.
CHRIS HAYES: Right, but, I don't know, man. Why does it feel, when you talk about the newsroom thing, I would say that we probably have covered climate more than anyone on cable news. I think it would be fair to say.
It's still a laughably insufficient ratio to the magnitude of the problem. And that's because, particularly for a daily news show, where you have to show stuff. It's a tough thing to cover in a daily cable news show, right? It's true, there's wildfires, and the weather events, and we make sure when we do cover those weather events we talk about the fact that the climate is altering the dynamic system, out of which those weather events emanate. We talked about it during Irma, we did a week on the California drought, where we went out to California. We do all those things. We covered the withdrawal from Paris, on the day of the withdrawal from Paris happened.
But, again, there's this disconnect that I feel in me, which is this, if you said to me, "Write down the single most important problem in the world right now." The one that if you can wave a magic wand, you would solve. I'm pretty sure it would be climate.
If you said, "Okay, now tell me, what are the things that you get really excited about thinking about, and writing about? And what kind of articles do you gravitate towards and read? And what are the podcasts you listen too?" I would get to bunch of stuff before I got to climate. I just would. It's just not ... I'm talking in a totally, kind of weird, aesthetic, visceral way. There's certain things ... I'm really into criminal justice stuff, and I read a lot about it, and I seek it out, and I'm really into history of reconstruction, or World War I, or there's all sorts of things that I'm interested in, because people have different interests. Some people like pottery, and some people like tennis. That is just a thing that I have to push myself to do out of this place of duty. The problem with that is you can't sell dutiful.
ANDREW REVKIN: No. Well, the other-
CHRIS HAYES: That to me, is the big obstacle here. Am I wrong?
ANDREW REVKIN: You can't sell dutiful. Well, yes. This crystallized in that same year I was talking about, 2006, when I wrote that “Yelling Fire” piece. That was the year Time Magazine had a cover, written by a friend of mine, Jeff Kluger, the headline was Be Worried, Be Very Worried. And it had a polar bear looking down at the water from ...
CHRIS HAYES: Classic.
ANDREW REVKIN: That was ... I think I cited it in my story. I was like ... I talked to psychologists, they say, "You can't impose worry on people." Hello! We know that you can give them the information, and it builds within, and they can become worried-
CHRIS HAYES: Okay. But then the problem with that is there's this crazy ... David Roberts, I thought, had a great thread about this. And David is, he's a friend, he's someone that I've known forever. Talked to about this, writes for Vox, and I love what he writes. But, he had this great theory where it's like there's this over-correction in the climate community, which is like, "Okay, we now know what all the social cognition and the social science says. You can't freak people out, and you can't worry them, and you can't be too this, and you can't be too this. And this is the recipe, so do it like this." But then say like, "This is a threat, but we can still solve it and everybody has a happy ending, and yada, yada." It's like, that's just paint-by-numbers, boring, dutiful as well.
ANDREW REVKIN: Right, and I've seen this many times. And I'm a little sad about the character of climate journalism these days. The great thing is, in 1988, 1990, right though '95, whatever, there was like three of us doing it. Now there's hundreds. You would think that's great. But, I do ... I'll speak a little bit like a gray-beard curmudgeon, I think I have earned that. Whether it's a good thing or not.
CHRIS HAYES: Your beard isn't that gray. You no longer have a mullet. I'd say it's salt and pepper. It's freckled.
ANDREW REVKIN: Yeah, okay, it is freckled. There's a very surface-y aspect of what's coming out, and people don't examine the basic things that a journalist should ask when anything is happening. Whether it's fires in Greece, or California, or a bomb exploded somewhere. It really takes me back to journalism school in 1982. What happened? What do I know? Not just quoting people. Getting behind what people are saying, including environmentalists, including people you think are well-meaning, and saying, "Well, what do we know? When was the last time Puerto Rico got hit by a bad hurricane? What do we know about the long history of hurricanes in that part of the Caribbean?"
This is this other body of science that's really been sobering for me. It's paleo-climatology. This is sea bed sediment, and tree rings, and you can get information about past activity. It turns out, and it's very impolitic to even say it. But, I wrote a story in the Times, in 2007, about a really important study by a guy name Jeff Donnelly. It's whole, hurricanes more intense in Caribbean than in past cooler climates. It's a fact. It is a fact. The study was based on cores drilled in Vieques, right there in Puerto Rico.
So, there was huge problems related to Puerto Rico. The vulnerability that was there. Through all the things we all know about, poverty, inadequate governance, and investment, and all, is horrific. It was a tragedy, but climate change is not what the tragedy is about. It was about vulnerability. Even the ecology of Puerto Rico is an ecology of disruption. The plants show that.
It's like, how do you get that though into an insta-story, on a website? Even worse than that is if you're not looking to at least answer those basic questions.
CHRIS HAYES: Right, yet, at the same time, there is the fact that it just does get hotter every year.
ANDREW REVKIN: Yeah, with all the variations.
CHRIS HAYES: With all the variations, but you chart it out, amidst all the noise, there's a signal, and the signal's very clear. Right now, we're in a set of ... Like, when you ... My favorite is when you look at record highs, or record lows, because that does a really good job of showing it. And it's like the record highs are four to one over record lows, or whatever it is, I'm pulling that out of thin air, but you can chart these. It gets hotter every year, and that's having very significant effects, and we're seeing it in all sorts of crazy eco-system ways of when plants flower, and when things germinate, and farmers can tell you this.
ANDREW REVKIN: Then, when forests get past that threshold of heat and dryness where they ignite.
CHRIS HAYES: Right. At some level, I think the difference between '88 and 2018, is that it is more tangible. It really is.
ANDREW REVKIN: Yeah, it is. Especially in hotter heat waves. There's pretty much a shoe-in. Many other things are not. This is this other. So, I can't keep the list going. Uncertainty, momentum ... The other one, is the other things that are in motion. This is the one that I hadn't really appreciated until 2010 probably. Which is, where we build and how we build, is the thing that's most profoundly increasing vulnerability to hazards in the climate system.
I know you did all the work on Sandy. There's several elements of the Sandy experience, there's a signal of climate change in there, and we notice rising seas will make the next Sandy worse. Way worse. But, in 1822, or three, there was this devastating hurricane that made Manhattan into two Islands. That whole area, Canal Street, you know where the swampy part, it was gone for a while.
This team of geographers, these two guys whose work is so great, it's worth people googling for. Just search for the phrase, "expanding bullseye." They are measuring growth in zones where there are bad things that happen. More Oklahoma tornado. They did one of Houston, they do this in fire zones. You know there's a science of attribution, some aspect of that fire is likely global warming. If you include, what aspect of the fires in California is about where people have built in the last 40 years, that they didn't build 40 years ago? That is-
CHRIS HAYES: The biggest.
ANDREW REVKIN: It is the thing. And I've written about that over, and over, and over again. But, this is another one of these torches, where-
CHRIS HAYES: That's really true. That is really true in Houston flooding, where -
ANDREW REVKIN: Same thing.
CHRIS HAYES: If you called the climate constant, the way that they're building Houston, is producing, is gonna produce more floods, even if the climate system wasn't changing at all.
ANDREW REVKIN: All these boring words like impervious surface.
CHRIS HAYES: Right, yeah.
ANDREW REVKIN: Which channels all that water that might sink into the ground otherwise.
But, in California, it's worse. I did this thing on the Monterey like 10 years ago the fire hazard map for Monterey Peninsula, that whole area was bright red. That's hazard. That means "Danger, danger, danger Will Robinson," stuff. Then you look at building rates, and it wasn't accounted for. Colorado-
CHRIS HAYES: That, what you're describing is the same problem that climate is. Right? It's like people need homes now, or they need heat now, they need electricity now. They need these things now. These are not some of the ... Some of this is they're building McMansions that people have homes if they don't build them. But, a lot of this, particularly, when you're looking at what's happening in places like China, or places like India, or what's happening in Sub-Saharan in Africa, particularly, right? Which has experienced extremely high GDP growth, and real question about what it's energy trajectory looks like. This is the stuff that makes, essentially, modern life.
ANDREW REVKIN: The building though, the thing with the building, I'm all for those realities, but a bunch of it is subsidized by tax payers.
CHRIS HAYES: That's true.
ANDREW REVKIN: There’s this free-market think-tank, Headwaters Economics, I started paying attention to their thinking on land-use, and risk, in the West 10 years ago. And, a piece I did on what Obama can do even while we're waiting ... This was during the recession. What can you do during a recession that can make a difference for environment outcomes? One was, well, end-
CHRIS HAYES: Flood insurance.
ANDREW REVKIN: Yeah, flood insurance, and there's a long story about how we actually did the right thing, but then rolled it back because Democrats and Republicans didn't like their rates rising.
CHRIS HAYES: The flood insurance story is amazing. Because, basically, American flood insurance works with the federal government subsidized people, to build in flood zones. That's the short version of it. Basically, we take on a risk subsidy by back-stopping though a, now, federal flood insurance program, to artificially cheapen the cost of building in a flood zone. Which, guess what, you get more growth in places that flood, and so you get more floods. So, then the flood insurance program keeps needing more and more money, and more bail outs, so they reformed it, and everyone freaked out because the premiums went up. And then they un-reformed it. Because, people were like, "Wait a second, my flood insurance went up." It's like, "Yeah, right. We took away the subsidy that was artificially lowering the price."
ANDREW REVKIN: That made my head explode, because there was like ... I like to look for a counter. Where's the example we did the right thing, even in a polarized Congress, even under a Democratic president? That happened. And then it unraveled. It's like, oh, no. But these are much harder stories for the media to tell, which is a shame. The one thing I have learned now that I'm at 30 years in on this story, the worst way to think about global warming is to think about it as global warming, because it's so disconnected from the actions that can actually do something about the thing we care about, which is we want to have a sustainable relationship with the climate system. That's the thing we want, right?
CHRIS HAYES: Right.
ANDREW REVKIN: We want to know, roughly, is it gonna rain this summer for the crops? Can we have some predictability about tornadoes and storms, et cetera, and-
CHRIS HAYES: Well, also, can you go outside in Scottsdale, Arizona in July?
ANDREW REVKIN: Well, yeah, or-
CHRIS HAYES: I mean, let's be clear here.
ANDREW REVKIN: Or Saudi Arabia.
CHRIS HAYES: That's a question, the habitability of big parts of developed America are genuinely on the table by 2060.
ANDREW REVKIN: I was at a meeting recently, and spoke for a long time with a Saudi guy, and his theory is, “You know the world's gonna be on this issue when the Hajj can't happen anymore,” because even Saudi Arabia doesn't have enough money to put in all the tents and coolers, things you need-
CHRIS HAYES: Wow. That's a great line.
ANDREW REVKIN: and that's an area that is like ground zero for uninhabitability, is the Persian Gulf because of the humidity. It's not just the heat. It's the humidity, and it really will-
CHRIS HAYES: Did you coin that?
ANDREW REVKIN: No, I don't think so. So, when the Hajj, when hundreds of millions of Muslims cannot go to Mecca anymore, then the oil kingdoms will act differently.
CHRIS HAYES: Yeah, but then they'll just be mashing the controlling and pressing the elevator button.
ANDREW REVKIN: Well, yeah.
CHRIS HAYES: I mean, that's the point, right?
ANDREW REVKIN: Yeah.
CHRIS HAYES: Unless we figure out how to take carbon out of the atmosphere, which I increasingly think is gonna have to be part of the solution. Right?
ANDREW REVKIN: Oh, that takes time, too. It's like, we're in ... I don't know if I can say the S word.
CHRIS HAYES: Yeah. Of course, you can.
ANDREW REVKIN: We're in the shit. It's not end times.
CHRIS HAYES: But it's gonna be bad.
ANDREW REVKIN: Yeah. I mean-
CHRIS HAYES: It's already gonna be bad.
ANDREW REVKIN: The fourth book I wrote, the new one, is the history of our relationship with weather and climate. I decided to end the book about the history of our relationship with weather and climate. It's about the climate 100,000 years from now, and we're already at that. We are shaping the climate of this planet now for the next 100,000 years. It's like this pulse of carbon is enough. How quickly sea levels rise, how much temperatures rise, whether it'll fend off the next ice age, which is what that item is about, which is likely, that we won't have another ice age until we decide to, essentially.
So, we're at it on this giant scale that's so far beyond our comprehension, and it's certainly beyond our policy instruments. It has led me to a completely different way of thinking about global warming, the big thing, and then what do you do about it, which is a bunch of little things. The big thing is more like ... How many times has there been a war on X, like war on poverty, war on cancer? Bill McKibben in 2016 proposed a war on climate change, and Bill and I go back, way back, right to the beginning, and we're friends.
CHRIS HAYES: Yeah. He blurbed your book where you have the mullet.
ANDREW REVKIN: Yeah, yeah. We have very different prescriptions and ideas about what we do, and I say it's fine to call it a war, but remember it's that kind of war. It's a multi-generation war. We're not gonna fix cancer, and we're gonna try really hard to fix poverty for the rest of time, probably. All these things we think of as institutional, longstanding things ... The EPA was in 1970-ish. The Energy Department was late '70s. So, there are these new emergent realities that become part of how we act.
FEMA, I was with the FEMA director. I interviewed him on a stage at Aspen, that Ideas Festival a few weeks ago, and what he said, Brock Long, he said, this conversation about disasters and stuff, he said, “If you're waiting for FEMA, you're way late in the game. You gotta work on disaster risk reduction now,” and that's kind of what I was saying. One of the things you can do right now about climate change, about climate vulnerability, I think that's the thing. If we just focus on climate vulnerability, getting into arguments about how much of it is global warming is a waste of time because you're not gonna change people's minds by saying, “If global warming ...”
They either believe it or not right now. There's not policy for that. As I said, there's momentum in the system, so even if you have a perfect climate policy, the climate of Northern California is not gonna change magically, but you can definitely do things with zoning, with housing subsidies, to start shifting us out of harm's way so we're not keeping expanding the bullseye. That's all actionable right now.
CHRIS HAYES: But that's ... I mean, there's a rebellion against that because it's like, don't have a second mortgage in red zones, and change zoning, and change our flood plain plans, and I agree with all that, but also, if we just continue business as usual, we can't keep doing that.
ANDREW REVKIN: Oh, no, no. None of what I'm saying is we don't have to work really hard to mitigate emissions of greenhouse gases.
CHRIS HAYES: Right. Yeah, yeah.
ANDREW REVKIN: It is that you have to get comfortable with the fact that that's a long process, and I've seen some encouraging signals from people who were, for a very long time, solve the climate crisis as if there's a point, a juncture, like I talked about with Nathaniel Rich's article. Wen Stephenson, a very passionate journalist who got deep into climate activism recently, wrote a piece saying that the word solution should be banned from discussions of climate change, and I was like, yes, good. I'm glad I'm hearing-
CHRIS HAYES: Yeah, it's a process.
ANDREW REVKIN:..and so we're going forward in an iterative way. The knowledge base is increasing on what can do. The one thing we're not doing and that gets left out of still of most environmental-framed discussions is boosted research, boosted science on basic energy problems. I was at a meeting in-
CHRIS HAYES: That's a great point.
ANDREW REVKIN: I did a Page One story in The New York Times, 2006, that same year. 2006 was a busy year. Declining research and energy in an era of global warming, and it was about this bipartisan slumber party. Republicans, Democrats, it didn't matter who was in office, who had Congress. After the energy crisis of the '70s, we went to sleep on thinking, and it's really logical to go to sleep. We have a lot of energy, and now we have more than ever because of fracking oil and gas, and so it's like, well, why should we still boost our energy research budgets, but when you look at it as a portion of all of our pie of things we spend money on, there's this great graph. The American Association for the Advancement of Science, AAAS, they've kept track of R&D spending on everything since the Sputnik, 1953. That's when federal research starting on basically federal mind for science.
CHRIS HAYES: Right. They freaked out about it.
ANDREW REVKIN: Yeah. So, Space Race is this ... You look at these curves. There's this big yellow wedge that was the Space Race, getting to the moon, and the shuttle. Then they got up to about 40 billion a year at the peaks, war on cancer, basically health research, 40 billion a year. Energy has always been this two-to-three-billion-dollar-a-year dribble, and Obama and that recession stimulus package, it ticked up a little bit. You look at the curve, it's like ... There's a little tick up, and then it went ding. It goes away completely, and we're back to slumber mode, and this is before Trump got into office. So, it's just not a priority.
CHRIS HAYES: So, one of the things that I've come around the believing, and it's maybe a good place to sort of end the discussion, is this is, I think, a weird thing to admit because I think it cuts against what my kind of first principles are as a person and as a citizen and as a thinker, which is that climate change is a political problem. It will be solved through political action and collective action. We have come together to solve very hard problems as a political matter before. Sometimes it's really brutal. Sometimes it's extremely conflict-laden. In some cases, as in the problem of slavery, it costs the lives of 600,000 Americans who fought the bloodiest war in the country's history over it.
ANDREW REVKIN: Damn.
CHRIS HAYES: But fundamentally, political problem fundamentally will be solved through politics and collective action. I think I don't think that anymore. I think what I think is that there's gonna have to just be a technological solution, that basically just because of the wickedness of the problem, that the engineer ... We just need some engineers to just figure it out in a variety of complex ways, which is like making really good and very cheap and scalable renewable energy, changing grids, coming up with ways to take the carbon out of the atmosphere. That's basically where my hope is now, which is by no means advocating quietism or end of political action, but that avoiding real, real disaster is gonna involve a very health chunk of brilliant engineers figuring some crazy shit out.
ANDREW REVKIN: Not just engineers, but social and behavioral science has to be part of this in terms ... I don't mean ... It used to be to do that, to sell concern, that's the big fail, and that's a big fail of a lot of journalism, too, bigger headlines, scary stuff.
CHRIS HAYES: Right, right.
ANDREW REVKIN: It's to look at how do you foster conversations. Part of my ... I'm in National Geographic Society now. That's the grant-making part, and I've been writing a lot lately about how do you find consensus amid all the polarization, and you can have consensus on vulnerability reduction, absolutely. Libertarians hate the idea of subsidized flood insurance. So, that's an area of innovation that's just as important, I think, as a better battery, because if you can find a way to get Libertarians and Liberals for very different reasons to focus on one of the vulnerability issues related to climate change, you're doing something very powerful.
I wrote this piece in National Geographic Magazine in July that's like an essay looking back at 30 years of learning and unlearning, and as you said, I went through this ... I thought it was political. I thought it was diplomatic. I thought it was technological. I thought it was all these things, and I realized, no, it's not that, it's not that, and then I realized it's partially all of those things. It's this emergent phenomenon of a species, and I wrote this 10 years ago. I call it Puberty on the Scale of a Planet.
Here we are. We're in zoom mode. Fossil fuels were the zoom part in a revving up car. When I was a teenage, a friend of mine took me out in his hopped up car. We got up to 125 miles an hour on an un-built stretch of highway, and I thought, wow. So, that's been us so far, and there are these signals, which are really like growing up, that transition from puberty to whatever comes next. When you face that kind of transition, the other thing about this issue that seems vital, but maybe it's the hardest thing of all, it's response diversity.
Response diversity is necessary when you have a complicated problem. I stumbled on this after a fight with David Roberts during the keystone fight. We had different positions on what to do, and I started googling around for environment response diversity. It was like, can't we all get along kind of thing, but we all want to solve this climate issue, but Jim Hansen is pro-nuclear. Bill McKibben is pro-renewables. They found a way to tie themselves to the same fences at the White House and not argue with each other about their visions of the solution, but most of the community around this issue hasn't figured that out yet.
So, one of the challenges, and I don't know the answer to this question, it is like a communication or social frontier. Response diversity is key. Some country's, China's gonna pursue nuclear if we don't. It's in the mix. My wife and I disagree about nuclear. We live eight miles from Indian Point, but we love each other. So, how can we have a conversation? How can we build policy where if you're dug in on policy A and the other person who wants to solve the climate problem is dug in on policy C, how can you acknowledge each other's positions and still pursue ... Acknowledge diversity and still pursue progress, and that's like ... I don't know. I don't know how that happens.
CHRIS HAYES: I mean, it's funny because it ends up being this situation, which you kind of walk all the way through these different domains of knowledge where it's like first you're in physics, and then you're in international relations, and then you're in political theory, and then you're in cultural cognition, you're in social theory, and then you end up in this sort of ... It almost feels like you end up in this kind of ... I don't want to say spiritual place, but a place of collective consciousness and an existential question about what the human species is.
ANDREW REVKIN: Oh, yeah.
CHRIS HAYES: I mean, it's an existential test about what the human species is and what the human species is capable of. That's what we face.
ANDREW REVKIN: You've led to one of my other big insights, which came as a science writer for 30-whatever years, and in 2014 I went to the Vatican to a big meeting called Sustainable Humanity, Sustainable Planet: Our Responsibility, and it was the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. I got to spend a week there. I was the rapporteur, the respondent or whatever, and I was surrounded by geniuses. So, I turned to Walter Munk, this unbelievable oceanographer from Scripps after dinner and wine, and I said, “So, Walter, what do you think is gonna get us through this century,” and here he is at 96, and he's a physical oceanographer, not even a cool fish guy. He's all about numbers. He turned to me and he said, “It'll take a miracle of love and unselfishness,” and that ... I mean, my hair almost prickled.
Literally, I was scribbling, and I've had more than, I'd say, half a dozen conversations with people who really understand this issue in the most profound way, and they all end up saying, “I don't know,” but they're working on it anyway, and that's this weird thing because everyone has a position you've staked around knowledge. It's all greenhouse gases and gigatons and megawatts, and sort of acknowledging that we don't know is, I think, important. Not just because of the uncertainty, but it's just a fundamental reality of this thing we're gonna get through. I think, I believe ... Those words get all mixed up. I wake up in the morning kind of optimistic, and I usually go to bed kind of sapped, but I wake up in the morning optimistic and go to bed sapped and keep moving on.
CHRIS HAYES: You know, my favorite piece of writing is Camus' Myth of Sisyphus, which is about an eternal pointless struggle. Right? Sisyphus wakes up every day. He rolls the rock up the hill. It rolls back down, and the point of the essay, which is a kind of real touchstone for me in how I think about life and whatever kind of personal theology I have, or sort of anti-theology, I think Camus is an atheist, is that it's the process, not the ... There's something ... You put faith in the process of the joy of the task or the struggle of the rolling of the rock, and the last line of the essay is, “One imagines Sisyphus happy,” and that's the way I think I think about this wicked problem.
Andy Revkin seems like a happy guy.
ANDREW REVKIN: Oh, yeah.
CHRIS HAYES: Yeah, he's a happy guy. He doesn't have a-
ANDREW REVKIN: I'm a musician on the side.
CHRIS HAYES: He's a musician on the side. He no longer has a mullet. He's got a little gray inflected in his beard. He's the author of four books. He is the strategic advisor for media innovation at the National Geographic Society. He was at The New York Times for years. He is one of the central chroniclers of this problem over the course of three decades. It's been a great pleasure to have you here.
ANDREW REVKIN: It's an honor. Thank you.
CHRIS HAYES: So, I want to thank again Andy Revkin for coming on the program. I learned a ton from him. As I said in the opening, all those articles that we talked about on the show are available at nbcnews.com/whyisthishappening. We upload all our stuff there. Also, as always, we love to hear from you. We've been getting great, great emails and tweets and feedback. We love hearing from people that are listening to the show. It means a lot to us who work on this to hear how much you're enjoying it and how seriously you're taking it and how much it's inspiring questions from you. You can always tweet about the podcast using the #WITHPod, WITHPod. WITH being an acronym for Why Is This Happening, not like “I'm with pod,” as in those T-shirts, like I'm with stupid with the arrow. It's not like that. It's not I'm with pod. It's WITHPod as in Why Is This Happening Pod, WITHPod, or you can also email us at WITHPod@gmail.com.
Speaking of email, we got an email from a listener, Brian, who is reacting to the conversation I had with Nikole Hannah-Jones about school segregation and desegregation, which I would say is probably the conversation we've gotten the most feedback on. Lots of folks tweeting at us and sending us emails about that conversation, and thanks again to Nikole, who's really a remarkable person to listen to on this. Brian says, “Could we not just distribute the property taxes that go toward public school funding evenly across all schools? Otherwise, the best schools are always going to be where the wealthiest people are living, and vice versa. Rather than move kids around, why not move money? Why is funding tethered to housing in proximity to school X, and why can't we break that link?”
It's a great question. The fact of the matter is he is correct. The system of school funding we have in the U.S. is crazy and builds in a lot of inequity because it's funded by property taxes, and property taxes correlate to home value, and home value correlates to the wealth and affluence of the area, and so what you get are affluent areas that really fund their schools and poor areas that don't, and it is the case that other places don't do that, and it would almost certainly make for more equitable education system if we unlinked property taxes and school funding and found a way to fund them differently, state income tax, for instance, or something like that.
That said, you could imagine a universe in which we do de-link property taxes and school funding, and we still have segregated schools, because as long as you have school districts, even if the money and resources are more equitably distributed, you can still have the same dynamics that produce the kinds of segregation that Nikole and I talked about. So, thanks you Brian for sending in that email, and again, hit us up with the email, WITHPod@gmail.com.
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