Time’s ‘Going Green’ Special Issue … And Its Most Influential Scientist List

Look beyond Time magazine’s environment special to its May 12, 2008, listing of its “most influential people in the world.”

Who do you think made that list from the climate science community?

Was it …

  • Isaac Berzin, founder of GreenFuel Technologies in Cambridge, Ma., working to propagate algae to help reduce dependency on fossil fuels and “devour” carbon dioxide?
  • James Hansen of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, the nation’s most quoted and highly visible climate scientist?
  • Stephen H. Schneider of Stanford University, one of America’s most charismatic and most respected climatologists?
  • Susan Solomon of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, who first gained worldwide respect for her work on deterioration of the planet’s ozone layer by CFCs?
  • Richard Somerville of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego, a long-time respected IPCC author?
  • Lonnie Thompson of Ohio State University, widely considered to be among the world’s leading ice core experts?

Think you know? Click here to find out.

Time magazine’s April 25 “special environment issue” – with a photo-chopped Iwo Jima “photo-illustration” with a giant redwood tree replacing the American flag – marked “a historic first,” Managing Editor Richard Stengel wrote in a “Why We’re Going Green” note to readers.

The self-announced “historic” aspect of Time‘s third annual environmental special? “For this one issue, we’ve exchanged our trademarked Red Border for a green one …. we are sending a clear – and colorful- message to our readers about the importance of this subject.”

Pointing to its “agenda-setting piece” by newly named full-time environment writer Bryan Walsh, the magazine announces its launch of “a kind of 21st century Manhattan Project, using carbon-trading, alternative energy and an efficiency surge … all with the aim of winning the war on global warming.”

In Walsh’s cover story – headline “Why Green is the New Red, White and Blue” – Time points to analogies with fighting foreign enemies and combating the Great Depression. It points to an “admittedly flawed” Kyoto Protocol but condemns U.S.’s efforts so far to combat climate change: “If we’re fighting at all – and by most accounts, we’re not – we’re fighting on the wrong side.”

“For a country that rightly cites patriotism as one of its core values, we’re taking a pass on what might be the most patriotic struggle of all. It’s hard to imagine a bigger fight than one for the survival of the country’s coasts and farms, the health of its people and the stability of its economy – and for those of the world at large as well.”

The magazine’s assessment: “The rub is, if the vast majority of people increasingly agree that climate change is a global emergency, there’s far less consensus on how to fix it.”

Not surprisingly, the Time special issue elicited some strong reactions in the form of letters to the editor, and not just from climate change skeptics who long ago had given up hope that the nation’s largest-subscription newsweekly might see things their way.

“Three of the soldiers on your recent cover were killed in the battle for Iwo Jima,” wrote Richard Putney of Richmond, Va. “Your alteration of this photograph devalues their sacrifice and that of many others … your cover is truly offensive. Have we as a nation become so ungrateful?”

Another letter writer, Mary Earle Chase of Novato, Ca., welcomed Time‘s take “on the global climate crisis.” But she wrote that reporter Walsh’s solutions “strangely resemble the war in Iraq: top-down policies and reliance on technology with little or no sacrifice required of U.S. citizens …. individuals and families will need to make radical changes in their lives, including conserving energy and water, reducing consumption, eating differently and traveling less.”

Other letter writers published by Time in its May 12 issue said they thought the magazine had overstated the near-term potential of “fringe power sources like wind, solar and wave action,” said the magazine had neglected to point to a need to curb population growth, and said the reporting should have mentioned gains available by promoting retrofitting of existing homes and other buildings. “Owners of homes and other buildings can save energy right now with existing technology,” wrote Doug Burke of Oak Park, Il., “and in most cases, the cost is negative: they save more than they spend.”


Answers: Isaac Berzin and Susan Solomon.


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