Grist’s David Roberts: A Hot Light on Warming Planet Goes Stone-Cold

Idiosyncratic Grist columnist, badly burned-out and OD-ed by 10 years on the 24/7 climate news cycle, steps away for a year to clear his head.


English classicist and poet A.E. Housman would have been proud.

Proud of a very bright light’s decision to suddenly and on his own go dark, at what might well be the peak of his climate blogging career.

Commentary on the News

Three-days into a self-imposed year-long isolation from all-things digital and climate, there soon will likely be withdraw pains reported by climate change activists and policy geeks wondering where to turn for their next infusion of wry and poignant climate commentary.

Grist columnist and analyst David Robert’s surprise decision to call it quits — no more tweeting, no more opining, no more often profound and frequently profane commentary, no more PDFs, no more phone calls — deprives the climate change activist community of one of its most insightful and interesting provocateurs.

And it comes at a time just when the Fifth Assessment Report of the IPCC is beginning to leak out in various media reports prior to its official, albeit partial, release at the end of September. Those upcoming reports no doubt would have provided Roberts ample grist, no pun, for endlessly more opining.

You might look at his decision to take a one-year sabbatical as something of a mid-life crisis, wrote Roberts, who this year turned 40 and was approaching his tenth year of opining for the online environmentalist journal. Writing that he’ll be back on the beat Labor Day 2014, Roberts said he’ll use the coming year to get in better physical shape and to try his hand at writing a novel.

“I think in Tweets” and can’t bear being away from his phone, Roberts wrote, fearing he was becoming “a bitter person” tempted to tell newcomers to the climate change communications field to “get off my lawn.”

Burned-out and going cold turkey on climate goings-on, snarky and snarkier commentaries, the 24/7 news cycle, Twitter, and more, Roberts wrote that the demanding work pace is “doing things to my brain.” He’s not only burned-out, he wrote, but — in his characteristically often profound and frequently profane and pithy way — “burnt the f… out” (minus the ellipsis of course).

“The online world, which I struggle to remember represents only a tiny, unrepresentative slice of the American public, has become my world,” he wrote. “I spend more time there than in the real world.”

“I need some time away from all of it: from climate change, the media, blogs, commenters, Twitter, the news cycle, the endless battle for a livable future. I need to clear my head.”

He clearly expects he may change over the course of a year away from it all, but Roberts isn’t optimistic the climate situation will change all that much. “Climate change isn’t going anywhere, and there remains in the media world a dearth of people focusing on it.” It’ll be no less “dearthly” a year from now.

As for the climate itself, “it is screwed, but it won’t be any more or less screwed in a year.”

So what about Housman, best known for “A Shropshire Lad”?

In his “To An Athlete Dying Young,” Housman (1859-1936) writes of a young and successful athlete, a runner who passed from the scene at the height of his game and successes, as in this stanza:

Smart lad, to slip betimes away
From fields where glory does not stay
And early though the laurel grows
It withers quicker than the rose.

No permanent slipping-away for Roberts though, who wrote in his column that he’ll return to the fold a year from now.

Housman continues:

Now you will not swell the rout
Of lads that wore their honours out,
Runners whom renown outran
And the name died before the man.

During his 12-month self-imposed hiatus, Roberts’ keen and biting commentaries will be missed by those even beyond just the community of climate advocacy bloggers and their like-minded audiences. His contributions to the dialogue were and are a valuable resource, and the void he leaves is unlikely to be fully matched during his time away.

Bud Ward

Bud Ward is editor of The Yale Forum (E-mail: bud@yaleclimatemediaforum.org).
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One Response to Grist’s David Roberts: A Hot Light on Warming Planet Goes Stone-Cold

  1. James Mayeau says:

    Well, don’t let the door hit ya, Bob.

    You still here? Shut the door. Your letting in a draft.