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NRDC's Bob Deans Discusses Environmental Challenges

Brittany Murray
April 16, 2013

"We cannot build a 21st Century economy on a fossil fuel system of the past." This was the leading argument of Bob Deans, Associate Director of Communications for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) Action Fund, during his visit to Ohio University on April 8th. During this visit, the Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs' Environmental Studies program received the chance to speak with Deans. Organized by the Scripps College of Communication and Scripps Howard Visiting Professional Andy Alexander, Deans spoke with students, faculty, and professional staff about climate change, clean energy, and the challenges of environmental journalism.

For nearly 30 years, Bob Deans worked as a journalist before obtaining his position with the NRDC, which he explains is not that different. He stated, "I interview [the experts] about their policies and the environment and relay that information to the public, which is similar to what I did as a journalist."

In his most recent book, Reckless: The Political Assault on the American Environment, Deans discussed the role politics plays in facing today's environmental challenges. He explained that the Republicans in Congress will not vote to take action on climate change because they receive about $800 million in lobbying from the oil and gas industries. Deans commented, "There is no scientific debate; there is no natural debate; there is a political debate."

Deans remarked that despite what politicians believe, there is clear evidence of
climate change, and the impacts are eminent. Deserts are widening, arctic ice is melting, and carbon emissions are a large contributing factor. According to Deans, 2012 was the hottest year on record and included the largest drought the U.S. has seen in 50 years. The way to fix this: renewable energy.

Deans stated that renewable energy can create hundreds of thousands of jobs, reduce our country's dependence on foreign oil, and reduce our carbon emissions. Currently, four percent of the nation's energy comes from wind energy, which helps to finance many small Midwest towns, and by 2030, that could be as high as 20 percent. He added, "It's not some George Jetson dream that may or may not happen—it's here now."

The fight for the environment is just like any other we have faced in history, and must be achieved the same way. Deans remarked, "It's how we won World War II, and it's how we put a man on the moon—thousands of people working together for a common goal." Organizations like the NRDC do not have the finances to take on the task alone, so they rely on the work of journalists like Bob Deans to communicate in a way that creates action. He stated, "We have to be heard, which means we have to connect with the people who aren't already a part of the congregation … We don't have the money, but if we can communicate with the public in a way they understand, we have something more powerful: the voice." He continued, "Congress reads letters [to the Editor] in their hometown papers like soldiers read letter from home."

Fracking is today's hot topic in environmental and energy circles. Deans believes that it is no longer a question of whether it will be done, but "the question is if we're going to do it in a responsible way." He explained that currently, fracking companies are exempt from both the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act, and in Ohio, the state government is able to make decisions that limit or hinders the power of the local government. Deans stated, "Do it right, or don't do it at all."

Deans believes that the most important course of action is "to continue to tell this story in a way that makes sense to the next generation." Changes cannot be made unless the public is properly informed.

Listen to a conversation with Bob Dean on Conversations from Studio B with Tom Hodson