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NYT blogger: We should 'take ownership' of energy realities

Climate change, clean water and sustainable energy are vital issues on a planet with an exponentially increasing population but limited natural resources. These issues are at the heart of the debate over hydraulic fracturing, or hydrofracking, said New York Times science and environmental writer and blogger Andrew Revkin in his talk, "Important Science in an Urgent Age," on campus Sept. 24.

"Nine billion people with explosively growing appetites ... leads to enormous impacts on the planet and makes you really wonder 'can this work?'" said Revkin, who writes the Times' Dot Earth blog and also serves as a senior fellow in the Academy for Applied Environmental Studies at Pace University.

"Climate matters on a day-to-day basis," said Revkin, adding that one positive outcome of the current debate on hydrofracking is that Americans are having conversations about important environmental issues.

Hydrofracking is a method of extracting natural gas from hard shale rocks using a drilling method "in which large amounts of sand, water and chemicals are injected deep underground at high pressures" with the potential to pollute natural water sources, according to The New York Times.

"Americans [are] confronting where their energy comes from, and it's often a dirty process," Revkin said.

Revkin's lecture comes just days after New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that the New York State Department of Health will perform a comprehensive review of the health effects of hydrofracking before deciding whether the procedure will be allowed in New York, as it is in Pennsylvania and other states.

"In New York state, we have the best of all possible worlds now. The sense of urgency is gone. You can have limited, careful and heavily oversighted initial steps" toward a decision on hydrofracking, Revkin said.

He acknowledged the difficulty of changing people's minds on such heated issues as global warming or hydrofracking, saying, "More knowledge actually makes you more dug-in on your world view."

He added: "You're not going to nudge people into having a new worldview based on information. Information just hardens their views," using as an example four Nobel Prize winners in physics who all have differing views on climate change.

"You're not going to get consensus [on climate change], but you can get points of action, like efficiency standards for cars. Very few people say no to that," said Revkin.

Revkin talked about the importance of communicating science via such new methods as video, Twitter and blogging, with the ultimate goal of communicating "impactful and accurate" science.

To illustrate the power of visual media on both sides of the hydrofracking debate, he played an anti-hydrofracking video developed by Yale students as well as his own interviews with a pro-hydrofracking farmer.

Revkin urged the audience to take advantage of public information when researching environmental issues, such as a website developed by a Pennsylvanian to track all the hydrofracking sites in his state.

Revkin also stressed, "There are huge opportunities to make people's lives better right now," pointing out, for example, that "2 billion people do not have light bulbs," and billions more lack reliable access to clean water.

Revkin's talk was sponsored by the David R. Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future as part of the center's "Outside Voices" speaker series. Revkin also spoke in a class and met with faculty members and graduate students.

Graduate student Joyanna Hansen is a writer intern for the Cornell Chronicle.

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John Carberry