2015 Robert C. Cowen Award for Sustained Achievement in Science Journalism Winner
Andrew C. Revkin received the 2015 Robert C. Cowen Award for Sustained Achievement in Science Journalism at the AGU Fall Meeting Honors Ceremony, held on 16 December 2015 in San Francisco, Calif. The award recognizes “a journalist or team of journalists who have made significant, lasting, and consistent contributions to accurate reporting on the Earth and space sciences for the general public.”
Roaming from the North Pole to the White House to the Amazon rain forest, Andrew C. Revkin has devoted his career to conveying consequential Earth and environmental science and related policy issues to the widest possible audiences—through magazine stories, thousands of New York Times articles and blog posts, prize–winning photography and documentaries, and three lauded books aimed at both adults and young readers.
Those achievements alone might make him an outstanding recipient of the AGU Robert C. Cowen Award for Sustained Achievement in Science Journalism. But early on, Revkin’s broad interdisciplinary awareness of science and human development led him beyond the conventional role of the journalist. In a 1992 climate book written for the American Museum of Natural History, he proposed that humanity had entered a post–Holocene “geological age of our own making.” His proposed name, the Anthrocene, did not catch on, but he is among those credited with laying the foundation for the concept of the Anthropocene.
In 14 years as a news reporter at the Times, Andy conceived of or helped lead a string of special reports and series on climate and energy. In 2005 and 2006, he exclusively uncovered the suppression of climate science by political appointees. In 2007, he conceived of and launched his Times blog Dot Earth, exploring all facets of the evolving human relationship with our finite planet.
After he left the Times staff in 2010 to teach courses in environmental communication at Pace University, his blog moved to the opinion side of the paper. But even as a commentator, as Andy likes to say, his advocacy is for reality, not some agenda.
He has worked to foster scientists’ communication skills and has written three book chapters on science and environmental communication.
Andy has even told the story of climate change through song. Several of his songs with environmental themes have been receiving increased attention, particularly “Liberated Carbon,” on the history of humanity’s relationship with fossil fuels.
—Walter Munk, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, San Diego, Calif.
I am deeply grateful to AGU for this recognition of 32 years (and counting!) spent trying to convey what humans have learned about how this wondrous planet works and how we’ve learned it. I especially thank my nominator, the extraordinary Walter Munk, and those who signed supporting letters: William H. Hooke of the American Meteorological Society, Jamie Morison of the University of Washington, J. Marshall Shepherd of the University of Georgia, James P. M. Syvitski of the University of Colorado, and Apollo astronaut Russell L. Schweic-kart. They have all been generous and trusted guides and tutors in the face of complex and consequential questions.
It’s particularly gratifying to be recognized by scientists because I almost became one. As a boy in Rhode Island, my passion for fishing and Jacques–Yves Cousteau tugged me to the water. A bar mitzvah gift of a snorkeling set got me under the surface. A science teacher, Joe Ferretti, fueled my curiosity, letting me design a fan–driven wave tank in place of writing a pro–forma paper.
But the rigorous focus required to pursue a Ph.D. was a bad fit for my temperament. I found fascination in the widest field of view. In examining the ultimate transdisciplinary issue, humanity’s evolving two–way relationship with the climate, I’ve had the rare privilege of studying the whole picture, from the climate models running on supercomputers in Boulder in 1985 to the burning rain forests of the western Amazon in 1989 to the shifting sea ice around the North Pole in 2003 to the contentious climate treaty talks in one city after another.
Even as I’ve been chronicling this extraordinary period of environmental and social change, I’ve also been navigating equally momentous changes in how ideas are shared and shaped. The shift from knowledge gatekeepers to networked communities—from Walter Cronkite to Wikipedia—is in its earliest stages, with profound changes in the works both for journalism and science.
In many ways, I feel like I’m just beginning. That’s a good thing. When I look at Walter Munk’s unrelenting zest for inquiry at age 98, I realize that—with luck—I might have another 32 years of communicating ahead of me.
Let’s get together in 2047 and see how things have gone.