In 1995 retired newspaperman Ross Gelbspan was at work on what he laughingly refers to as his "second consecutive unpublished novel" when a
doctor convinced him to coauthor a short article on climate change and
disease. When that job was complete, he toyed with the idea of writing a book on global warming, until he read the work of a handful of scientists who
argued that Earth's temperature wasn't really rising. "I was relieved to find that global warming was a nonissue," he says. "There's no book here, I told my wife."
He had a few more interviews scheduled, though, so he marched onward--only to stumble onto a revelation that changed his life. The mainstream scientists he spoke with showed him how the global-warming skeptics were deliberately misleading the public. "When I realized that, I got angry," Gelbspan says. "In a democracy we need honest information to make good choices. These folks were taking our reality away from us."
That was the end of anything Gelbspan might have been calling his "retirement." Over his 30-year career, he had written and edited major news stories for the Boston Globe, the Washington Post, and the Village Voice. In 1984, a series he conceived and edited for the Globe on race discrimination won a Pulitzer prize. But ever since he began researching the climate-change debate, it has been his single-minded focus. His 1995 Harper's essay, "The Heat Is On," revealed the industry funding and scheming behind the distortions of the global-warming skeptics. In 1997, he published a lively book of the same name. He then began writing more articles and debating the naysayers on TV and radio shows such as Nightline, All Things Considered, and Talk of the Nation. More recently he has come up with an ambitious reform agenda, spelled out in detail in "A Modest Proposal to Stop Global Warming."
"I didn't do it because I love trees," Gelbspan says of his transformation from journalist to environmental advocate. His aim is to promote honest debate, and he plans to continue until people start talking about reforms big enough to curb climate change. "When that happens," he says, "I will feel I've done what I can."
Long Live the Range of Light
Last December, after receiving 47,000 public comments on a proposed management plan for the Sierra Nevada, the U.S. Forest Service announced sweeping protections for old-growth forests and endangered wildlife in all of the range's 11 national forests. Sierra readers can take particular pride in that decision: 21,061 of the public comments were postcards clipped from our March/April 1999 issue. Click here for more on the victory.