Grist Magazine blogger David Roberts (Left) squares off against Steve Everley of American Solutions (right) in a "debate" in a bar "moderated" by "rock star" Mark McGrath.


I managed to do a brief interview this morning with David Roberts of Grist Magazine who was the pro-climate action side of last Thursday night’s Lexus “Darker Side of Green” debate-in-a-bar show in Chicago. I’ve been a fan of his blogging for a while and while I generally have advised against people taking part in these potential kangaroo events, he seemed to me to be one of the few skillful and potentially aggressive spokespersons for climate action who actually should be up on the stage if there has to be someone doing it.


RO: So was anybody listening?

DR: It was a big, cavernous room, with about 100 people. Of those, about 50 to 60 were facing the stage and seemed to be listening. More people listened than I expected.


RO: Did they have any audience questions?

DR: No, it was obviously designed to be slam-bang and over quick. The moderator had a series of questions, we each got 60 seconds for each.


RO: In the organization of this event, did you get any sense of the “voice of Lexus” — meaning the people who dreamed up these “debates”?

DR: I talked to the girl at Lexus whom I think concocted the whole idea and pitched it to the higher ups. She wanted to do something edgy. She’s a very nice person, but obviously not a scholar. She just wanted to find a way to market their new hybrid car that was edgy and different. To her credit, she wanted to get people involved that were real — not just celebrities talking about it — but to mix celebrities with real people of substance.

In the meanwhile, I’ve read all this anguished on-line discourse in the science and environmental community about what it all means — what Toyata is trying to do, what they are saying. My impression is that the people at Lexus weren’t saying anything beyond, “Buzz! Young! Edgy! Whatever.” They haven’t thought about it much more than that.


RO: There certainly are plenty of bloggers who think that Lexus is up to evil things with these debates.

DR: Yeah. I’m guessing the people at Lexus who are arranging this will never even see those blog posts. The whole thing is like — this whole question about what it even means to have a debate — whether you’re validating the other side by even having a debate — it’s all so far beyond the people at Lexus who are organizing this stuff. If anything, I think that who they ended up with is a reflection of the cultural debate — not any sort of nefarious plot to sway the debate one way or the other, or make any grand “meta-points.”


RO: And were there any grand meta-points made?

DR: (laughter) I made some grand meta-points at extraordinarily brief length! I expected the questions to be goofy and shallow, but clearly the questions had been written by someone who did have some familiarity with the issues. They were relatively sharp. If anything, the questions seemed slightly biased in the favor of, “Why shouldn’t we clean up the world?”


RO: And you felt Mark McGrath was sympathetic in that direction?

DR: Well … clearly he didn’t write the questions. I don’t know that he had any particularly deep thoughts about it. I’m sure if you asked him he’d be in favor of “cleanness” and against pollution, but I doubt you’d get any deeper than that.


RO: So the overall tone of the debate was relatively fair?

DR: Yes. Some of the questions even seemed to be phrased to put Steve Everley in the position of, “Why are you standing in the way of this?” Apparently one of the guys for Lexus, Patrick who is a publicist for the debates, has written on Andrew Breitbart’s website about Climategate. That came up, but Steve Everley is not a climate denier so he didn’t feel like arguing about it, so that issue passed by without significance.

Steve Everley works as Newt Gingrich’s protege at American Solutions. If you really push them on it, they’re kind of elusive — they agree that climate change is happening and man made, but they just sort of play down how bad it is, and play up the economic disaster that’s going to happen if we disturb industry — they’re kind of corporate apologists. But Steve’s a really nice guy — born and raised in Kansas.

Our event was pretty benign. A lot of the critiques of the other events are where you have a blowhard like Phelim McAleer on stage, really just blatantly lying about the scientific facts. For our event, I would be interested to hear some survey of the people who were there to see if they even took anything away from it at all.


RO: I think the most interesting thing is the title they chose — “The Darker Side of Green.”

DR: I think that is meant to be a reference to “dark green” meaning more serious and deep as opposed to “lite green.”


RO: Really, I read it as the evil side of green.

DR: No, this is from my conversation with the Lexus woman — the idea is most hybrids are sold to the casual consumer, but Lexus wanted to go deeper and dig into the deeper side of the issues.


RO: But they could have titled it “A Deeper Shade of Green,” instead of “darker.”

DR: I think it was ham-handed and poorly done, but my impression was that its about deeper rather than evil.


RO: In that case it really was poorly done because “going to the dark side” means evil.

DR: Yes, but keep in mind in the marketing and p.r. worlds, these are long standing demographic terms — like “lite green vs. dark green” crowds — the Grist marketing team talks about this all the time — the lite green casual consumer who will buy organic versus the dark green consumer who really cares about the depth of the issue.


RO: How did they choose Steve Everley as your opponent?

DR: Originally they wanted to put me up against Marc Morano. He’s really good at the sixty second exchange. I didn’t want to get involved in the, “He tells a big lie, then I spend sixty seconds trying to unpack his lie,” so I said how about this Steve guy where we could focus more on policy and energy stuff, and not so much on the climate hoo-ha, and they were receptive to that.

And I do think that Steve, as wrong as he is — at some level he cares about the substantive issues and has genuine opinions about the merits of the various policies, so we were having an actual exchange of views and not just a contest of who can do better propaganda.


RO: Do you think Steve is a Libertarian?

DR: No, not consistently. I think American Solutions (his organization) and Newt Gingrich — they favor retaining gigantic fossil fuel subsidies, and their favored energy policy is just another batch of tax subsidies — its not like they have some reverence for markets. Basically they are just pro-fossil fuel.


RO: A fellow was just telling me yesterday his opinion that all climate skeptics are Libertarians.

DR: That’s false. I wish people would stop saying that. This is one of the points I was going to try and make in the debate (though once I saw how it was playing out I realized there was no way to make any point that needs more than a few seconds). These people say they are Conservatives and talk like Libertarians sometimes, but they’re in favor of these grotesque market distortions that favor fossil fuels. There’s no Libertarian principle about it. Newt Gingrich is not pro-market — he’s pro-business. He’s all for intervening and meddling in markets as long as the outcome favors the fossil fuel industry.

Its sort of the same thing with Steve. It’s hard to tell how much of it is bullshit/opportunism versus how much of it is sincerely felt. I guess you’d have to talk to their psychotherapist about it in the end. Newt is about 98% opportunism, but Steve seems like a more substantive guy.


RO: If they were going to do more, would you have any thoughts for them?

DR: I would try and find subjects for debate that didn’t involve the basic science of climate change so that they aren’t involved in propagating the notion that there is any serious debate about that. I’d actually like a debate on, “what’s the best way to address this?” which is sort of the debate that Steve and I had in the end.