An interview with Bud Ward, eco-journalist extraordinaire / by Jason

I'm still working through the backlog of interviews I did at Rothbury while simultaneously preparing for next weekend's action-packed Lollapalooza mayhem. Today, I bring you a transcription of my chat with Bud Ward on July 5.

Bud was picked to be one of the Think Tank panelists, and for good reason. He's had a long career as a journalist covering environmental issues, and the organizers at Rothbury were not at all shy about prodding those of us in the press tent to do a better job. He does things like sit on the board of the Applied Environmental Education and Communication scholarly journal, he is a former environmental commentator on NPR's Morning Edition, and he is the contest administrator for the Grantham Prize for environmental journalism, the world's most valuable (financially speaking) journalism honor. In other words, he's a big shot in the journalism world, and it was both an honor and a pleasure to get to know him. He's also not the kind of guy you would run into at any other music festival, and it was fascinating to watch guys from his world interact with people like Ken Jordan of the Crystal Method, who probably doesn't normally spend his days palling around with members of the editorial board of the AEEC. Hopefully we'll start to see the fruits of these new relationships play out in the form of a more overt environmental message from our favorite musicians and more entertaining coverage from the media.

Before we get into the meat of the interview, let me point you to the 2007 and 2008 winners of the Grantham Prize, two of the finest examples of environmental reporting you'll find, and both stellar in their use of multimedia. The 2007 piece from the LA Times covers the devastation we've unleashed on our oceans, and the 2008 winner from the NY Times dives into China's booming economy to see what the side effects are. And now, on with the show!

Bud Ward (foreground) and the Crystal Method's Ken Jordan at a Think Tank panel.

Jason Turgeon: For the readers of JamBase who probably don't know who you are, give us a brief bio.

Bud Ward: I edit a website on how the media cover global warming. That's my primary activity right now. I do a lot of training of journalists on covering climate change.

JT: And have you been happy with the way climate change has been covered the last couple of years?

BW: Well, I've been more happy in the last couple of years than I was previously. I think a big change is that the media has begun to focus on balancing evidence rather than balancing opinion. The earlier emphasis on balancing opinion gave equal time to a lot of opinion that wasn't scientifically based. I think more recently the media have begun to filter out the opinion, and particularly on covering the science issues, cover more of the evidence, not just the opinion. That's been a major change.

JT: In the music scene, we're kind of removed from this but it's finally coming to the point where we have festivals like this that are focusing on [climate change]. What can we as the media who are covering the music do to more effectively merge the two issues?

BW: I think one thing you can do is look back to the sixties. Look back to how the media covered the civil rights movement, look back to how they covered Vietnam. It's impossible for me as a sixty-year-old to think of growing up without the influence of Peter, Paul and Mary, and Woody Guthrie, and Bob Dylan and so forth. I had to laugh recently--I shouldn't say this--recently, my son-in-law and I were driving along and he mentioned Bob Seeger to me. And I said, "oh you mean Pete Seeger." And he said, "no, I mean Bob Seeger." Well I know who Bob Seeger is, but he said to me, "who's Pete Seeger." I was incredulous that he could not have heard of Pete Seeger, you know? I cut my teeth on him.

JT: Do you see any musicians that you've worked with here as being the new Pete Seegers for us?

BW: I've been very impressed with Michael Franti and Spearhead, not only with the music but the message that he delivered. Frankly, I had not been familiar with his music before. But he's the kind of artist that I've been introduced to here that I'll go back to iTunes and check out.

JT: Are you going to be able to see a show tonight?

BW: I sure am gonna be around. I'm going to catch as much of the music as I can. I enjoyed [Widespread Panic] last night. I enjoyed meeting [John Bell]. He and I were on a panel yesterday. He was very personable, very forgiving of me not having heard of his music. There again, I mentioned to my two sons-in-law, and they said if you have a choice to see Widespread Panic, definitely go. They were good.

JT: So is this your first music festival?

BW: It is the first. I missed Woodstock. Everyone my age wishes they'd gone to Woodstock. I'm not sure there will ever be another Woodstock, but this is as close as I'll ever come.

JT: Would you come back to something like this?

BW: Sure. I particularly appreciate the emphasis on a critical social issue. The global warming is phenomenally important issue. It's not only the most important environmental issue, in many ways it's the most important national security issue, it's the most important economic issue that our country faces, and it's a generational issue. My grandchildren and their grandchildren will be dealing with the aftermath if we don't handle this well and handle it quickly. It's a great issue to emphasize in this kind of forum.

JT: At an event like this, people really come here to have a good time. They don't want to be preached to. How are we doing with that? How do we strike a balance?

BW: The people who come to the workshops, the Think Tank meetings, have been kind of committed. I don't think we're converting many people, we're reinforcing them. Hopefully they'll go home with new ideas. We've tried to keep the message very upbeat and solutions oriented and opportunities oriented. The issue of global warming presents some enormous challenges, but also some enormous opportunities. So there are going to be real winners come out of this issue, and I hope many of these people here can be among the winners.

JT: If there was one thing you could tell the all these fans here, many of whom are just laymen with global warming and the environment in general, that was something doable for all these people, what would it be?

BW: I guess the first thing I would tell them is use transportation more strategically. If they have to make a trip and can combine three errands into one trip, it's a good idea. If they can walk or bicycle to it, if that's feasible for them, they should do it. If they can carpool or chainpool, that is combine errands into one trip, they should do it. There are other things that are obvious like the compact fluorescent bulbs that are clearly worth doing. Eating locally would be another key thing they could do.

JT: Are there any acts that you're looking forward to seeing?

BW: Of course I'm looking forward to seeing Dave Matthews, who I've heard so much about. That's the group I'm most familiar with. I'm also looking forward to seeing Citizen Cope. I've heard a lot about Citizen Cope, and my son-in-law won't forgive me if I miss [them]. I enjoyed the Drive-by-Truckers, I saw them yesterday and thought they were good. I especially appreciated learning about Spearhead.

JT: Is there anything you want to say to the younger, college-age community that makes up so much of this festival?

BW: Look for opportunities to combine doing well with doing good, because you can do both. This climate issue is going to be one of the biggest issues you're going to face in coming years. My generation hasn't done such a great job. We're looking for you to clean up after us. It's in your own best interests and you should do it. The other thing I wanted to do is put in a plug for Andy McKee. It's the most extraordinary technique I've ever seen. He's a spectacular guitar player and musician.

Bud put his own thoughts about Rothbury online here--they're worth checking out to see how it was perceived by someone outside of the festival scene. And how else could I close but with this a clip of Mr. McKee? Enjoy!