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‘Investing in Zero’ podcast with Corbin Hiar

23 Aug 2021

By Andy Vesey

On my recent episode of Investing in Zero, I was thrilled to speak with Corbin Hiar, a climate and business reporter at E&E News. Since joining in 2014, Corbin’s work has been honored by the Society of Environmental Journalists, the National Press Club and the Society of Professional Journalists. He’s been published by publications including Scientific American, Science magazine and The Economist

As one of the sharpest minds in investigative and analytical reporting, it was fascinating to gain Corbin’s insights into the issues of accountability around climate change and the challenges he’s faced as a journalist within this age of disinformation. To begin, Corbin detailed how he organically discovered his professional path in covering companies’ impact on our environs through covering public health issues across the United States, from a refinery town in Southeast New Mexico to one of the oldest Superfund sites in New Jersey. 

We noted the duality of his journalistic work, which balances local coverage of the impact of climate change with macro-level data, such as coverage of NASA’s plan to gather global data on climate change via satellite. Corbin holds that good data is essential to puzzling out how we should react at local, national and international levels, allowing better understanding of the Earth-atmosphere energy balance while improving the prediction of severe weather events. 

Learning how NASA is fostering growth in the private sector of the space industry to help progress their massive project brought us to note how such private-public partnership will be essential if we are to meet the goals set out in the Paris Agreement to reach collectively net zero emissions by 2050. Corbin believes it’s his responsibility—and that of the press on a grander scale—to hold both corporations and the government accountable and ensure we are all “working furiously” towards these goals. We discussed the scale of the climate crisis as historically unprecedented, and therefore deserving of an unprecedented level of collaboration across technology, policy, individual and governmental action. 

Aptly, a similar need for such large-scale collaboration has manifested in our international struggle with COVID over the past year. We discussed how the pandemic has demonstrated how difficult it is to address an issue requiring cooperation and fundamental shifts in the way people are accustomed to living, while also highlighting the hot-button issue of disinformation, which has deeply impacted the handling—or mishandling—of COVID. Corbin sees disinformation as greater than any one topic—be it the pandemic or climate change—but rather a wider sign that our information ecosystem is deeply broken. He believes journalists will struggle to break through the noise of disinformation until we address those actively contributing to its amplification, from fossil fuel companies who benefit from skepticism to social media platforms, who profit from encouraging outrage in online echo chambers, where misinformation festers. 

We then pivoted to Corbin’s recent award-winning coverage of climate contractions in tech companies, which had largely slipped under the journalistic radar in being held accountable. Corbin’s reporting revealed how Silicon Valley behemoths like Amazon are “talking the talk” in fighting climate change but ultimately fail to support this issue on a policy level, investing the bulk of their lobbying clout towards issues holding more importance to their bottom line, like antitrust regulations. We discussed potential shifts that could encourage companies to act, such as the government’s hopeful move towards environmental leadership, which could be dampened by Republican opposition, and changing investor sentiment that climate change is an investment risk that needs to be confronted. 

When asked his perspective on our future, Corbin admitted his “indecisive journalist’s mindset” would not allow him to choose a pessimistic or optimistic outlook. Instead, he ended by simply stating: we’re here, we have to make the best of the world we have, and it’s up to us all to do whatever we can to preserve it for ourselves and future generations. In the end, it was an illuminating conversation with a man dedicated to using trustworthy information to inform the public and encourage real progress. 

 

Please listen to the episode here.

 


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