Award-winning national broadcast journalist and co-founder, host and producer of Green TV, Betsy Rosenberg, focused on getting corporate media to pay attention to the climate crisis for years and felt alone in her mission. Undaunted, her feelings about the crisis motivated her to persist. Now she’s finding more liked-minded people with a similar vision to have a media outlet – GreenTV.com – devoted to climate solutions. GreenTV.com highlights climate solution entrepreneurs who Betsy calls Solutionaries.
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Matt Schlegel: Thanks for joining me in conversations with leaders who are engaging with their feelings as a leadership tool for both inspiration and motivation. Today, I’m speaking with award-winning national broadcast journalist, Betsy Rosenberg, who now hosts and produces greentv.com. Betsy provides ways for her audience to take action to address the climate crisis. And now for the conversation. I’m delighted to be speaking with Betsy Rosenberg, co-founder, host, and producer of GreenTV. Betsy is an award-winning national broadcast journalist who spent the first half of her career as a reporter and anchor with the CBS Radio News network. In 1997, Betsy launched Trash Talk minutes, the first green programming to air on a corporate media outlet. Betsy’s also a writer having written many articles and contributed to the book Climate Abandoned: We’re on the Endangered List. Her latest project greentv.com focuses on presenting actionable solutions to the climate crisis. Betsy, thank you for joining me today, and welcome.
Betsy Rosenberg: Thank you so much, Matt, for having me. It’s been fun being friends on Facebook but face-to-face is always much better.
Matt Schlegel: Yes, indeed, indeed. Well, I’d like to start off and just ask you how you’re feeling now about the climate crisis?
Betsy Rosenberg: That’s probably the biggest question you could ask. Because if you ask me how I feel about my daughter, who’s getting married this year, it’s love, love, love. Okay, next question, climate. Wow, it’s complicated, isn’t it? It’s a love-hate relationship. I am as passionate as the day I started. And as you mentioned, I started out with garbage and then moved to global warming and thought, wow, that’s even more scary and important than what’s going into our landfills, what’s coming out of our tailpipes and factory pipes. And I’ve been covering it a long time. It’s been a long, lonely, expensive, frustrating beat, but at the same time the most exciting educating experience I’ve ever had, and that’s because I’ve been interviewing what I call the solutionaries. People who are in the forefront of their greenfield and that everybody, not just climate but oceans, and plastic, and food, and fashion, and energy, and the economy, and everything under the sun because everything needs to change.
We need to transition to a much more sustainable energy system economy. We’re really at that moment right now as an inflection point where people are starting to wake up and smell the carbon, as I say, and we need to get off our gases and we need to do it yesterday. And it’s no small job and it’s not going to be easy. How do I feel right now? Good news, bad news. The good news is the bad news. The bad news is, extreme weather can no longer be denied, it cannot be ignored, even though there’s still some who are trying. We can maybe touch on that. I call them the deniasaurs, shame on them, especially at this moment. The middle of 2022 with record heat waves, and droughts, and floods, and that’s just in the last two weeks.
At this moment, people are starting to be appropriately concerned and that’s the good news, but it’s too bad it took the bad news. Meaning, the extreme weather that was predicted for decades down the road by climate scientists is here already. That scares that you know what out of me, and I’m sure you and everybody who’s working in this area. So I guess we’re going to get it all over with quickly. Either the transition or the end.
Matt Schlegel: Well, so you just used the word scared. And when I hear that word scared, I think of anxiety. What I’ve found is that there are really three main feelings that people come to the climate crisis with. It’s either sadness or grief, depression, that’s one category. The other one is-
Betsy Rosenberg: I feel that, by the way, daily. I feel all that too.
Matt Schlegel: Right. The other one is anger. And then the other one is anxiety. It’s uh.
Betsy Rosenberg: Nothing good, nothing good. Well, that’s not true, there is some … We’ll get to them.
Matt Schlegel: And I think people who’ve been in this for a long time cycle through all of these. But what would you say is your starting point? Which one do you think really drives you?
Betsy Rosenberg: The passion comes from, it’s just not okay to let this precious planet die, and especially on our watch. I’m a baby boomer, young end of baby boomers. And when I was growing up we were hiding under our desk fear of nuclear bombs, that was the big threat. Those desks would’ve probably not done much, but now we have a much more real present danger and it’s coming from us. And it’s not our fault, we humans, we didn’t know what we brought. But now that we know it should be stop the processes, the government should be handing out solar panels. It should just be all hands on decks. The fact that in a big way we’re not there yet, it’ll be real interesting to see what happens next. Are we going to really ramp up quickly like we need to because it is late in the game? That part drives me crazy.
I’m not afraid from my life because I probably … No, I won’t say the worst of it, but I have a daughter who’s 27 getting married this year, and hopes to have a child or two. She was an only child so I certainly wanted a grandchild or two. I have such dread. And then I get angry especially because of the deniasaurs still in media saying, “It’s a hoax, it’s good for you,” and all that crap. My daughter’s a first-world privileged person. Think of the people in the global south. I get so angry and I just say, “This is just not okay.”
And it’s not okay that my former industry, broadcast news, for so long, too long was silent really. You would barely hear climate change mentioned. Now they do. It’s almost like they’re so proud of themselves that they discovered its news. I could’ve told you that when I was pitching you a show on solutions CNN seven years ago, five years ago, three years ago. NBC two years ago. But okay. They really resisted, that’s another part of the story. But the fact that it is finally getting covered but not nearly enough. It’s really the tip of the melting iceberg as I say.
I’ve done some 1200 radio shows that adds up to a crazy number. 4,500 interviews during the last 20 years. Where was CNN? They had much more access than little old Betsy Rosenberg to these stories, to these guests. And the fact that I’ve been pitching them, including directly to Jeff Zucker twice at Sundance, cornered him in the CNN VIP lounge. There’s arrogance there and there’s ignorance there. They don’t know what they don’t know. They don’t think it’s going to be popular, they don’t want to alienate their fossil fuel advertisers. So they’re covering it more now than they did but it’s not nearly enough. And to show them that we started GreenTV, which we’re hoping will be a 24/7 green news network, GNN, and we’ll show them how much they’re missing. Let’s see, what was I answering?
Matt Schlegel: Well, no, no. I mean, that’s perfect. I mean, you really led right into what my next question was going to be. You’re having all these feelings and you’ve gone through all of these cycles. How are they guiding you today? How are you directing that passion that you’re having and where are you putting that energy into?
Betsy Rosenberg: Well, the good news, Matt, for me is I was doing it alone for all those years and that was really hard. Everyone from friends to family just thought, oh, that’s really nice that you’re doing that, Betsy. Although my family not so much, they thought I went off the deep end which I guess I did. Because once you know what you know it’s hard to make anything else important other than loved ones, family. And for a while, they didn’t know, but I said, “No, you guys are my,” … This is why I’m doing it, I’m doing it for my daughter’s future grandchildren, everybody’s future grandchildren.
What has really kept me going is again, this is just not okay. But the fact that people are waking up now and the fact that I have found a team, GreenTV found me about a year ago. And so we have group of 10 volunteers, two young college interns, the rest of us all have experience in environmental work in some capacity, some production experience, some journalist experience, and together we’re growing. Everyone who comes is invited to our meetings because they have a similar vision, It joins up. It’s sort of like the pied piper. So we know we’ve got something that’s needed right now and that’s exciting. So that’s the positive part of the last long, lonely, expensive two and a half decades.
Matt Schlegel: Right. Thank you so much for your persistence and your ability to work through all these feelings that you’ve had and end up being so energized and productive out of it. I’m like what is your secret for doing that because-
Betsy Rosenberg: You don’t want it, you don’t want to know.
Matt Schlegel: I want some of that.
Betsy Rosenberg: You do not want to know. It’s a double-edged sword this passion really so I can’t turn it off, okay. Even if I wanted to, and I’ve at times thought this is crazy I didn’t choose this, it chose me. I didn’t plan to do this the rest of my career. I didn’t plan to spend a small fortune, all my savings and then some, and had to move to Texas because we spent a lot. We lived in the Bay Area. I mean, that’s the level of dedication and it’s not unique to me. Like I said, once you know. So thank you for acknowledging it. And there’s plenty of people who are equally passionate and dedicated. I think I’m really the only one in mainstream media who has been really banging on the door for this long because if there was anybody else I would’ve teamed up with them long ago happily.
So I really pride myself on having been a real thorn in the side of the network news executives who, in my opinion, are not leaders at all. They’re just wrong to make it a popularity thing. Pull show people who aren’t interested in climate change. I pitched to CNN a series for their original series department, meet the solutionaries, where we’d go all across the country. What I’m doing now but on Zoom because of COVID, and interview the people who are in the forefront of their fields who are absolutely excited, jazzed up, just so passionate, and charming, and knowledgeable, and we should be tapping into their wisdom now. So that’s what I offered them and they said, “No, we don’t think our viewers would be interested in the six-part series on the environment.” I said, “How do you know because you’ve never had it?” And I had a show on Air America, which probably nobody remembers, but it was a liberal radio network. Someone named Rachel Maddow was on opposite. One of us went on to TV fame and fortune.
Matt Schlegel: I still listen to Sam Seder.
Betsy Rosenberg: Oh my God. Okay. Sam was on there. Frank, Frank, Frank, Frank. Al Franken was on there and a few other people. Janeane Garofalo. That was 2004 to 2007. I had a show called Eco Talk and it was one hour of two or three segments so I’d find people to interview, and I never had a shortage and I will never have a shortage because there’s so many problems, and there’s so many solutions, and there’s so many wonderful solutionaries who know exactly what we need to do. And the fact that they’ve not been introduced to the mainstream public other than an occasional TV interview or maybe a earth day longer segment, it’s not even a show, though we did one on climate change Earth Day a year or two ago. It can’t be once a year.
We plan mother earth every day, every hour, every minute. If you don’t believe me, try going without food, air, or water, get back to me. It’s just insanely out of proportion to not only the size of the problem, challenge, which is epic but the importance of it. I mean, it almost sounds ridiculous. We’ve got humanity is hanging in the balance. Hello, can anyone stop tennis or lunch or whatever job you hate, come join us we need you. It’s been surreal for sure. The good news is, as people wake up, those of us who have been not able to sleep and lying awake too much are going okay, okay, thank you, come aboard, now we can get a little more sleep because you’re getting a little less sleep. And if everybody did their little part we could turn it around. No, it’s too late to stop climate change, we could slow the worst of it.
And it’s not just climate, it’s the oceans, its extinction, its biodiversity, it’s our food system. Water is the new oil. We’ve been saying that for 20 years, now it’s happening. I was in Italy last month, and we’ve been lucky enough to travel there a few times. I was on a panel there about immobility and the transition to the electric grid because it was utility companies and oil and gas managers. That was an interesting audience, not my usual. I could not even enjoy going out to dinner because the river-
Matt Schlegel: It’s completely dry.
Betsy Rosenberg: That usually runs through Rome is almost dry. And I saw that and know what it pretends, not that I’m the only one, but I just was sick to my stomach. I lost my appetite, I really couldn’t even eat. Pizza and pasta in Italy. I mean, it was alarming. The day of our panel, which was Wednesday, June 22nd, the Italian government announced a state of … What do they call it? Not emergency but something with the state. State of calamity, I guess that’s the translation. It is extreme. And that was before the second major heat wave. And while we were away, of course, it was happening in the states and we’ve since had another one. I live in Texas now, and it’s been in the triple digits for the last two or three weeks. Luckily for me, I’m not there.
It’s dangerous, it’s scary, it’s happening. The government should be handing out solar panels. It should be really stop all other news, this is the story. Because you know what? If we don’t get this right nothing’s going to matter, not our abortion and gun control. Important issues but there’s no good gun control on a bad planet. There’s no good economy on a bad planet. There’s no good anything on a bad planet. And we’re turning a incredibly good one into something that we’re not going to recognize. Our children and grandchildren may not recognize, a barren landscape. That makes me angry, and sad and fires me up no end.
Matt Schlegel: Yes. Well, I’m glad to hear it, and I’m glad you’re still in the fight and continuing this. So what I’d like to do then is ask you, what advice would you give to leaders and aspiring leaders who are starting to have their own feelings about climate, and starting to wake up to climate reality? And maybe you could answer that, in general, but maybe you could answer that specifically for journalists and people in media who are now … They’re already in that system, and they’re having these feelings. What would you recommend that they do?
Betsy Rosenberg: I always say listen because I did radio for so long. This is going to sound like a shameless plug but none of us get paid, this is not about me. Watch GreenTV because we have interviews with the leaders in their fields and that’s a start because I’ve learned so much from the people that I interview and we have fun with it. We laugh, we cry. But okay, that’s a half-serious answer. Beyond that, welcome, thank you, we’ve been waiting for you, where have you been? The cavalry is starting to arrive. This is the biggest story you’ll ever cover, nothing else will compare. It’s not your imagination that it’s overwhelming. Acknowledge that. It’s not your imagination that you’ve wondered where you’ve been and where your editors have been all these years. The last 20, 25 years that some of us have been talking about it and it seems like nobody’s been listening, but it’s not too late, it’s not too late at all.
Not an ounce of emission but a ton of emissions makes a difference. Don’t think that it’s oh, it’s too late because it feels like we went as a society, not just in this country but especially here, oh, problem what problems? Especially certain politicians. To oh, it’s too late we’re screwed. Of course, Betsy. I’m naive because I think there’s hope. Oh really, did we give up on the next generation? I missed that memo that said, “Nothing’s going to be left for our kids and grandkids.” Just know, especially you journalists new to the climate or environmental beat, you’re on the most important beat there is. I couldn’t understand for years, where is everybody? I wasn’t the only one, but in broadcast media, I was for many, many years.
It’s just, unfortunately, a lot of right-wing media has really obscured and continues to try to downplay the dangers and that makes me madder than anything. I’ve been on Sean Hannity 15 times, and most recently up against a deniasaur named Alex Epstein on NewsNation who has written two books about the rosy future of fossil fuels. That, unfortunately, is part of the reason that journalists are now just getting assigned the climate beat when it should have been something that was clearly real years and years ago. It’s all connected in my mind anyway, connect all these dots. But know that it’s important, know that you need to take self-take breaks and self-care. What do I mean by that? Exercise, deep breaths, all the usual things. Yoga, meditation, therapy, whatever it takes. But mostly know that you’re part of a community, and it’s a growing community.
I get choked up because the people who do this work, it’s hard. It’s really hard. Because when I think about what my daughter’s poor children or child, what year it will be, 2030, 2050, and if we continue with business as usual, which will be the worst case scenario, it’s going to be a very, very tough life. And the thought of starting new life at this point in our civilization where it really feels like the beginning of the end. I used to think I was maybe overly dramatic, I’m reading too much, I’m immersed in it. I have a personality that scans the horizon for signs of trouble because of my upbringing. But then I’m reading and hearing so many people saying, “No, it is as bad as you think.” It’s like oh, I really thought it was me exaggerating it.
Just we need you, we need everybody. I say there’s a way to put a green twist on any job you’re in. If it’s building, go to green buildings. If it’s law, be an environmental lawyer. If it’s nutritionists, look into plant-based diets. If you’re a physician, look at integrated medicine. All the things that are much more in touch with nature and much healthier. And whatever it is, I can give you a green tip. And when I talk to college students like that because they’re so used to oh, this climate change lady’s going to come depress us even more. I say two things. One, I’m giving you a green lead. I’m getting out in front of the elephant and it’s a divot and it’s going to happen so be ready. You’ll have future secure position and career because we’re here as far as sustainability goes and we have to go here. I say to them, “If you hope to have children, and you’re going to be in demand, you just are so get ready for it.” And they get excited about that.
And the other thing I say is, “Go home and tell your parents to get off their couches and get off their gases.” And this is where Bill McKibben and I had this in common. That people my age, 50s, 60s, 70s … I’m not close to retiring but some people are, and they have more time and money, and especially parents and grandparents. Don’t just take up golf, don’t just take up Mahjong, take up the planet, take up doing your part to undo some of the damage that we as a generation and prior have done, but we’ve known about it for at least 20, 30 years since James Hansen testified in Congress in 1988. I’m all over the map here, Matt.
Matt Schlegel: No, you’re not, you’re actually spot on. I mean, it was just brilliant all of the great suggestions that you provided us here.
Betsy Rosenberg: You will not be wasting your time. I guess that’s what I want to say to anybody who puts a twist of lime, a green tint on their careers. The most important thing you could do. And by the way, thank you for your 420 parts per million because I do a random quiz when I am speaking or talking to friends who are not green. I say, “How many parts per million of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere do you think there? Who’s Bill McKibben? Which extinction are we in the middle of?” I mean, I think it’s funny.
Matt Schlegel: We just need to get the word out.
Betsy Rosenberg: Okay, let’s-
Matt Schlegel: It’s really hard.
Betsy Rosenberg: Let’s get to that. Let’s get to that.
Matt Schlegel: Our media environment just is not conducive to these types of conversations. And you are so spot on when you say, one, we can start now, and any action we take now will help us reduce-
Betsy Rosenberg: Absolutely makes a difference.
Matt Schlegel: The problem later. And if we all did that it would just that much better.
Betsy Rosenberg: And your families, and your friends, and neighbors will see you. We put our solar panels on in our neighborhood in Texas, we had to fight our neighbors for it. We live in oil and gas country, Hill Country. But then another neighbor came to us and said, “Oh, tell us about your solar panels.” We have electric cars, and we started to see more electric cars in the neighborhood. We’re social creatures, and it really does matter. Even if you can’t change your career, it’s what you do. And talk about it everywhere you go. We all need to be ambassadors.
Matt Schlegel: Thank you again, Betsy, I really appreciate your time today. And thanks again for all your efforts.
Betsy Rosenberg: Likewise. And I want to tell everybody to go forth and greenify. Whatever that means, make it greener. Thanks.
Matt Schlegel: Thanks for listening. Betsy’s focused her career on getting corporate media to pay attention to the climate crisis, and she’s done that for years now and felt alone in her mission. Now she feels like she’s finding more like-minded people who have a similar vision to have a media outlet devoted to climate solutions. Please help by subscribing to greentv.com to get her channel to 1,000 subscribers so that she can start live streaming her content. I’ve put the link to the greentv.com channel in the show notes. If you found this conversation helpful, please click on the thumbs-up button and subscribe to our channel to get notification of future episodes. And if you have any questions, please leave them in the comments section and I’ll respond as soon as I can. Thanks again.