A Conversation With Paul Rauber, Senior Editor of Sierra Magazine

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Rauber-Post.jpgA senior editor at Sierra magazine, a publication put out by the environmental organization that was founded by John Muir back in 1892, Paul Rauber spends his days thinking about -- and trying to get people interested -- in conservation. To that end, he's also released Strategic Ignorance: Why the Bush Administration Is Recklessly Destroying a Century of Environmental Progress through Sierra Club Books. Here, Rauber discusses how the rapidly falling price of solar power means it's nearly game over for dirty energy; why most people think nothing about flying long distances, which is one of the most environmentally damaging things we can do; and how electric vehicles that are charged by solar power at home will make an enormous impact.

What do you say when people ask you, "What do you do?"

I'm a senior editor at Sierra magazine. I try to make complicated environmental concepts clear and engaging for our readers.

What new idea or innovation is having the most significant impact on the sustainability world?

The rapidly falling price of solar power. Once it gets below fossil fuel it's game over for dirty energy.

What's something that most people just don't understand about your area of expertise?

Most people don't think about the orders of magnitude involved in environmental decision making. They obsess about choices that actually quite trivial -- paper vs. plastic, e.g., or paperback vs. e-reader -- while thinking nothing about flying long distances, which is about the most environmentally damaging thing you can do.

What's an emerging trend that you think will shake up the sustainability world?

Electric vehicles charged by home solar power. They're just starting to become available; when prices come down somewhat and they become more common, I think the impact will be enormous.

What's a sustainability trend that you wish would go away?

Locavorism. It's nice for people to grow their own food or purchase it from local farmers, but the environmental advantage of doing so is much smaller than we used to think.

What's an idea you became fascinated with but that ended up taking you off track?

Biofuels, especially corn ethanol. That turned out to be a big mistake. Also, the whole hydrogren thing. It seems like a weird dream now, how for a brief period of time so many people convinced themselves that storing energy in an untried form was the answer to our problems.

Who are three people or organizations that you would put in a Hall of Fame for your field?

Construing my field as environmental journalism, I'd say High Country news, which has offered an incredibly high level of regional reporting for decades; Elizabeth Kolbert of the New Yorker, who is the most authoritative environmental reporter of our age; and Bill McKibben, who has made an incredibly daring -- and successful! -- leap from reporting to activism.

What other field or occupation did you consider going into?

I've always wanted to work in a restaurant but have always realized that it's way too much work.

What website or app most helps you do your job on a daily basis?

Twitter. I'm fairly new to it but already find it indispensible to keeping current in my field.

What song's been stuck in your head lately?

"September Song," by Kurt Weill. I love its combination of melancholy and defiance.

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Nicholas Jackson is a former associate editor at The Atlantic.

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