Thank you Meryl Streep, for those generous words. I have been in the front rowof your fan club ever since 1978 when Judith and I sat literally in the front row at the Joseph Papp Public Theater for your extraordinary performance of "Alice in Concert." I have admired you not only for your acumen as an actress but because of your commitments as a citizen. I know acting is hard work-that you have to go deep into yourself to become someone else. But it takes a special kind of courage to live out the calling of a citizen, to be yourself when you are not acting and to take a public stand on a vital issue. You have set the bar for that kind of citizenship, and I thank you for it.
And the Center has set the bar, too, for taking the measure of what is happening to human beings because of environmental changes. We journalists are simply beachcombers on the shores of other people's knowledge, other people's experience, and other people's wisdom. There would be little good journalism about the environment if there were no environmental scientists, advocates, and activists. We tell their stories.
The journalist who truly deserves this award is my friend, Bill McKibben. Heenjoys the most conspicuous place in my own pantheon of journalistic heroes for his pioneer work in writing about the environment. His bestseller "The End of Nature" carried on where Rachel Carson's "Silent Spring" left off.
Writing in "Mother Jones" recently, Bill described how the problems we journalists routinely cover-conventional, manageable programs like budget shortfalls and pollution-may be about to convert to chaotic, unpredictable, unmanageable situations. The most unmanageable of all, he writes, could be the accelerating deterioration of the environment, creating perils with huge momentum like the greenhouse effect that is causing the melt of the Arctic to release so much freshwater into the North Atlantic that even the Pentagon is growing alarmed that a weakening gulf stream could yield abrupt and overwhelming changes, the kind of changes that could radically alter civilizations.
That's one challenge we journalists face-how to tell such a story without coming across as Cassandras, without turning off the people we most want to understand what's happening, who must act on what they read and hear.
As difficult as it is, however, for journalists to fashion a readable narrative for complex issues without depressing our readers and viewers, there is an even harder challenge-to pierce the ideology that governs official policy today. One of the biggest changes in politics in my lifetime is that the delusional is no longer marginal. It has come in from the fringe, to sit in the seat of power in the Oval Office and in Congress. For the first time in our history ideology and theology hold a monopoly of power in Washington.
Theology asserts propositions that cannot be proven true; ideologues hold stoutly to a world view despite being contradicted by what is generally accepted as reality. When ideology and theology couple, their offspring are not always bad but they are always blind. And there is the danger: voters and politicians alike, oblivious to the facts.
Remember James Watt, President Reagan's first Secretary of the Interior? Myfavorite online environmental journal, the ever engaging Grist, reminded us recently of how James Watt told the U.S. Congress that protecting natural resources was unimportant in light of the imminent return of Jesus Christ. In public testimony he said, "After the last tree is felled, Christ will come back." [Editor's note: This quote attributed to James Watt has been researched by Grist and found to be incorrect. Both Grist and Moyers have issued corrections.]
Beltway elites snickered. The press corps didn't know what he was talking about.But James Watt was serious. So were his compatriots out across the country. They are the people who believe the Bible is literally true - one third of the American electorate, if a recent Gallup poll is accurate. In this past election several million good and decent citizens went to the polls believing in the rapture index. That's right - the rapture index.