Jeff Corwin met with media prior to delivering his lecture on Wednesday at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Conservationist and animal expert Jeff Corwin discussed his views on climate change, poor environmental issues coverage, his influence from New England and his most recent television endeavor on Wednesday before delivering this year's Hardman Lecture at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts.
Corwin currently produces and hosts "Ocean Mysteries with Jeff Corwin," which airs on ABC on Saturday mornings.
The Emmy Award-winning host grew up in Norwell and currently lives with his family on an island off Plymouth County. He received a bachelor's degree in biology and anthropology from Bridgewater State College, and a master's in wildlife and fisheries conservation from University of Massachusetts at Amherst.
QUESTION: How has growing up in New England influenced your career?
ANSWER: I think it's had a huge influence on my career, especially now with my current series on ABC, "Ocean Mysteries." I really like trying to do New England shows... In fact, this Saturday is a New England show when we work with the Mass. Department of Fishing and Wildlife, and bald eagles... I've come to really appreciate what New England has to offer when it comes to habitat and wildlife.
And this job, I can pretty much live anywhere because you're going to have to go to [far] places no matter where you are and I'm glad I stayed in New England, I'm glad this is the place I chose to be and to raise my family ...
I live in the coast and I live in a little island off Plymouth County and our waters are cleaner and more pristine than they were 30 years ago. You can see that in this region, for good and bad reasons rivers are healthier here than they were during the boom of the industrial period in this part of Massachusetts.
There's a lot to celebrate, there's a lot we are challenged with but new England plays a big part in what I do and again, as a dad, raising my kids... I love raising my kids here, in this part of the world.
Q: So I was reading an article this week about population decline in moose and other species, just from climate change. What's your take on that?
A: Well, climate change is very, very real and unfortunately we are handicapped because we like to think if we have this sort of timeless look upon changes in our planet, but really, it's crippled by maybe an 80-year-window to do that in. So we look at everything in the constructs of our own life and you know, climate change happens through a multigenerational process. It's happening far faster than we believed it would have just from the 1980s.
And I would say, you know for people who always have that argument, 'What causes climate change, is it really happening?' and we can prove how climate change happens because we can go sample the atmosphere and 10,000 years of ice, compare that, and literally have a timeline of air and look at the industrial revolution, the increase of greenhouse gases and correlate the changes and the warming of our planet. And I would say to people, 'If you're really looking for someone who will sell you on the reality of climate change, yeah, you can go to some super-open-minded liberal environmental person or you could go to a real socially conservative fisherman in Alaska and he will tell you how climate change has impacted his family, their lifestyle, while his village has to be relocated because the permafrost is no longer permanent."
So front lines are where we're seeing the climate change happening, in our oceans, and in our polar regions, especially the Arctic. Around the world, I just came back from a film shoot in Tahiti, and you can see how these little islands don't really have much to go. When it comes to an increase of sea level, they're reading the writing on the wall.
And climate change has an effect on wildlife, especially moose. You notice — in some areas moose population are actually increasing, which is great — but in other areas they're decreasing, and the way they connect to climate change, No. 1, how they maintain their body temperature, and No. 2, what they're eating. As plants evolve to deal with climate change, they're actually getting these thick, waxy cuticle layers... And the moose are now spending more energy to digest those plants than they're getting from those plants.
But it's very, very real, and I think it will be, has become, one of the great contributors to extinction. Today, many scientists believe [we're in] what is called the sixth extinction and climate change is a big part of it.
Q: As an environmental journalist, how do you perceive a lot of nature media outlets coverage on climate change?
A: Terrible. I've done environmental correspondence work for ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN. I've hosted big specials with Anderson Cooper, you know, "Planet in Peril" and stuff like that. And it was so interesting to me that during this [presidential] debate... there was not one environmental question. There was not one question about endangered species, there was not one question about climate change. I watched all the debates and I don't ever remember a significant, real question. There was questions about energy. There was no questions about the future of habitat and wildlife in our country and beyond its borders. To me, that's our fault. It's not just the media. It's our fault because we didn't make that a priority for us. So I would say we're not great at that.
I would consider myself very lucky. The ABC series I host right now is very popular, does really well and it follows that sort of traditional path, the ultimate journey, the ultimate adventure to get to this, you know, amazing once-in-a-lifetime wildlife moment and that probably has a conservation or research side to it. So this is kind of the formula I've used in various manifestations for almost 20 years of my career, from Animal Planet to ABC to NBC.
But if you watch TV, my series is one of the last shows that does this... It's just a classic nature journey and most networks don't offer that anymore... It's because it's bread and circus, it's what people want. People get what they want.
And I feel really lucky we have those ratings... We are the No. 1 show in our time block, probably a [top three] rated show when it comes to an animal in the show, wildlife shows. But we're one of the few shows that doesn't involve some crazy guy shooting something or wrangling something ...
I was asked to host a show, a very serious ask, very recently ... about going out with a group to do a scientific evaluation ... to judge folks out there trying to find Bigfoot. In a way it's kind of funny and in a way it's kind of sad.
Q: What are you going to be talking about tonight?
A: Well, I really enjoy these groups, especially when I can be in bed in my own house tonight. I enjoy them because it's a great way to connect with people who allow you to do what you do. And it's a combination, it's a hybrid conversation about the fun moments, the scary moments, the magical moments on the road but ultimately how all that meets together to tell the story of where we are in our planet with wildlife and habitat and ultimately what we can all do to make a difference when it comes for stewardship for our natural resources and the price we pay if we don't, if we're not successful.