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The childhood you had is becoming more and more rare in the U.S. The younger generation so key to solving global warming is growing up increasingly divorced from nature. Does that worry you?
A little bit, but it's pretty heartening when you're out West and you see people pouring into the region. Even in the East, you see the Appalachian Trail still get a lot of traffic, so I'm not that concerned. What does worry me is the younger generation thinking that all the answers can be found on a small screen or a keyboard. You won't solve this problem by hitting "delete." It takes boots on the ground and animated thinking. (See pictures of Tom Brokaw.)
What kind of impact do you think President Barack Obama will have on this shift to greener behavior?
He has to get through the economy first. I don't know whether he's taking on too much. I think this past week might be a lesson for him. They are starting to hear from their extended family financial advisers. Not people in the White House but those who are saying, "If this is war, you need all the boots on the ground you have." When Warren Buffet says that this is economic Pearl Harbor, he's raising the flag. I was with a very senior person in their wider counsel recently, and he said they aren't going far enough, fast enough. If you don't get consumer confidence back in the economy and there is this paralysis, it's hard to move on to other areas, like health care or education.
Do you see any similarities between the events that brought us into the recession and the factors that are driving climate change?
I do there's a lot of excess in both. We are all guilty present company included. I had a rare interview with Henry Ford II when he was still alive running the car company in the 1970s. I said to him, "I'm hearing from Ford dealers who say they want more economical cars during the energy crisis and you're not producing them." And Ford said, "I want to tell you something about the auto industry. The American driver want to put his foot down and go as fast as possible." So the car industry has been wrong in the past. (See the 50 worst cars of all time.)
What kind of green changes have you made in your own lifestyle?
We have solar energy on the ranch in Montana, and it's worked out really well. My wife is on a real kick. I think the whole hybrid thing is ridiculously out of hand, but we have three hybrids one for ourselves, and two for our daughters. I walk out of stores without plastic bags. My wife carries one in her purse. I just stuff everything into my pockets and ask the clerk not to arrest me.
Given all that you've seen in a lifetime of reporting, are you hopeful that we'll be able to tackle climate change?
I'm not sure. I've seen a lot of good things. When we used to go to the Black Hills as a child, to the creeks near the Homestead gold mine, and my parents would warn me away from the water because it was so polluted from the runoff. But it's gotten much better since then. We've cleaned up the air in Los Angeles. I really do detect a big appetite now for making profound changes.