‘Where are the green people?’

‘Where are the green people?’

Environmental activist to speak for NCJW

Betsy Rosenberg
Betsy Rosenberg

It should be a no-brainer — doing what’s necessary to ensure that our children and grandchildren have breathable air, drinkable water, and houses that don’t float into the ocean.

And yet.

For the past 20 years, activist, broadcast journalist, and self-described eco-maniac Betsy Rosenberg has been using every means at her disposal to reach the American public with this message. On April 19, she will share her thoughts on Zoom in an Earth Day program for the West Morris section of the National Council of Jewish Women.

Ms. Rosenberg’s mission — she calls it her e-mission — is to “break down the green ceiling, which is twice as thick as the glass ceiling,” she said. “You look at the TV and see black people more than ever, and brown people, but where are the green people?” She’s not talking about Martians, she said — she means environmental journalists and climate commentators. She has been pitching her ideas to major TV networks for years, but no one has taken her up on it.

She knows that an audience exists, Ms. Rosenberg said. Not only did she have a long-running, well-received radio program on KCBS — “TrashTalk: Sound Solutions for a Healthier Planet and People,” which launched in 1997 — but in 2004 the program morphed into an hour-long show with an interview format, becoming “EcoTalk,” the nation’s first syndicated sustainability show on commercial radio. The show was aired on 40 Air America stations across the country, she said.

“I went from being concerned about garbage to caring about global warming,” Ms. Rosenberg continued. In her hour-long show — check out the archives at betsyrosenberg.com — she interviewed environmental leaders in every field, from politics to science to the arts, “but my favorite were ordinary citizens doing extraordinary things.” Her mission, she said, was to interview people who cared about not wasting resources, who were doing “good green things.”

“It really bothers me how so many people have no consciousness of this, especially here, in our wealthy country,” she said. “We’re not so smart when it comes to looking generations down. It’s always felt inherently wrong.” And, she added, “we learn as Jews that if something’s wrong, you should fix it.”

While she has pursued other radio ventures, published many advocacy pieces, and taken up many speaking engagements, she has yet to get a TV gig. “It’s television where most Americans get their news,” she said. “So why not a segment on lightening your carbon footprint?” Earth Day programs alone will not do it. “We need nature more than it needs us,” she said. “Try going one day without air, food, and water.”

We need to cut our emissions by half by the year 2030, she said. Clearly, we’re failing miserably.

“Every day is Earth Day,” Ms. Rosenberg said. “It needs to be an ongoing thing. People who recycle think they’re doing enough. But the point is to get you more conscientious and doing something about it.” Jews, especially, should be motivated to fix what they can. The idea of tikkun olam mandates positive action to protect the environment.

“There’s a bias against green news,” Ms. Rosenberg said, pointing out that even Air America resisted featuring her show on prime time. (A fellow commentator, Rachel Maddow, hit the big time with her coverage of politics.)

Explaining why the word “chutzpah” features in the title of her upcoming NCJW presentation — “Climate Chutzpah: The Jewish Response to Climate Change” — Ms. Rosenberg said, “I have been relentless, challenging corporate media to do their job” — treating environmental news as if it matters. “They say I’m ‘too pushy.’”

While, she said, she has created solid proposals for environmental TV coverage, “hitting every network, pitching content,” she generally is told that while her ideas are good, an environmental series would not hold the interest of an audience. “It’s media malpractice,” she said. “They need to show people why it matters, but they put it last. I think it’s criminal.”

Asked if young people might prove a more receptive audience, Ms. Rosenberg said, “They already get it. They’ll educate each other, and by the time they’re the ones with power, it will be too late. That’s why I’m so adamant about TV news with a demographic of 45 to 70. We should be doing everything we can.”

Ms. Rosenberg, who grew up in California “and was raised in Saratoga before it was Silicon Valley,” said that she thinks her environmental ethic is a result of a “green gene. It came with me. In third grade it bothered me that kids threw out their lunches. It felt wrong.

“I have an extra ‘W’ chromosome. I hate waste.”

She began her radio show 10 years after her daughter Jenna was born. While she probably has had some impact on her daughter’s environmental bent, she understated, Jenna has taken independent steps to address the problem. Since her teenage years, she has been involved with a movement called Turning Green, whose members use no make-up. Ms. Rosenberg and her husband, Alan, also have two sons.

While she has been asked to avoid the issue of politics in her upcoming presentation, she does often tell her audience, “Don’t vote for a politician who does not believe in science.” She acknowledges that “no one has to be as strident” as she has become, but points out that “If our country were built with the environment in mind, it would be so much easier.” It’s not any one person’s fault that the world is in the state it is, “but it needs to start with us and go far beyond it.”

Among her most challenging experiences have been her appearances on Fox News with Sean Hannity, Ms. Rosenberg said. “He yells at me and I yell louder,” she said. “It’s a slugfest.” Only once did she lose it. “I laid into him, telling him we were living in the middle of a humanitarian crisis and that he was on the wrong side of history. When I told him I would go after his advertisers, they cut me off.”

During the upcoming Zoom presentation, Ms. Rosenberg will offer her listeners “10 ways to green your routine and suggest Jewish climate organizations they might support.” She said people also can stay in touch with her, and noted that she has thousands of interviews on her website. “Even the content that is 12 to 15 years old is still news to most Americans,” she said.

And while she admits to “being a little bit nuts” when it comes to environmental advocacy, she wants people to know that “I’m coming from a place of caring and commitment.”

Who: National broadcast journalist and a green media trailblazer Betsy Rosenberg

What: Will present an Earth Day program titled “Climate Chutzpah: The Jewish Response to Climate Change”

When: On Monday, April 19, at 7 p.m.

How: Registration for this free virtual program is required. To register, email debra910@aol.com.

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