He’s traveled on chartered jumbo jets with Pope John Paul II, conversed with Martin Luther King, and covered 12 wars, six major political assassinations, eight hostage sieges, seven earthquakes, and even the marriage of Prince Charles and Lady Diana. Popes and wars, however, were just “apprenticeship,” says ABC News Correspondent Bill Blakemore ’65, for his most challenging story yet: global warming.
“I came to [global warming] late, having already covered all these natural disasters, terrorisms, volcanoes, politics and conflicts,” Blakemore said. “But I came to realize that these were child’s play compared to this story. It’s unprecedented.”
Blakemore’s work as a televised reporter for ABC News spans more than 35 years, bringing him from the World Trade Center on 9/11 to the streets of Baghdad just after the statue of Saddam Hussein toppled to the ground. His own story, however, has more humble beginnings.
As the child of academics growing up in the Midwest and a College of Letters (COL) major at Wesleyan, the 20-year old apolitical, theater kid would never have cast himself as an award-winning journalist. In his talk last Tuesday in the Memorial Chapel on the “Psychologies of Global Warming,” however, his story seemed to come full circle—in that same chapel, Blakemore played King Henry VIII alongside former President Colin Campbell (who was cast as Sir Thomas Moore). As a COL student in the early 1960s, he had also chatted with Martin Luther King in the chapel, just after the civil rights leader had given a speech at the University.
Upon graduating, Blakemore relocated to Beirut, Lebanon, where he taught literature and directed plays. Blakemore’s neighbors in Beirut first introduced him to the world of journalism—he served 14 years based overseas for ABC News including six years as ABC’s Rome Bureau Chief, as well as three years writing for the Christian Science Monitor.
“Having grown up in the academic world, when I suddenly discovered the intense deadline-driven, demanding world of journalism in 1970, I found it a refreshing antidote to some academic ways of thinking,” Blakemore said. “I went to COL which was already self-consciously interdisciplinary. The idea of connecting the stove pipes was already built into my way of thinking.”
Blakemore also stumbled upon his latest focus, global warming, late in the game. Within a month of reading and hearing about the effects of man-made global warming on the earth, he became determined to put global warming into the category of hard news. The many psychological dimensions of the global warming story—not only denial, resentment, collapsed time-sense, and uncertain guilt, but courage, group cooperation, and fascination with challenging problems—were the subjects of Tuesday’s lecture.
“Psychologists tell me that it is normal for people to respond to truly worrisome news with initial denial, that it’s the natural way to keep your act together and buy a little time, but that the important and healthy thing is then to start dealing with reality as soon as you are able,” Blakemore remarked during his talk. “We have the tendency to forget how the story of the little child who cried wolf ends—it ends with a wolf.”
According to a recent poll Blakemore cited during his talk, 19 percent of Americans identify as alarmed by the effects of global warming, 22 percent as concerned, 20 percent as cautious, 12 percent as unconcerned, 16 percent as doubtful, while 11 percent dismiss climate change altogether. With the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen (Dec. 7-18) looming, Blakemore’s job as a journalist is to report on all aspects—psychological, environmental, and otherwise—in the global warming story.
“The human race seems to have come a long way in the last five years in facing up to the unprecedented reality of global warming, and the world is beginning to awaken in a unified way,” he said. “Obama’s new chief science advisor has an interesting way of putting it: global warming means humans must now do three things—mitigate the warming, adapt to what they cannot prevent, and suffer—and the more we mitigate and adapt, the less we’ll have to suffer.”