The historical intersection of communications and environment is my passion and main topic. I studied history of media and history of technology as a grad student because I encountered a good many interested questions while covering capital hill in Washington DC during the great energy crisis of the 20th century. That experience convinced me that journalists who write about orphaned historical topics have an ethical responsibility to continue their research. — Bill Kovarik
Interviews & panels (2012-13)
- ”With Good Reason” show about the Golden Age of Radio, Jan. 19, 2013. Also see the “Radio Time Machine” page which is part of the Revolutions in Communication book page.
- SEJ conference, Lubbock Texas, October 2012,Reporting wind power tour, book publishing panel.
- American Chemical Society conference, Pittsburgh PA, October, panel on the media and Rachel Carson
- Hollins University Writers Conference, January 2012 and 2013, on technology and writing
- Associated Press, May – June, 2012 “Killings of Environmentalists appear to be on the rise.”
- Pat Morrison program, KPCC radio Los Angeles July 3, 2012
- “Dark Matters” Science / Discovery Channel, Windmill Studios, Brooklyn, August 5, 2012
- Daily Climate - Climate change hot list
- Daily Climate – Climate change reporting down
- Louisville Courier Journal – Climate Coverage down from past years
- Columbia Journalism Review — The Observatory
- Climate Central – Climate coverage still down
- Inside Climate News – New York Times abandons environment unit
- Neil Young, Waging Heavy Peace, p. 22
Articles & Collaborations (2012-2013)
- Contributor to European Environment Agency’s “Late Lessons, Early Warnings” report, Jan. 23, 2013. See especially: Part A – Lessons from health hazards
- Daily Climate and other publications – A Green Nixon Doesnt Wash
- Daily Climate and other publications – Earth Hour Fades at US Border
- Earth Island Institute, Yes Magazine – Larry Gibson, a voice of the mountains
- CABI – international development agency – A History of Biofuels Research
- Collaboration on Global Witness report on environmental murders Also see Environmental History Timeline page
- Communication and Peace – for Peace Studies classes
Major research projects
- Henry Ford, Charles Kettering and the Fuel of the Future has inspired rocks stars and security analysists. What was known about alternatives and why were they discarded? Society of Automotive Historians, 1998.
- The Radium Girls were six brave women who sued a dial-painting factory for knowingly exposing them to deadly radium in the 1920s. This is the story of their struggle. It’s also the story of how Walter Lippmann of the New York World helped them, and how the rest of the “yellow” press tried to push them into a strange kind of celebrity. “What would you do if you had a million dollars and only one year left to live?” Of course, the radium dial companies never gave anything close to one million per worker. In Mass Media and Environmental Conflict, 1996.
- Environmental history timeline began as a structural outline for Mass Media and Environmental Conflict but took on a life of its own when placed on the web in the 1990s. By 2013, the timeline was landing about 1,000 to 2,000 hits per day.
- Brilliant! A history of sustainable energy is a book under contract for 2013 to a London publisher. The main underlying theme is an exploration of Lewis Mumford’s historiographic de-linking of fossil fuels from the industrial revolution. As Augusting Mouchot once said: “The time will arrive when the industry of Europe will cease to find those natural resources, so necessary for it. Petroleum springs and coal mines are not inexhaustible but are rapidly diminishing in many places. Will man, then, return to the power of water and wind? Or will he emigrate where the most powerful source of heat sends its rays to all? History will show what will come.”
Media history research
- The confluence of newspapers and the environment in the early 20th century. Looking at the news coverage of selected public health and conservation issues in the 1899 – 1932 period, we see a striking bipolar distribution, indicating a revival of Progressive era concerns late in the 1920s and the ubiquity of environmental controversy. This is a paper from the 1998 conference of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communications.
- Exploring the Lost History of Environmental Conflict Before Silent Spring. Presentation to the Communication Studies Seminar Series Virginia Tech September 25, 1998.
- Environmental History Timeline helps remind us of the traditions of reform and the roots of conservation. This was originally a guide for our use when Mark Neuzil and I wrote Mass Media and Environmental Conflict in 1996. Since then it has taken on a life of its own on the web.
- The editor who tried to stop the Civil War: Hezekiah Niles and the New South describes the efforts of one Baltimore editor to reconcile opposing views in the 1820 – 1833 period. He clearly foresaw civil war and proposed a course of economic development for the South which was, perhaps not surprisingly, adopted after the war by Southern progressives, including Atlanta editor Henry Grady. The paper was published in American Journalism in 1992 and has been slightly updated since then.
- Niles Weekly Register Encyclopedia of Journalism History, 2006 — Niles’ concept of news embraced the broadest scope of human experience. His Register kept close track of economics, technology, science, medicine, geography, archaeology, the weather, and many stories of human interest. There was, for example, a dog who rescued another dog from a river. There was the case of a blind woman restored to sight, and another of a slave who killed himself rather than be sold at the slave market. Niles printed many items about ballooning and predicted that someday man would build machines to fly (although he doubted that steam engines could propel them).
Greenpeace Encyclopedia of Science and Technology Communication, 2009 — Greenpeace raised street theater and protest tactics to a new level using global media. The effect, according to Greenpeace co-founder Robert Hunter, was a “mind bomb” – that is, an action that would create a dramatic new impression to replace an old cliché. The most obvious example of a “mind bomb” was to overturn the image of heroic whalers to that of heroic ecologists risking their lives to save the gentle giants of the sea. This approach caught the world’s attention and dramatically changed the political terrain for commercial fishing and whaling operations after Greenpeace’s first whaling protests in June of 1975.
- E.W. Scripps and Science – 2011 — The unconventional ideas behind the founding of the Science News Service and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. (From a chapter in Revolutions in Communication).
- A Survey of Central American News Media Hardware, Intercommunication and Development needs: Paper presented to the Eighth Annual Conference on Intercultural and International Communication, Miami, Fla. Feb. 22, 1991. These are the results of a study by the International Center for Foreign Journalists concerning media technology needs in Central America.
- Dr. North and the Kansas City Milk War, Public Health Advocacy Collides with Main Street Respectability, Paper to The Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communications (AEJMC) 1989. This is about a New York physician and public health expert who used yellow journalism tactics to force pasteurization on the milk industry of Kansas city in the 1920s.
- Mother of the Forest concerns a gigantic redwood tree near what is now Yosemite Park, and how its destruction in 1853 outraged Horace Greeley, editor of the Tribune, and led to the cre ation of the national park system. This is a chapter from Mass Media and Environmental Conflict with Mark Neuzil.
- The Ethyl Controversy, Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Maryland, 1993 – Being assembled as a pdf for publication.
- Agenda Setting in the 1924 – 1926 Public Health Controversy over Ethyl (Leaded) Gasoline, AEJMC, 1994. One of the nations first controversies over public exposure to dangerous chemicals. The American oil industry, uncomfortable with even the mildest criticism, blamed the media for its own problems.
- Charles F. Kettering and the 1921 Discovery of Tetraethyl Lead, Society of Automotive Engineers, 1994. Paving the way for non-petroleum alternatives (such as ethanol) was the “original special motive” for leaded gasoline.
- Chemcases: Fuels and Society, NSF Funded chemistry education
project, Kennesaw State University, 2001. The fuels section is one of several concerning scientific issues in modern culture.
- ETHYL The 1920s Environmental Conflict Over Leaded Gasoline and Alternative Fuels, Paper to the American Society for Environmental History Annual Conference March 26-30, 2003 Providence, R.I.
- Late Lessons, Early Warnings,Express TV (Denmark) – Award winning documentary has interview with Dr. Kovarik
- Ethyl leaded gasoline: How a classic occupational disease became an international public health disaster, International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health, October 2005. (Based on 2003 ASEH paper).
- Looking South:The world ethanol industry is booming – thanks to the Brazilian example, Com Ciência Ambiental (Sao Paulo, Brazil), winter 2007.
- Ethanol’s first century: Blending programs in Europe, Asia, Africa and Latin America, paper to the 30th International Symposium on Alcohol Fuel, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, November 2006.
- National Public Radio interview with Dr. Kovarik about biofuels Feb 15, 2007
- Back to the Fuel of the Future, Life Sciences Symposium, University of Missouri, March, 2007.
- Special Motives:Automotive Inventors and Alternative Fuels in the 1920s Paper to the Society for the History of Technology, Oct. 19, 2007
- Biofuels: History and public debate,(Slide show) University of Maryland School of Public Policy, April 11, 2008
- Biofuels in History, for World Cafe at Concordia University Montreal, Nov. 20, 2010 and Missouri School of Journalism, Food, Fuel and Society conference, Oct. 12, 2010.
- The history of biofuels – for CABI, the international development information organization, May 2012.
The award-winning MoFilms “Freedom Fuels” documentary takes an in-depth look at renewable fuel sources, such as bio-diesel, ethanol and vegetable oil. Starring Willie Nelson, Daryl Hannah, John Stewart and Bill Kovarik.