Earth Day: 10 Questions for an Enthusiast

PHOTO: Bob Deans likes to spend time outside. When hes indoors, the plant wall in the kitchen of the NRDCs building is a comforting reminder of nature.Matt Negrin/ABC News
Bob Deans likes to spend time outside. When he's indoors, the plant wall in the kitchen of the NRDC's building is a comforting reminder of nature.

When it comes to holidays in April, most people think of Easter. Maybe Passover. Tax Day is somewhere in there.

And then there's Earth Day, in between the new moon and the end of the month. What exactly is Earth Day, and do you get presents?

We sat down with Bob Deans, the associate communications director of the Natural Resources Defense Council Action Fund, to find out what being an environmentalist is all about. Here's the edited version of the interview:

ABC News: Tell us about your background. Once upon a time ...

Bob Deans: I grew up in Richmond, Va., on the James River, so I grew up wading in the shallows, catching catfish, dodging snakes, developed a real love for the outdoors, watching deer sprint across the fields on an autumn morning, that kind of thing. I was a newspaper reporter for nearly 30 years, most of that time with the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

I tend to spend most of my time now talking to experts who are the masters of their field and then trying to write about it for a general audience, so it's pretty much what I was doing for 30 years in the newspaper business. I don't feel like it's changed that much.

ABC News: Lots of people say environmentalists are left wing. Do you consider yourself a liberal?

Deans: Absolutely not. I'm a classic independent. I don't know that I ever considered myself an environmentalist, and like many of the people I grew up with, they might not consider themselves environmentalists, but when you go for small mouth bass up the James River, nobody cares more about clean water than those people. If you go out in the Chesapeake Bay and talk to the crabbers, they might not consider themselves environmentalists, but they sure as heck care about the health of our oceans.

ABC News: In your new book, "Reckless," you accuse Republicans of committing an "assault" on the environment. Is there not a single Republican you like?

Deans: Dave Reichert (Washington) pretty consistently votes for a healthy future. Roscoe Bartlett (Maryland) is pretty strong on energy issues. Sen. Lamar Alexander (Tennessee) has been pretty good on clean air. Sen. Rob Portman (Ohio) has been good on efficiency.

ABC News: Earth Day is coming up – is that like Christmas for you?

Deans: Earth Day is a lens. It's a focal point for us to look at where we are. What's important about Earth Day is that when the first Earth Day happened 42 years ago, Los Angeles was the smog cap of the world. People had seen oil come up on shore in Santa Barbara. The waterways of our heartland were so polluted that the Cuyahoga River literally caught fire, and this alarmed Americans.

ABC News: Do you think Earth Day is respected as a real holiday, or it's written off by most people?

Deans: I think a lot of Americans do view this as a moment to take stock of the conditions of our air, our waters, and think about what we can all do in our own lives to try to make the future healthier for our children. So I do think it's valuable in that sense. At churches across the country, people will be speaking about that, pastors will be speaking from the pulpits on Sunday, there will be community meetings about this in synagogues on Saturday. It does become a bit of a rallying point for people.

ABC News: Have environmental issues sunk into the background because of the bad economy?

Deans: We have 3.1 million Americans working in what they call the green jobs sector. So this includes more than 100,000 people who are putting up wind turbines around the country. More than 90,000 putting in solar systems around the country -- 2.4 percent of the American workforce is now engaged in these jobs. That has been a bright light in a very dark economy.

ABC News: There are lots of people who doubt that global warming is caused by people. Do you think that the science behind it might not be perfect?

Deans: I guess I still have the journalist's skepticism. I'm not sure that any science is 100 percent foolproof. When I go to see my doctor and he tells me I'm looking good, I'm not 100 percent sure he's right. But I will say this: There's no question that our climate is changing.

ABC News: Does President Obama have a rocky relationship with the environmental community? We've all heard about Solyndra, and the Keystone pipeline, and the forgotten solar panels on the roof of the White House. ...

Deans: I think President Obama has been extremely strong on environmental issues. He understands the need for us to have a healthy balanced mix of energy options going forward. He knows that there's no silver bullet but that wind, solar and other renewables need to be part of the mix. He understands that natural gas is going to be part of the mix.

ABC News: Washington is an ugly place. As someone who loves nature, where do you go to relax?

The most accessible place from there is to get out in the Shenandoah River as I did last fall, and take a raft down the river. You want to go a little farther down 81, you can go down toward Natural Bridge, and you can get a canoe and take it down the James River as I did with my daughter not too long ago, and scare up some turtles.

My favorite place of course is down in Richmond, where you can be on the Chickahominy River or up the James River, something like that. Often in the summer, we'll take some inner tubes and float down from Scottsville, which is just south of Charlottesville.

ABC News: Finally, tell us your favorite joke about environmentalists.

The great story down there in the Delta is, of course, the time Teddy Roosevelt went down there to go bear hunting, and there was an aide down there who arranged for a bear to make sure the bear was there when Teddy was ready to shoot it. And he let the bear go, and Teddy Roosevelt smelled a rat. He said, 'Wait a minute.' They said, 'Oh, yeah, well, we had the bear here for you to shoot,' so Teddy Roosevelt refused to shoot the bear, of course.

I was down there right around the same time that Vice President Dick Cheney had gone shooting for birds down in Texas, so some of us couldn't help but think it was a good thing Dick Cheney didn't go down to the Mississippi Delta, because he would have shot the bear, and he would have shot the aide, too.

That's not really very funny. I probably shouldn't have said it.