CONSERVATION COMMONS

Bill Weir’s Road to Optimism

CNN’s Climate Correspondent Bill Weir talks finding optimism in a contentious climate.


Catch Bill's 90-minute special on Saturday April 25, 2020 on CNN.
Catch Bill's 90-minute special on Saturday April 25, 2020 on CNN.

Bill Weir is a CNN anchor, Chief Climate Correspondent and was the host and executive producer of the acclaimed CNN Original Series "The Wonder List with Bill Weir." He is a featured speaker and moderator for the Smithsonian's Earth Optimism Summit, participating in discussions on solutions for coastal climate change and food waste. After the first day of the Summit, Earth Optimism communications lead Cat Kutz interviews Weir to learn more about what gives him hope in the face of climate change and what to expect from his upcoming CNN special.

We are so thankful to have you as a key part of the Earth Optimism Digital Summit. Can you tell us what Earth Optimism means to you?

Human beings are the most powerful force in the known universe because we are made of stories. We are the one creature that can imagine a different reality and work together to make it happen. While most of our big stories through time have involved "conquering nature" to fit our needs, we are just know understanding the true cost.

But the great thing about stories is that they are always under revision and the great thing about nature is that it can bounce back with incredible resilience if given a chance. I'm an Earth Optimist because I truly believe my children's generation is going to write a better story for man's place on this planet.

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Courtesy CNN

There are so many contentious conversations about current media and journalism. How do you stay optimistic while delivering critical, although often gloomy, information in this particular climate?

It's really hard sometimes. I just had a new baby and as much as I want to protect him from fear, I'm obligated to think through the worst case scenarios in order to prepare him for an uncertain lifetime. For better or worse, life as we know it will change and we have to process through the five stages of grief in order to adapt and thrive. But the best therapy starts by talking about it! No matter where they live or how they vote, everyone has a favorite piece of the natural world; a fishing hole or ski run or garden. Even if someone has very different ideas about a climate in crisis, I try to find that connection and acknowledge that this will be the biggest problem we ever have to solve in order to save those places we hold dear and by extension, ourselves.

Can you describe a conservation or climate success story you’ve uncovered in your work?

Doug and Kris Tompkins made a fortune in the clothing industry (he was founder of Esprit and North Face) and amassed one of the most valuable art collections in the world. But they decided that a planet out of balance needs us to protect what's left of unspoiled wilderness, so they sold it all to buy millions of acres of land in Patagonia. They bought volcanos, glaciers and fjords...and then then gave it all away, creating a National Park system unlike any other in the world. This couple had to overcame fierce resistance from suspicious locals and politicians, but they pulled it off. After Doug passed in tragic kayaking accident, Kris is keeping up the good fight and they remain one of my favorite love stories of all time.

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Bill Weir's new special, The Road To Change: America’s Climate Crisis, premieres Saturday, April 25 at 10pmET on CNN. Courtesy CNN

Tell us about your upcoming show! Who is the perfect audience to watch?

"The Road to Change" was filmed over a year and a half as I covered natural disasters from Hurricane Maria to the devastating fires in Paradise, California. With science as my map, I set out from the Florida Keys to Alaskan glaciers, from a drowning Louisiana to the heartland to imagine how my nation would change in a warmer world but I learned the seismic changes are already well underway.

I met farmers, firefighters and fishermen, activists and climate change deniers, politicians, protesters and paleoclimatoligists and I came home both completely rattled and empowered with new understanding of what can be done to avoid worst-case pain.

At the risk of bragging, I'm proud that it is beautifully shot and thoughtfully written and like my show "The Wonder List," I hope it's the kind of family and classroom viewing you'll want to watch and discuss more than once.

Catch Bill's new show, The Road to Change: America's Climate Crisis, Saturday April 25, 2020 on CNN at 10PM ET.
And check the Earth Optimism website soon for recordings of his live sessions from the Earth Optimism Digital Summit.