What’s an environmentalist to do when she has some extra time on her hands in New York? Here’s a recommendation: Track down the editor of Treehugger.com and harass him for a coffee! Highly enjoyable — and yes, this was precisely what I did when I went to the Big Apple a couple weeks ago. At 8 a.m. on a Friday morning, I met Graham Hill at Earth Matters, a hippie café in the Lower East Side. It was absolutely sweltering and there was no air conditioning available (what with the establishment being green and all), so I ordered a smoothie. Graham got himself a latte and some fruity granola; then we both pulled up a seat and began to chat. Here’s the transcript of our Q&A:
Thistle: How long has Treehugger been running now?
Graham: It started about five years ago, in 2004. My friend Nick Denton (of Gawker.com) and I felt there was a need for the green movement to be a bit more cool and convenient. I mean, hippies are awesome, but they’re a very small group. And we realized that while most people will care about the environment, it can take a while to figure out what exactly is happening and how to do something about it. So we wanted to repackage green and make it more accessible.
Thistle: When I first began checking the site, all the posts seemed more about sustainable design than anything else.
Graham: Yeah, it was very design-oriented at first, but there’s been a natural shift towards news stuff. That said, I’ve been complaining to people recently that we’ve really lost the whole design element, so I’d like to work on bringing that back.
Thistle: What types of posts generate the most hits?
Graham: Any meat-related or animal-themed stories, for sure, especially something like seal-clubbing, which always leads to controversy and a lot of comments. But we just want good, compelling stories.
Thistle: How does one get a job writing for Treehugger? Is it a difficult application process?
Graham: We hire our writers based on their resumés and previous work experience; we make sure they agree with our general manifesto, then we work with them on a few stories, holding their hand for a bit before letting them post on their own. The full-time staff tend to be more beat-oriented, whereas the part-time writers will maybe focus more on their location. They’re anywhere between 22 and 60 years old, male and female, chemists, architects and journalists, and from all over the world.
Thistle: What’s the current goal for the site?
Graham: Well, right now, we really want to focus on helping people understand their impact on the planet and how they can actually change this in concrete ways. The symptoms of the Earth, as a patient, are not looking good. Carbon dioxide is increasing rapidly as though the green movement never even happened, so we need to get people to understand the scale of their behaviours and make actual changes. It’s all well and good to be really diligent about unplugging your cellphone charger every night and using tote bags, but that accounts for less than 1% of your carbon footprint. And even if the whole world starts doing this, then we’ve still only reduced everybody’s collective footprint by 1%. Small steps are only good if they lead to big ones.
Thistle’s Inside Voice: I wonder if he realizes my challenge was all about taking 366 small steps?
Thistle: So how much change is actually occurring right now? And who needs to be making the majority of them?
Graham: The reality is, the vast majority of people like to blame suburbia, blame the red states and so on. But I can’t even tell you the number of panels I’ve been on about the water crisis where everybody has plastic water bottles sitting in front of them. I mean, if we can’t even get these little symbolic things right, it’s pretty bad.
Thistle: How is Treehugger’s relationship with Planet Discovery?
Graham: They’re in 52 million homes right now. The partnership has been great — they’ve left us alone and let us do our thing. I’m still here two years after that happened, so that proves something.
Thistle: In your time as editor, has there been any one story, person or book that’s really inspired you?
Graham: Some of the most inspirational stuff to me is the basic, old-school way of doing things; really simple technologies that anyone can use. Like awnings, for instance — New York used to have awnings all over the place and we lost them, but they can seriously reduce heat in the summer. You can also just wear appropriate clothing. And offices really need to turn down the air conditioning and look at ceiling fans again — you should never be cold in the summer.
Well, unfortunately, it’s been pretty darn cold and rainy in Toronto all summer; on the one hand, this means no need for air conditioning, but it also means that even my vegetable garden is starting to complain. And last weekend, it was no exception: Sunday afternoon began with a massive thunderstorm — but it wasn’t enough to deter me from stopping by the Alters’ place so my friend Lloyd (who writes for Treehugger) could interview me about Sleeping Naked. So, if you’re not completely sick of hearing about my book yet, watch the video below!