Sam Evans-Brown trades radio mic for clean energy advocacy

  • Sam Evans-Brown in 2021. Samantha Searles Courtesy

Monitor columnist
Published: 7/19/2021 4:44:20 PM

When it comes to climate change, the more you know, the more worried you get. Ignorance may not be bliss but at least it keeps you from lying awake at 3 a.m. fearing global feedback loops and tipping points.

So it’s nice to learn that one of the state’s highest-profile eco-geeks isn’t very gloomy.

“I do not subscribe to the view that global warming is a civilization-ending threat,” said Sam Evans-Brown, the public radio star who just transitioned into advocating for clean energy. “I think that our society will get this in hand before it becomes the kind of problem that threatens to send us back to hunter-gatherer societies.”

“That said, I don’t think it’s going to be easy, and I think that my kids will live through the worst of that time,” he added. “There may be some chaos that results, but we will rise to the challenge.”

Informed optimism! We could use a little more of that.

If you know Sam, and I bet many of you do, it’s from his decade at New Hampshire Public Radio. A native of the New Hampshire community with the coolest name – Gilmanton Iron Works – he started as a reporter and grew into an energy and environmental specialist.

Sam (after all that time hearing him on the car radio it’s impossible to follow news style and call him “Evans-Brown”) has delved into the technical, regulatory and social aspects of energy and environment more than anybody in New England media. Most notably, with the help of a slew of NHPR staffers he created the nationally known “Outside/In” podcast, “about the natural world and how we use it,” as well as the charmingly informative segment “Ask Sam,” which answered listener questions about topics from washboard road formation to rodent populations to “Can I make pants out of milkweed?” (Answer: No.)

When I heard Sam was leaving NHPR, I assumed he was moving up the public radio ladder to a national outlet down in New York or D.C. It was a pleasant surprise when he announced he was staying in his solar-panel-bedecked Concord home.

His new job is director of CleanEnergy NH, a small but well-regarded advocacy group that nudges, guides or shoves New Hampshire governance, politics and business away from planet-destroying methods of heating, lighting and fueling our future.

So have no fear, Capital City drivers, you can still see Sam bicycling to work even in some really awful weather, and he will stay as coach of the high school cross-country skiing team. His wife, Aubrey Nelson, a former teacher at Beech Hill School, has joined the New Hampshire Energy Education Project which helps schools in teaching kids about energy. They have two children, aged 10 months and 3½ years, which gives them a major stake in our climate future.

Heading an advocacy group, rather than doing public relations for it, is not an obvious position for a journalist. Sam noted during our talk, with a slight wince, that he will now have to wear a lobbyist badge when in the State House.

But that’s OK, he added: “I think that CENH is on the right side of history.”

Another question is why a radio guy with no management or advocacy experience would get this job. Being relatively famous is probably part of it, but that’s not enough in itself.

“I think there’s a feeling that, given the fundamentals of where things are at with the politics (and) the technology … really all that’s left is communicating the reality to folks. That is the skill set central to being a journalist. I think that that’s probably what it came down to,” he said when I asked why he thinks he was hired.

That answer includes the essence of why Sam doesn’t despair about the global ecosystem. Alternative energy technology has improved faster than anybody thought and its prices are falling faster than anybody thought, which makes it easier for all but the most diehard of naysayers to embrace it. Sam ticked off a slew of technical areas – electric transportation, offshore wind power, rooftop solar, batteries and energy storage – that are moving in the right direction, as well as the positive effects of various economic and policy drivers, such as the push to rebuild America’s manufacturing capacity: “When Shell and BP are lobbying in favor of offshore wind … you’re at an inflection point when things are going to shift very fast.”

In short, it’s becoming more realistic to think we can maintain some type of industrialized society without sending atmospheric carbon dioxide to 500 ppm.

Realistic but far, far from certain. It’s going to be really hard to do; the transition will hurt all of us in various ways; and we could easily screw it up. The Granite State needs to help ensure that we don’t.

“New Hampshire has been historically happy to ride the coattails of other states, but climate change is an all-hands-on-deck problem. I would like New Hampshire to figure out ways it could confront the challenge in ways its legislators and voters are happy with,” he said.

“I grew up in New Hampshire and I do identify strongly with the state. My family’s here, and I want New Hampshire to have good policy.”

(David Brooks can be reached at 369-3313 or dbrooks@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @GraniteGeek.)




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