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Americans Who Tell the Truth :: Ross Gelbspan

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Robert Shetterly's portrait of Ross Gelbspan
“Climate change is not just another issue. It is the issue that, unchecked, will swamp all other issues. The only hope lies in all the countries of the world coming together around a common global project to rewire the world with clean energy. This is a path to peace—peace among people, and peace between people and nature.”
Ross Gelbspan
23 of 80

Journalist, Environmental Activist, Author (1939 -)

For over thirty years, Ross Gelbspan worked as a reporter, writing for the Philadelphia Bulletin, the Washington Post, and the Boston Globe. As a senior editor at the Boston Globe until his retirement in 1992, he directed and edited a series of articles on job discrimination in Boston – this series won the Pulitzer Prize in 1984. One issue, however, dominates his career, and though now retired from daily journalism, Gelbspan continues to have his considerable voice heard. The issue is global warming.

His journey began in 1972 with his coverage of the first UN environmental conference in Stockholm. Since then, he has continued to report on world climate changes. His articles have been published in such newspapers and periodicals as the Boston Globe, the Christian Science Monitor, The Nation, Sierra Magazine, The Atlantic Monthly, and others. In 1997, his first book on global environmental problems, The Heat is On: The High Stakes Battle Over Earth's Threatened Climate was published, gaining prominence when President Clinton announced that he was reading it. From there, Gelbspan went on to help assemble a group of people in 1998 to facilitate and speed the Kyoto Protocol. This Protocol was developed as a system of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and an opening attack against global warming. It was adopted in 1997, put into effect in February of 2005, and involves over one hundred countries. The United States, responsible for about a quarter of these gas emissions, has not ratified the Kyoto Protocol.

Gelbspan contributes regularly to many publications and programs, and in 2004 published another book, Boiling Point. After 2005's Hurricane Katrina, he wrote an article calling it and several other recent disasters not natural occurrences, but a result of the unnatural, manmade effects of global warming. He writes of his frustration at the lack of coverage, stating, “Why the lack of major media attention to one of the biggest stories of this century? The reasons have to do with … the misguided application of journalistic balance, the very human tendency to deny the magnitude of so overwhelming a threat, and, last though not least, a decade-long campaign of deception, disinformation, and, at times, intimidation by the fossil fuel lobby to keep this issue off the public radar screen.”

Still, Ross Gelbspan educates us on the dangers of ignoring climate changes. Rob Sargent, Senior Energy Analyst for the Association of State Public Interest Groups in Boston, MA, says, “There are few people in this country who have done more than Ross Gelbspan to make sure that the problem of global warming gets the attention it deserves. It's hard to imagine where the American environmental movement would be right now without Ross's steadfast and determined efforts to prevent powerful interests from suppressing the truth about global warming.” Gelbspan maintains a website,

See the full set of Robert Shetterly's portraits at

Tools for Teaching: see the acompanying curriculum materials with suggestions on how to use the portraits and biographies of these American truth-tellers in your classroom.
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