Out of the blue
North State radio host expands his platform
Listening to North State Public Radio one evening, Dave Schlom found himself compelled to get on the air. The program, I-5 Live, featured a discussion on global warming—as climate change was called then, in the early 2000s—between an environmental activist and a Chico State geography professor.
“You could tell they were both on the same side trying to have a debate,” he told the CN&R. “It just wasn’t coming across that well to me, so I called in.”
A Corning High School science teacher since 1991, with articles on astronomy published nationally, Schlom long had been a go-to expert for local broadcasters. His expertise also extends to earth sciences (notably, the history and geography of Lassen Volcanic National Park, where he’s recorded audio guides).
That Monday edition of I-5 Live, he gave his “standard presentation” on global warming by describing Earth’s bookend neighbors, Mars and Venus—diametrically different planets that “tell us a story about climate.”
Schlom explained that “on one planet, Mars, the climate went terribly wrong … and it turned into a hostile, desert environment incapable of supporting life. And, then, Venus has a runaway greenhouse effect where its atmosphere is [over] 90 percent carbon dioxide—and we’re talking about percentages of 1 percent [on Earth], and worrying about that—so on Venus it’s 900 degrees Fahrenheit….
“As Carl Sagan said, that’s a cautionary tale.”
His phone-in prompted the host, Lorraine Dechter, longtime former NSPR news director, to invite Schlom as her interviewer for science subjects.
“My concern,” she recalled, “was, ‘Am I going to be smart enough and knowledgeable enough not to get the wool pulled over my eyes?’ So, for me, it was a godsend to have him there.”
In 2007, the station offered Schlom a weekly segment, called Blue Dot Report, during Morning Edition and All Things Considered. That four-minute spot grew in 2016 to the half-hour program Blue Dot, which expanded into an hour-long format two years later, as part of “Science Friday.” National Public Radio picked up Blue Dot as a podcast.
“I’m so proud of him,” said Dechter, now a TV producer/editor for Action News Now.
The title Blue Dot nods to 1994’s “Pale Blue Dot” speech and book by Sagan—the late astrophysicist, author and TV star—describing our place in the cosmos. Remotely, from his home base in Red Bluff, Schlom draws guests of international renown in sciences from astronomy to geology to, yes, climate change. March 29—the day he moderated the capstone panel at Chico State’s This Way to Sustainability conference—Schlom and TV meteorologist Rob Elvington spoke with climatologist Michael Mann, whose work buoyed the Oscar-winning documentary An Inconvenient Truth.
“I’m glad he’s getting more and more national recognition, but he’s already a local hero,” said Chico State professor Mark Stemen, who helped coordinate the conference programming. He’s listened to each Blue Dot incarnation over the years.
“Coming from an academic who reads too much and spends 24/7 thinking about these things,” Stemen added, “I always come away from Dave’s show learning something and having a new appreciation for the things I already knew. Your understanding grows as he talks through his show.”
Participating in Chico State’s conference, which he’d attended but never addressed, held full-circle significance for Schlom. He graduated from the university, where he studied under an early adopter of global warming science, professor James Regas.
“I just glommed onto that, tried to learn all I could about the carbon cycle and the role of carbon dioxide in Earth history,” Schlom said. “I became extremely concerned, back in the ’80s, about this—and I’ve been teaching about this in my classes and to anyone who would listen to me, for years—saying this is going to be dire in about 2020.
“Here we are.”
Climate change effects hit him squarely in the heart last year. A Paradise native with children—and, just before the Camp Fire, a grandchild—born at Adventist Health Feather River Hospital, Schlom experienced the devastation of his hometown that came soon after the Carr Fire whipped by his vicinity in July.
He contributed to North State Public Radio’s recovery series, After Paradise, and co-host Sarah Bohannon linked him with Stemen for the conference keynote, “Bringing It All Home: North State Strong.” Prefacing Audrey Denney and #ClimateUprising’s Nirvan Mullick, Schlom interviewed survivors who’d met congressional leaders in Washington, D.C. (See “Hashtag movement,” Greenways, March 14.)
“It was kind of funny how many people didn’t know who he was until he started talking and then recognized his voice,” Stemen said. “Those of us who have been listening to Blue Dot over the years already knew what we were getting.”
Dechter credits Schlom’s attributes as a teacher and connections across the scientific community as reasons the show has blossomed.
“If it interests me, and I find it an interesting story, that’s what I pursue,” Schlom said. “I basically take it as whatever I’m interested in, I think my audience will enjoy.”