By Emily Johnson & Jasmine Maharisi – News Editor
Bruce Johansen has had a busy summer.With 33 published books to his credit, the UNO communications doctorate professor wrote a preface for E.T. Eberhart’s latest book, “Will Rogers: Discovering the Soul of America,” which focuses on the influence of Will Rogers’ Cherokee heritage and values in the United States. He also received the Isaacson Professorship award this summer, after already having been presented the Kaiser and Reilly awards for his academic work.
He said, however, that he doesn’t want to brag.
“The decision was made by a committee of professors, and I don’t know the specifics,” Johansen said. “I do have a long record of publications (33 books, plus many other things), in many diverse subject areas. I deviate somewhat from the academic custom of going deep into one area and staying there. I also tend to tackle controversial issues. Early in my career it was the Iroquois role in democracy, and other Native American issues. To that I added environmental issues – global warming, toxic chemicals, and so forth. The weather has always intrigued me; I came here in part because Omaha has REAL weather.”
After starting his journalism career in 1970 as an intern with the Seattle Times, Johansen went on to become Editor-in-Chief of the University of Washington Daily in 1971. He then went full-time at the Times in 1972. His experience reporting on environmental matters began in the ’70s.
“I’ve been doing environment since 1970 when I asked (in the UW Daily) why we were making so much noise about Earth Day when we were dumping napalm on Vietnam,” he said. “I like to shake things up. In academia that can be good or bad, depending on who is evaluating you. That can be a source of friction. I also had some very good references from other scholars around the world. I’m happy that my work has been recognized here – even humbled by some of what has been said about it.”
As the newspaper’s first environmental reported, Johansen said he “drew fire” from oil companies when he asked them what would happen in Puget Sound would suffer an oil spill.
“This was several years before Exxon Valdez, so the oil people said I was writing fiction,” he said.
Though global warming and climate change has become a more socially-embraced idea over the years, Johansen points out that “going green” isn’t trendy for everyone, or even commonly accepted as fact.
“Opposition to global warming has become a litmus test on the right wing,” he said. “Some of them even reject the basics of the science, contending that carbon-dioxide levels have little to do with temperatures. They are denying basic geophysics. Right now we are having the warmest year on record world-wide, and our Congress (and the White House) have decided to take a pass on global warming legislation of any kind.”
One of Johansen’s books, “The Encyclopedia of Global Warming Science and Technology,” specifically focuses on this interest, and he recently published an article in the Lincoln Journal-Star this summer and co-authored an Omaha World-Herald column about the realities of clean coal.
The World-Herald column, titled “Clean Coal: More Hype Than Reality,” was a collaborative effort of a group of climate activists in Omaha who asked Johansen to contribute his words and name because of the reputation he had gained as an author about global warming.
In the article, Johansen said Omaha is the “nexus of coal trafficking in North America” and pointed fingers at Union Pacific for feeding America’s “coal addiction” and spending millions of dollars to oppose clean coal and cap-and-trade of carbon emission legislation.
“There are some big boulders here, and UP isn’t the only one,” he said. “It is a home-town boulder, however. UP actually supports ‘clean coal,’ which is an expensive boondoggle that probably won’t work.”
His transition to teaching wasn’t immediate. He left the Times in 1976 because he wanted learn how to write a book, and decided to return to the University of Washington to get his Pd.D. While there, he struggled to overcome a stuttering problem, which he said influenced him as far as “writing to communicate.”
“At first I didn’t think about teaching because of my stuttering, but as time went on I figured I had to face it, and to face it I had to teach,” he said. “I put myself on the academic meat market in 1982, and found that I got a lot of interviews, but always seemed to come in second. No one talked about it, but I think the stuttering bothered some people on other campuses. Also, I was writing outside the limits of my academic field. Here, there were some remarkable, open-minded people – Bob Reilly, Warren Francke, Elton Carter, Jack Brilhart, and others. I got an offer, I took it, and I came.”
Johansen is working on two books right now that are both relating to the Pacific Northwest. One, he said, is about the Muckelshoot Indian Tribe that resides near Tacoma, Wash. The tribe, whose land had once been reduced to just half an acre in 1970, is now almost free of government funding and operates its own schools and gives scholarships to college-bound Muckleshoots, in addition to other services.
The other book focuses on the history of El Centro de la Raza, a social service group formed in 1972 by community members who renovated an abandoned school building with their own hands.
“I have worked with them for almost 40 years, and it’s an amazing story,” Johansen said. “I coauthored two of my first three books with El Centro’s founder, Roberto Maeastas, who is now battling cancer. The people there are very politically involved and often controversial in a wonderfully progressive way.