22 of the Best Climate and Environment Stories of 2018
Nonprofit newsroom InsideClimate News reported this week that there were 12 billion-dollar weather and climate disasters in the U.S. in 2018, from drought and the California wildfires to severe winter weather and hurricanes.
All year long ICN’s journalists — and journalists at other nonprofit newsrooms around the country—have been hard at work on behalf of the public to make sure all of us have the news and information we need. This month, the Institute for Nonprofit News published a collection of nearly 100 of the best pieces. Many of them, including those below, focus on climate change and the environment, reveal what’s going wrong and point the way to how we can do better.
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The Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting made a significant investment in climate change reporting in 2018, including “Losing Earth,” a special edition of The New York Times Magazine that told the story of our collective failure to address the crisis. This work culminated with the announcement of the Rainforest Journalism Fund, one of the largest investments ever made in journalism covering rainforest issues.
The Highlands Current examined the effects of climate change on the Hudson Highlands, including on farming, the rising level of the Hudson River and train access to New York City, disappearing wildlife, and the incidence of Lyme disease. The reporting relied on the many scientists and advocates who happen to live in the area and are addressing various aspects of the problem.
Delaware Currents illuminated the pushes and pulls on the Delaware River watershed in this era of climate change with an in-depth profile of one small borough. Once home to a refinery and now a natural gas hub and the destination of two controversial pipelines, its fortunes have been inextricably tied to the energy industry throughout its history.
Policy wonks aren’t solving climate change, so the most-impacted communities are coming together to do it themselves. Southerly, Scalawag and the Montgomery Advertiser partnered to share their stories in a series about people in the South using the community organizing and leadership lessons of the civil rights movement to push back against exploitative industries. The series connected activists across the region and gave organizers the tools they need to advocate for change in the halls of power.
“Are We Ready? Or Not?” — a seven-part special report by Honolulu Civil Beat, explored how vulnerable Hawaii’s most populous island is if a hurricane hits, and what’s being done to make residents more prepared. The stakes for Hawaii are incredibly high: A Category 4 hurricane could cause more than $43 billion in damage on Oahu and leave as many as 500 dead.
IowaWatch showed that nine of every 10 public school districts in Iowa have buildings within 2,000 feet of farm fields where pesticides get sprayed, a potential risk some school leaders were unaware of. For the story, reporters collaborated with journalists at the University of Northern Iowa and student reporters in IowaWatch’s nationally recognized high school journalism program.
South Dakota News Watch showed how major rivers across the state have become dumping grounds for billions of gallons of human, agricultural and industrial wastes each year under a state-sanctioned permit and inspection program that is outdated and understaffed. The “Rivers at Risk” series pushed water quality and inspection deficiencies onto the agenda for gubernatorial debates.
Ten months of reporting for “Just Green Enough” by Bay Nature reporter Pendarvis Harshaw showed how gentrification can occur under the mantle of creating parks or cleaning up environmental pollution in poor neighborhoods, a phenomenon that could increase with the passage of California’s Proposition 68 as it supplies $725 million to build parks in underserved neighborhoods.
Private groups traditionally have provided the “margin of excellence” for national parks. But National Parks Traveler found that the National Park System’s $11.6 billion maintenance backlog has many such “friends” groups instead funding critical park projects traditionally paid for through its budget.
Anthropocene Magazine tested out a provocative idea: Could personal food computers in which people grow their own fruits and vegetables be the harbingers of a massively distributed farming system that reduces fertilizers, pesticides, and waste?
As part of its Rural Agriculture and Environment Project, Civil Eats published a deeply reported feature by Siena Chrisman that explored the collapse of farm economies, how it’s affecting communities and the nation, and who is working on solutions. “Is the Second Farm Crisis Upon Us?” inspired farmers, foodies and policymakers from coast to heartland to coast to add their voices to the conversation.
Combining science, gripping narrative and striking visuals, Ensia’s reporting in “Here Come the Megacities” is helping urban areas around the world recognize the challenges facing them and identify early on strategies for maximizing the benefits and minimizing downsides of unprecedented growth.
ecoRI News has covered the contentious issue of solar siting in Rhode Island, where forest is being cleared to make room for utility-scale solar projects. The debate has divided the environmental community and pitted environmentalists against renewable-energy proponents. The reporting led to a larger conversation about solar siting in the state, and a stakeholder group is working on a comprehensive plan to address industrial-scale solar-siting issues.
Digging behind the headlines of a corruption trial, BirminghamWatch found the vast majority of the local region’s major sources of pollution are located in low-income areas whose residents are largely African-American. The reporting continues to inform the on-going dispute over how promptly the North Birmingham area will be cleaned up, whether industries will pay, and whether former Alabama environment agency officials broke the law in resisting remedies.
InvestigateWest laid bare the inadequacy of the tree-protection ordinance in Seattle, the decade’s fastest-growing big city in the U.S. When a supposedly stricter replacement was proposed, InvestigateWest’s reporting revealed its inadequacies and it was withdrawn to be strengthened.
Members of the inaugural class of Homeward Bound, an effort to build a network of 1,000 women leaders in science by 2026, reached out to Grist to share a disturbing irony: Throughout the yearlong program designed to empower female scientists several women reported incidents of bullying, sexual harassment, and in one instance, what a participant labeled “sexual coercion.” The story explored what happened and offered a path forward for fixing the program — and helping it fulfill its intended goal.
The Lens uncovered a scheme to place paid actors at New Orleans City Council meetings to give the impression of community support for a power plant. The reporting triggered an investigation of the city’s power utility, Entergy New Orleans, which faced a $5 million fine.
The Food & Environment Reporting Network, in collaboration with Reveal, documented how the EPA for years ignored scientific evidence that the herbicide dicamba was prone to drift onto nearby fields and kill non-GMO crops that weren’t designed to resist it. This story — relying on documents obtained in public records requests and lawsuits — showed that scientists had repeatedly warned the EPA about the dangers of the volatile herbicide and the degree to which industry influenced a government agency.
The Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting highlighted the backdoor conversations between the agribusiness company Monsanto and federal and state EPA officials on changes to the use label of a pesticide — a version of which was made by Monsanto — that caused damage to millions of acres of crops in 2017 and 2018.
After the U.S. Energy Department proposed a new rule to subsidize struggling coal and nuclear power plants — estimated to cost ratepayers billions — In These Times published exclusive photos showing an undisclosed prior meeting between Energy Secretary Rick Perry and coal CEO Robert Murray, at which Murray handed Perry a similar proposal. The article led the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to delay its rulemaking and to ultimately reject the proposal in January 2018, and resulted in a federal lawsuit.
InsideClimate News showed how a multi-pronged attack is underway to choke off one of the most effective tools of the modern environmental movement: the environmental protest. Bearing the bruises of activists’ successes, especially in delaying new pipelines, powerful industries and their allies are using legislation and the courts to try to undermine protections for free expression promised under the First Amendment.
A report by the Energy News Network uncovered how Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s administration had diverted $5 million from a fund meant to guarantee environmental cleanup of shuttered coal mines, using the money to help balance the state budget. The story prompted protests from both the Sierra Club and the Ohio Coal Association.
How you can help
As Josh Stearns wrote on BuzzFeed, nonprofit journalists are able to take on these stories, to spend the time to get it right, because they are supported by their community. That means they answer to the public, but that the public has a role to play.
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