There has been an explosion of podcasts on the climate crisis of late, but one has been at it for more than a decade: ClimateOne. It was great to talk with host Greg Dalton about the stories we tell ourselves about the changing planet and what I heard when I was on the road for my series on conservative perceptions of climate change for Inside Climate News in 2017-18. The other half of the show is Greg in conversation with Nathaniel Rich, author of the new book Second Nature: Scenes from a World Remade.
This was an evening of incisive conversation with MacDowell Fellows who work in investigative and long-form narrative journalism. In this era of the 30-second soundbite and relative truth, in-depth reporting and groundbreaking nonfiction writing are more important than ever.
MacDowell has been supporting journalists for decades, and believes a new model of assistance is needed for journalists who dedicate their lives to telling complex stories that have the power to change our lives and make our society better. The Art of Journalism Initiative at MacDowell is one way we support groundbreaking voices in non-fiction—like those of James Baldwin, Shane Bauer, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Frances FitzGerald, Sheri Fink, William Finnegan, Adrian Nicole Leblanc, and others.
With The Art of Journalism initiative, we are investing $2 million in Fellowships for journalists and long-form non-fiction authors, as well as providing journalism project grants, while helping to link a new network of publishers, non-profit newsrooms, and other key players in the journalism community to MacDowell’s artist community. Get the scoop here .
Watch the video here: Art & Urgency Video
As a reader I find there are stories that just stick with me; I can’t shake them. But as a journalist, I experience this a thousand-fold. What appears in print can feel like a haiku, with too many interviews and notebook jottings ending up on the cutting room floor. The histories of place I unearthed through research. The letters to the editor in the thin pages of the local newspaper. The anecdotes shared by those who didn’t make it into the piece. The deep story revealed behind and between their words, too big for the bounds of the word-count.
As I finished up each of the nine pieces that were part of the series Finding Middle Ground series for InsideClimate News that I worked on for most of 2017-18, about perceptions of climate change in conservative parts of the country, I would find filaments linking them with each other that I didn’t have room to explore. I’d get tangled in threads leading to stories I’d reported in other parts of the world, a lament I heard from a peach farmer in Georgia echoing what a rice farmer had said in India. There were strands of sinew between what I learned in the field and what I knew from my own personal life, a peripatetic journey that’s granted me multiple vantage points, making me feel at home both nowhere and everywhere at once.
Last year I became a contributing editor of Orion magazine, a publication I’ve read for many years, enjoying the lush richness of its pages, the images and poems and book reviews and NO ADS. (Yes, this is a nonprofit endeavor, and, yes, you can support it by subscribing.) With this piece for Orion, I finally had a chance to reach up for some of those disparate threads that have been floating around in my head since I finished the ICN series and try to weave them into something that made sense. Or, at least, began to make sense. Still, it feels like a haiku. Still, there is so much unsaid at the edges. Because the story of climate change at this moment in time is immense, and shifting. We’re all living this in real-time, the scientists and storytellers and skeptics all. Much of what I found over 18 months of reporting is deeply troubling, the changes underway stirring so much into uncertainty, but I also hold onto the possibility of the disruption as a great opportunity. No rain without thunder and lightning, Frederick Douglass reminded us. And the storm of climate change is here, now. Anything could happen.
The piece begins…
For the past couple of years, I traveled across my country, falling in love with strangers. I sought them out—farmers, ranchers, fly fishermen, evangelicals— and stepped into their lives, uninvited but nearly always, inexplicably, welcome. I sought some kind of connection, asking them questions few seemed to be asking them, about their lives and what they care about and what they believe in. Who they vote for and why. What they remember from before and what they expect in the future, which to their collective grief are often different things.
So insanely honored to have one of my InsideClimate News Finding Middle Ground pieces mentioned in Longreads Best of 2018 list for science and technology stories. I’m still blushing, reading these words from…
Director of the Knight Science Journalism program at MIT and author of The Poison Squad.
They Know Seas Are Rising, but They’re Not Abandoning Their Beloved Cape Cod (Meera Subramanian, InsideClimate News)
For more than a year, Meera Subramanian has been traversing the country for InsideClimate News, creating a series of vivid and wonderfully balanced portraits of small communities wrestling with the havoc of climate change (whether they admit it or not). This one from October, focused on an increasingly flood-washed area called Blish Point, stands out for me. It’s a tapestry-like picture woven of relentlessly rising seas, threatened homes and businesses, the politics of climate change science, and pure, stubborn human reluctance to give up on a beloved way of coastal living.
Subramanian never raises her voice or treats any viewpoint with less than respect — although she occasionally deftly slides in the scientific arguments that counter climate denialism. She has an elegant way of making both people and place live on the page. The result is a compelling and compassionate narrative in which this one small, beautiful, vanishing strip of Massachusetts, perched on the edge of an encroaching ocean, becomes a microcosm for the much bigger story of change — and its reckoning — now being realized around the world.
This is the eighth and final piece of Finding Middle Ground, a series I’ve been working on for InsideClimate News for the last year and a half.
This piece also made the Longreads Best of 2018 list for science and technology!
And I had a great conversation with Illinois Public Radio’s The 21st host Niala Boodhoo, along with Wheaton College sophomore Diego Rivera, whom you’ll meet in the story, and Riley Balikian of Young Evangelicals for Climate Action. Have a listen here, starting at 17:30.
Here’s the start of the piece:
WHEATON, Illinois — Diego Hernandez wasn’t thinking much about climate change until last summer, when he was traveling with his family along the Gulf Coast in his home state of Texas, where his ancestors—cowboys and politicians, he said—reach back to the 1600s. His mother suggested they take the “scenic route” for that summer drive, Diego said, his fingers making air-quotes because there was nothing “scenic” about it. All he saw were oil refineries.
“At that moment,” said 19-year-old Diego, who considers himself a libertarian, “the switch kind of flipped for me.” Why are we putting refineries in this beautiful place? he thought. The impacts from Hurricane Harvey, which had hit Houston the previous August and had affected some of Diego’s relatives, were also still lingering in his mind.
“I used to be like, oh, there’s oil, go start drilling, you know, because of course it’s all about the money, right?” he said, his voice tinged with sarcasm. But after that family outing, he began to ask questions—”What is it doing to our environment? How is it going to affect us in the next 10 to 50 years?”—and since then he’s had climate change on his mind.
Seventh piece from “Finding Middle Ground,” the series I’ve been working on for InsideClimate News about perceptions of climate change:
“It flooded in early January, and then it happened again two or three months later,” says Matt Teague of Barnstable, Mass., about the slew of storms that hit Cape Cod in the winter of 2017. “We’re like, what are we doing here?” he says, opening his arms skyward.
It is now the peak of summer as I stand with Matt in the seaside community of Blish Point at the front door of the house he owns—a house that’s about to be demolished. Matt, 43, with a trim graying beard and a belt buckle in the shape of a fishhook, is the owner of REEF Design & Build, which works all across Cape Cod. He bought the house with his brother and father more than 10 years ago as an investment. Blish Point, an area where native fishermen once laid out their nets to dry, today contains a couple hundred homes nestled between the mouth of Barnstable Harbor and the verdant marsh of Maraspin Creek. Some of the homes are upscale; others are simple cottages. The Teague house, one of the simple cottages, was ruined by flooding: five major storms in the past three years alone have struck this area, and two of the four nor’easters last winter inundated the ground-level home.
Matt pushes his sunglasses atop his head, revealing a pale strip of untanned skin along his temple, as he stretches out his hand 2 feet above the door’s threshold to show me where the water rose to during the storms. Over his shoulder, a hungry excavator sits ready to begin its work….
If you happen to be in Boston on Oct. 24th (6pm – 8 pm), join Tom Zeller, Jr, Editor in Chief of Undark magazine, MIT climate scientist Susan Solomon, and me as we discuss studying and covering climate change. It’s part of the Inside Media, Politics and Policy series of Northeastern University’s Myra Kraft Open Classroom. Here’s a link, and more:
You can watch the event here:
Here’s the latest from my Middle Ground series for InsideClimate News, documenting how people across America are thinking about climate change.
DIVIDE COUNTY, North Dakota — I walk in the front door of Byron Carter’s house as others are entering in the back, and Koda the dog can’t decide which way to direct her barking. I’m in Divide County, North Dakota, but borders seem a little meaningless here. Last summer’s drought, which was calamitous for Byron and the other farmers and ranchers now filing into his kitchen, leaked over into Canada, Divide’s border to the north, and Montana, to the west. By April of this year, they’re on the cusp of a new season, and Byron has gathered his neighbors—defined as anyone living within a 30-mile radius in this sparsely populated corner of the state—so we can talk about drought and climate change.
Drought is an especially wily adversary. As an officer of the North Dakota Department of Emergency Services told me recently, “You can’t put up a sandbag wall to stop a drought.”
And be sure to watch the great accompanying video by Anna Belle Peevey:
Anyone who takes fly-fishing seriously behaves like a scientist. These anglers are biologists, knowledgeable in what’s eating what, when and how. They are hydrologists, studying riffles and stream flow. They are naturalists, observing clouds and sunlight and the circulation of air as their rods flick back and forth across the big sky. They are, in a sense, climate scientists. And some, but not all, are deeply concerned about the effects of a warming climate on the cold-water species that inhabit blue-ribbon trout streams.
But to the extent that they act as climate scientists, partisan politics plays a role in many anglers’ understanding of climate change. Here in Montana, with pristine rivers that are home to some of the best fly-fishing in the country, a majority of votes went for President Trump—and climate change is considered by many of them to be a natural phenomenon beyond human control. Nonetheless, climate change is having a profound influence on fly-fishing, from the timing of insect hatches to the long-term survival of the fish that give this sport its meaning….
And I had a great conversation with Nicky Oullet of Montana Public Radio about the story, and you can listen to it here.