I went far out of my element, onto a sheet of ice in the wilderness, to report this story.
A high mountain glacier, in its frigid, deadly enormity, doesn’t feel much like a landscape meant for humans. In the European Alps, medieval myths held that glaciers carried curses and incarcerated the frozen souls of the damned. And yet, on a grand scale, where glaciers and humans coexist, our lives are entwined in ways we rarely realize. [Read more.]
An audio version of my piece on climate-change adaptation in Acadia now appears in podcast form, on the Overstory. You can listen here or download on iTunes (Episode 5).
My contribution to a cover story package for the special issue, “Life on Another Planet” (with writers Kim Stanley Robinson, Kenneth Brower, and Dashka Slater).
On a decommissioned naval base in Maine owned by Acadia National Park, about a thousand tree seedlings stand inside a series of wire enclosures, corralled like farm animals.
Nicholas Fisichelli, forest ecology director at the Schoodic Institute, a nonprofit that functions as a research center for Acadia, walks through the plots of baby trees. They are laid out neatly in a grassy clearing, beside a former infirmary that has been converted into a science building. Lanky and bespectacled, he stoops to peer at the rows of new leaves and delicate stems. One group of plots is a test to see whether seed sown on the ground will sprout in this environment. Other sections are full of seedlings from nursery stock. Collectively, the plots are part of a radical experiment: a wide-ranging search for trees that will be able to survive in this national park decades from now—when things get hotter, drier, and much more uncertain. [Read more.]
Over the course of a full year, I talked with scientists in national parks about what it means to steward nature as climate change exerts more and more influence.
… After all, even as tens of millions of tourists throng through their gates every year to get a glimpse of the “wild,” official policy has, for decades, directed scientists and managers to keep the parks they oversee as untainted as possible, looking as nature would if humans had never intervened. But how do you preserve the wilderness when nature itself is no longer behaving like it’s supposed to? How do you erase human influence when that influence is now everywhere, driving up temperatures, acidifying oceans, melting glaciers, and rapidly remaking the landscapes we’ve come to know as our national parks? [Read more.]
This story is also a Longreads pick and has been republished by Smithsonian.
The New Yorker
I interviewed the E.P.A.’s first administrator, William Ruckelshaus, in time for the confirmation hearings for the next nominee to head the agency.
In the early nineteen-sixties, a young lawyer named William Ruckelshaus was assigned to Indiana’s state board of health to prosecute cases of toxic dumping. At the time, it was commonplace for manufacturers to discard untreated industrial swill—ammonia, cyanide, pesticides, petroleum waste, slag from steel plants, “pickle liquor” (sulfuric acid)—into the nearest sewer, river, or lake. Sometimes, it formed piles of noxious froth nearly as tall as a house. “Those rivers were cesspools,” Ruckelshaus told me recently. [Read more.]
Another installment in a series about climate change in Alaska: While reporting this story, I spent two and a half days stranded in a tiny airport in Bethel, Alaska, before finally arriving in the remote village of Newtok.
… Even in the early days at Newtok, its residents could see that the tundra was warming and thawing, and that the river was eating the land around them. In the past few years, they have become famous, heralded by the international press as “America’s first climate refugees”(along with residents of two other Alaskan villages and a tiny Louisianan island community). Newtok is one of the first places in the United States that could be erased by the impacts of climate change. The US Army Corps of Engineers has estimated that erosion will ravage much of the village within the next decade. [Read more.]
One of a series of stories I pursued on a visit to rural Alaska a few months ago, some of the most challenging reporting I’ve ever done. This story appears in Audubon‘s January-February special issue on the Arctic.
… The Bodfishes are Iñupiat hunters, a native subsistence culture that has dominated Alaska’s North Slope for more than 10,000 years. When I arrived at their home at dusk one evening in September, the yard was strewn with hunting equipment—outboard motorboats, a snowmobile, an ATV—and a partially carved-up caribou lay on top of a wooden table. [Read more.]
Al Jazeera America
Across the country, there are thousands of traces of history — from ancient archaeological sites to lofty estates, monuments, libraries and military buildings — that weren’t made to weather the weird and unpredictable climate of the 21st century. [Read more.]
This story was also cross-published by The Christian Science Monitor.
… The city will need to become more water self-reliant to survive the rest of this century, and capturing local rain looks much more desirable than in the past. [Read more.]
For decades, Los Angeles has guzzled far more of its water from melted snow in the Sierra Nevada mountain range and the Colorado River than from local, rain-fed rivers and aquifers. But although climate change threatens to make mountain snow less reliable, new research says southern California’s rain won’t dry up in the future. [Read more.]