The Best Climate Stories the Washington Post Covered

From a Washington Post story headlined “The best stories our climate journalists covered this past year”:

The Post’s Climate and Environment team’s mission is to empower readers by publishing revelatory stories about our changing planet and the choices being made — by individuals and the powerful — that are going to shape the future. Our reporters, editors, photographers and videographers travel the country and the globe to find the most compelling stories, and our graphics and data experts produce unparalleled analysis and visualizations of climate change and the impact of environmental disparities on communities near and far. This Earth Day, members of our team are sharing some of their favorite stories from over the past year.

Juliet Eilperin, deputy climate and environment editor

“For more than a decade, I had covered the political fight in Washington, D.C., over logging in Alaska’s Tongass National Forest, without ever seeing this contested patch of land. The state of Alaska — with its staggering natural riches, like those rooted in this 16.7-million-acre forest — plays an outsized role in national environmental policy. But so many Americans, including some of the policymakers that shape what happens to these stunning landscapes, never have a chance to go there. I’ve journeyed to remote parts of Alaska a few times, to better understand the places and people affected by decisions made inside the Beltway.

I always knew I wanted to tell the story of logging in the Tongass through a single tree. It can be hard to convey policy decisions in a compelling way, but contemplating the life span of a single Sitka spruce, which is so much longer than our own, makes that possible. And since I suspected that a single photo couldn’t capture the enormity of these gigantic trees, I asked Salwan Georges to bring a drone on our trip to Prince of Wales Island. Salwan is one of the most talented photographers I’ve ever met, and I loved tromping through the woods and searching for our tree. In the end, we found it.”

This tree has stood here for 500 years. Will it be sold for $17,500?

Darryl Fears, environmental justice, climate and wildlife reporter

“A few weeks before the Trump administration exited the White House, it gave permission to the operators of a troubled oil and gas refinery in St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, to reopen. Within days of starting operations, an accident on Feb. 4 caused a cloudy vapor to quietly rise and float over nearby neighborhoods populated by Black and Latino residents. It rained oil on their homes, the cisterns that collected rainwater used for bathing and washing dishes, food gardens cars and fruit trees.

It was the first of a string of mishaps that sickened many residents and sent some to emergency rooms. I did a series of stories with Salwan Georges and Juliet Eilperin on the refinery’s accidents, which culminated in the Environmental Protection Agency ordering the plant to close.”

The island where it rained oil

Naema Ahmed, climate graphics reporter

This story about Russia’s hidden methane emissions was the first in a series that examines how countries continue to allow dangerous amounts of planet-warming gases into the atmosphere despite pledging to cut emissions. It was a terrific data and visual collaboration between The Post’s climate and foreign correspondents and graphics and data team.

It used 3D modeling to show how new satellite technology was able to detect a methane leak in Russia and diagrams to explain how leaks can occur along a pipeline.

This was my first time working with emissions data and the United Nations inventory reporting system. We collected and analyzed Russia’s yearly inventory reports going back to 2006 and iterated through ways we could visualize the gap between what Russia claims and what it actually releases into the atmosphere.”

Russia allows methane leaks at planet’s peril

Joshua Partlow, domestic climate correspondent

“This article about hunting Yellowstone wolves was one of the most interesting stories I’ve reported recently because it introduced me to so many people who were exceptionally dedicated to Yellowstone and the wildlife they loved. These were not casual environmentalists. Wolf-watching legend Rick McIntyre has rarely missed a day observing the animals over the past three decades. Yellowstone biologist Doug Smith has been studying the park’s wolf population since its reintroduction in 1995. Hunting guides on both sides of the wolf issue have family ties to Montana that go back generations, and the land and its animals are central to their lives. This story is a reminder of how much people do care about wildlife and how they can respond when it’s threatened.”

‘Unprecedented killing’: The deadliest season for Yellowstone’s wolves

Michael Robinson Chavez, photographer

“Extreme weather is beginning to feel frighteningly normal and commonplace for many parts of the world. New Orleans is one of those places. The Crescent City is chronically battered by powerful hurricanes coming off the warming waters of the Gulf of Mexico. At the end of August last year, I watched Hurricane Ida hammer the city. It was 16 years to the day that Hurricane Katrina broke the city’s levee system, a disaster that resulted in over 1,800 fatalities. Ida was merciful in comparison, but the property damage was massive. I visited communities west of the city, La Place and Norco, that were devastated. I returned to New Orleans about a month ago. Contractors and roofers were hard at work making repairs to damage left by Ida eight months ago. They have four months left to finish the work before the next hurricane season.”

Photos from the scene as Hurricane Ida slams the Gulf Coast

Steven Mufson, business of climate change reporter

“Every spring brings small shareholder uprisings at corporate annual meetings. But rarely one like the rebellion in 2021 that rocked the oil giant ExxonMobil. A relatively small hedge fund proposed a slate of candidates who ousted ExxonMobil’s picks for three of its board of directors seats.

The Post looked at one of the rebel winners: Andy Karsner. The garrulous Karsner, a Republican, has spent the past two decades as an evangelist for renewable energy and other climate solutions, from a London wind business to a Washington policy job to a Silicon Valley outfit. His victory showed how shareholders and investors no longer judge ExxonMobil by the size of its oil and gas reserves, but rather by its plans for decarbonizing its operations and coming up with a plan to make a transition to a very different kind of enterprise.”

Why has Andy Karsner frightened the mighty ExxonMobil?

Sarah Kaplan, climate and science reporter

“Covering climate change can be frightening, sobering, moving and powerful, but it is very rarely fun. That’s one thing that made this story, about an initiative to develop a climate-friendly perennial grain, such a rare delight. It involved all my favorite aspects of reporting — indulging my curiosity at a scientific lab, learning about another way of life while exploring a family farm. I even got to bake bread with one of my dear friends.

More importantly, this story was hopeful. It gave a glimpse at one possible solution to the compounding crises that plague our planet: rising temperatures, eroding soil, disappearing species. It spotlighted a collective effort that spanned generations and crossed industries. And it was personal — a climate solution that people could touch, even taste. As much as people need to reckon with our hot and dangerous reality, we also need these reminders of our power to create change.”

A recipe for fighting climate change and feeding the world

Dino Grandoni, energy and environmental policy reporter

“Last September, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officially declared nearly two dozen species extinct, taking them off the list of endangered plants and animals because none could be found in the wild. The announcement underscored what scientists say is an accelerating loss of species worldwide, an extinction crisis happening in lockstep with climate change.

Among the vanished creatures was the ivory-billed woodpecker, a ghostly bird that has haunted seekers in the bottomland swamps of the South for generations. It earned its nickname, “Lord God Bird,” because it was so big and beautiful that those blessed to spot it blurted out the Lord’s name.

Many didn’t want to believe it was gone. The biologist who wrote its obit cried during an interview. And in the hours after publishing the story, many readers sent in photos of what they claimed were ivory bills. A related species, the pileated woodpecker, is often mistaken for it.”

Ivory-billed woodpecker officially declared extinct, along with 22 other species

Brady Dennis, environmental policy and public health reporter

“Even before he entered the White House, Joe Biden vowed to place environmental justice at the core of his plan to fight climate change. A week after his inauguration, he signed an executive order to steer clean-energy investments to minority communities that have long been burdened by pollution. He named a Native American and African Americans to powerful environmental posts. He tapped advocates from around the country to counsel his administration.

Amid these promises, The Post set out to tell the story of how the environmental justice movement first gained national attention in a largely Black, largely rural North Carolina community four decades ago — and why it took so long for the cause to rise from the fringes of the American conservation movement to the heart of a president’s environmental agenda.”

How a protest in a North Carolina farming town sparked a national movement

Michael Birnbaum, climate and security reporter

“When the world makes its pantheon of leaders combating climate change, generals in epaulets aren’t the first people who come to mind. But militaries are such huge institutions — and huge emitters — that even small steps that they take can have an outsize impact.

I enjoyed reporting this profile of one of the world’s senior-most military leaders who is focused on climate change, British Gen. Richard Nugee, because it was fascinating to learn about the ways in which the worlds of security and climate change interact, sometimes in unexpected directions. Nugee says that militaries need to prepare for a more dangerous world in which conflicts will be sparked or exacerbated by climate change. And he argues that militaries can actually be more effective by being greener, since, among other reasons, reducing soldiers’ reliance on fossil fuels can help eliminate the need for the intense, dangerous logistics of getting diesel to the front lines of combat.

Now NATO is taking up climate change as an increasingly important part of its defense planning, and the Pentagon is considering how to reduce emissions from its massive supply chain and on its vast network of bases.”

Militaries are among the world’s biggest emitters. This general wants them to go green.

John Muyskens, climate graphics reporter

“Environmental justice reporter Darryl Fears found out history was about to repeat. Decades ago, South Carolina demolished homes and tore apart two Black communities to build freeways. Despite the state acknowledging its past failures, Darryl showed how the state plans to displace more people from the same neighborhoods to expand these roads.

To visualize the impact of this project, I took an aerial photograph from 1957 before the freeway was built and aligned with it with present day imagery and overlaid plans for the future expansion. The historic photo shows what the freeway destroyed — dozens of homes, businesses and churches — and how the remaining pieces would be isolated and would once again be threatened with displacement.”

Black people are about to be swept aside for a South Carolina freeway — again

Kasha Patel, weather reporter

“As a weather reporter, I am at the beck and call of what Mother Earth decides to do that day. Recently, my job has been busier than ever before as climate change exacerbates extreme weather events across the world, showing human-induced warming’s concrete impact on society.

Despite being a conference focused on numbers and policy, last fall’s United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change meeting in Glasgow, Scotland, (commonly called COP26) was most memorable to me because of such human stories. One panel that stood out to me was young women discussing how extreme weather events knock out their schools and intensify gender disparities in their communities. These types of stories show the lasting effect that climate change will have on generations, setting back social progress in many regions of the world.”

How climate change is disproportionately affecting girls in low-income countries

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