Most of the popular press articles I read focus on geoscience and environmental issues. When I read damn good writing in the journalism milieu, it stays with me and I want to share it with anyone who will listen.
To that end, I compiled a round-up of my favorite articles from 2013. These are the ones that I go back to for re-reads, that reinforce why I do the work that I do, that inspired new directions in my research, or that were so compelling or haunting they stayed with me.
The finished list certainly has topical biases, reflecting my particular interests over the past year. General themes include wildfire ecology, domestic fossil fuel extraction, and my research discipline: paleoclimatology. The allure of past worlds, climates and landscapes is still quite strong for me.
1. “Into the Wildfire” by Paul Tullis, New York Time Magazine, 09/22/13.
Wildfire is one of the most critically important issues for the ever-warming, ever-growing West. Literature on fire ecology is voluminous; Tullis gives a great distillation here, and interviews top fire scientists. Jensen and McPhersen (2008) wrote, “…very little meaningful information ever filters beyond the realm of wildfire experts to the general public, or to academics and experts in other, even closely related, fields.” Tullis’s article does much to bridge that gap.
2. “Why I Came to Washington to Protest the Keystone Pipeline” by Rick Bass, Yale Environment 360, 02/15/13.
It’s telling that a retired petroleum geologist wrote this call to protest. Lyrical yet logical, this is my favorite piece on “the folly of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.” He describes imagining the millions-of-years old marine landscapes that can, given the right conditions, lead to oil trap formation. One senses that barrier between this world and those past beaches because near-porous for him, an experience I’ve had myself during archaeology or geomorphology fieldwork. I’ve also done fieldwork in the Alberta taiga, undoubtedly the most pristine landscape I’ve ever seen. Bass makes a compelling emotional appeal to protecting this boreal forest, describing it as “the great lungs of North America, one of our last hopes for temperance against rising CO2 levels.”
3. “For 40 Years This Russian Family Was Cut Off From Human Contact, Unaware of World War II” by Mike Dash, Smithsonian.com, 01/29/13.
A fundamentalist Russian Orthodox family fled persecution in the 1930s into the Siberian forest, where they eked out an isolated living for decades. This haunting read details how a team of prospecting geologists came to find them in the 1970s, and how they gradually learned the family’s story and struggles to subsist deep in the Siberian taiga for so long.
4. “How High Could the Tide Go?” by Justin Gillis, New York Times, 01/21/13
This article should be required reading for any climate skeptic…or hell, any citizen of the world. Gillis illustrates why paleoclimate research matters, and the real threat of sea level rise to our coastlines. In addition, I love that he opens the article with an account of a fieldwork expedition. Fieldwork among other driven, enthusiastic geoscientists is a unique experience, the day(s) filled with a relentless drive to seek the next core, the next fossil, or the next outcrop before sundown. Highlighting the importance of the scientists’ work here (documenting Pliocene sea level rise) adds even more urgency.
5. “Thank You For Fracking” by Tom Chiarella, Esquire Magazine, January issue
I took “Intro to Creative Writing” from Prof. Chiarella, and I remember getting impatient that semester with the amount of time I had to spend writing stilted, awkward poems, rather than prose. When his lines here lean towards the overwrought (“when [the gas is] gone, we’ll look for more — deeper in the earth, at the bottom of the ocean, in moons, in the sun, probably in the stars…”), I’m reminded of that class.
And yet, the language kind of works; I love the title, for starters. What follows is a nuanced piece on the natural gas boom, the sheer power of the technology, and its effect on the lives of real people in Marcellus Shale country. I identify with a duality expressed here: deep concern with the fast expansion, regulation roll-back, and lack of industry transparency, and yet a love for visiting drill sites, and seeing firsthand how the extraction process works.
There are many other great articles I’d love to list and share, but for the sake of brevity, I’ll do that in another post.