A story about the decades-long quest to develop “perennial wheat.” Now one perennial grain, called Kernza, may be about to hit the big time.
On an August morning in Minneapolis, I sat at a wooden table inside the Birchwood Cafe, a bright, cheerful restaurant a few blocks from the Mississippi River waterfront, tasting an éclair as attentively as I could. The flavor I wanted to detect was partly obscured by more conspicuous ingredients: a high-pitched, jammy blueberry glaze painted across the top of the pastry, and the sweet song of a yellow corn custard. But beneath that, there was a subtle and earthy background note: the grain. [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.
This story took me to Arctic Alaska and was supported by a grant from the Fund for Investigative Journalism.
On a morning in September 2015, sterile, gray Arctic light filtered through a blanket of woolly clouds as Matt Gunsch and Tate Barrett parked their rented pickup truck on a dirt road and clomped in rubber boots down a long, icy boardwalk to their air-monitoring laboratory on the tundra.
From the outside, the lab looked unglamorous — a dingy, white shack perched on a metal frame in a meadow speckled with snow and grass stubble. It felt distinctly like the middle of nowhere — though it was just a couple of miles beyond the main streets of Utqiaġvik, Alaska, the northernmost town in America. Inside the shack, a cracked window was patched with red tape. There was a shelf stacked with steel-toed and military-style “bunny” boots designed for extreme cold, tables scattered with miscellaneous lab supplies, a toaster oven — and hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of air-monitoring equipment whose internal motors filled the room with a constant high-pitched hum. Partially isolated from the dirt and exhaust of town, this turned out to be a good place to try to sniff out small intruders in the delicate Arctic atmosphere. [Read more.]
Seattle Met Magazine
Some tips for taking aim at alternative facts, from two data scientists at the University of Washington.
In early January this year, several days before the presidential inauguration, University of Washington professor Carl Bergstrom invited his colleague, Jevin West, over to his North Seattle house. Beers in hand, the two sat in the living room with their laptops, putting the finishing touches on the website for their new spring class, provocatively named “Calling Bullshit in the Age of Big Data.” They had talked about the class syllabus for months: a set of lessons that would help students detect and call out falsehoods and perversions of logic, a la George Orwell, not just in rhetoric but in the form of bogus statistics and shoddy mathematical analyses. At about 11pm, the syllabus went live, West went home, and they each “went to bed and thought, I hope that some of our friends have seen it and don’t think it’s too stupid,” Bergstrom says. [Read more.]
I wrote the lead article to the YES! issue on science, which became especially timely when it was published about a month into the Trump presidency.
… If federal politicians wage war on scientific institutions, can the public take ownership of science again? There are signs that the internet and global technology are reviving the role of citizens in documenting how the world around us is changing. [Read more.]
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.]
A story about a fight over the value of quiet on the Olympic Peninsula:
… To find quiet means more than merely to escape noise. There is external stillness, when the din subsides and you can hear the gentler world beneath it—the stirring of wind, the susurration of water, the rush of your own inhalation. Then there is inner calm, when all of the jangling thoughts in your mind dissipate, and you can unclench your muscles and open to your senses. The latter kind of silence tends to require at least some of the former. Both are hard to find in a society whose increasing mobility is powered by the drone of internal combustion engines and the clamor of technology. [Read more.]
The New Yorker
Louisville, Ky., has quietly become the country’s worst example of what meteorologists call the urban heat-island effect, in which dark, paved surfaces absorb solar radiation, raising the temperature of the air around them. [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.]
Tim Redmond at The Tucson Weekly explains the history and importance of Project Censored, which highlights the work of journalists and independent media outlets to bring underreported news stories to light. He mentions a story I did last year for YES! Magazine. Though we denizens of the internet are “drunk with information,” as Redmond writes, deeply-reported journalism is becoming harder to find.