environmental racism

Peter Dykstra: Environmental journalism pioneers

Environmental science, and its evil twin, environmental journalism, have been around long enough to have histories. Here are some (mostly) unsung pioneers.

Rachel Carson 

Spanning the Allegheny River in downtown Pittsburgh are three taxicab-yellow suspension bridges. They were built in the 1920's and named in honor of three distinguished Pittsburghers: Baseball hero Roberto Clemente; the artist Andy Warhol; and the incomparable writer Rachel Carson. Her works on the ocean led to the groundbreaking Silent Spring. But I dare you to name another environmental pioneer that's had a bridge named in her honor.

Dan Fagin

His 2013 book Toms River was a gumshoe classic, tracing the lethal pollution in a Jersey Shore town to its many sources. Fagin told a tale that didn't just finger the usual suspects – a multinational's factory on the west edge of town and a Sopranos-like dumping racket to the north – he kept digging until the gum on his shoes was more than 400 years old. European dyemakers and genuinely mad scientists left a trail to the present day. Fagin won a Pulitzer for his concoction of chemistry and history.

Phil Shabecoff

His New York Times career included a memorable dozen years on the environment beat. But his post-Times career saw his 1991 creation of Greenwire, an electronically delivered daily environmental news summary. He also wrote A Fierce Green Fire,a history of the American environmental movement.

Bill Kovarik 

He has been an Associated Press bureau chief, a Radford University professor, and a researcher for EHN and Daily Climate. His environmental history timeline is a priceless research tool. Example: In 1285 A.D., Marco Polo reported finding "a black rock that burns."

Robert Bullard 

It's been more than 30 years since Bullard published his seminal Dumping in Dixie, the book that defined environmental racism. Bullard, who is now at Texas Southern University, continues to earn the title "Father of the Environmental Justice Movement."

Murray Feshbach (d. 2019) 

Feshbach was a demographer who specialized in uncovering and untangling the murky details of life in the Soviet Union. His Ecocide in the U.S.S.R., co-authored with Alfred Friendly, Jr., was one of the first works to tear the curtain away from decades of horrid chemical and radioactive poisoning.

Naomi Oreskes 

She wrote what so many were thinking when she and Erik Conway published Merchants of Doubtin 2010. So many public health and environmental controversies have been sandbagged by industry-backed pseudoscience – whether climate change is real, or whether tobacco smoke is really linked to lung cancer – that doubt itself has blossomed into its own industry. But what "industry" benefits from anti-COVID vaxxers? Is doubt now manufacturing itself?

Beth Parke 

Parke comes to this list by a different path. Journalists share a few unfortunate traits: We're terrible business people who are immune to proper organizing or fundraising. As the only executive director the Society of Environmental Journalists had for its first quarter century-plus, she led the nearly un-leadable SEJ to relative stability.

David Sassoon

Sassoon, a former Rockefeller Foundation consultant, knew that the bleached bones of failed nonprofit blogs litter the cyberscape. But Sassoon methodically built his Solve Climate News blog into Inside Climate News, a journalism juggernaut that became the first web startup to win a Pulitzer in 2013.

Len Ackland 

Ackland is a former Chicago Tribune reporter and editor of the prestigious Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Ackland established a fellowship program to train mid-career journalists in environmental reporting.

There are many more like these pioneers, battling low funding, editorial indifference, direct political pressure, and more.

With "traditional" news organizations on the ropes in so many ways, they represent the past, present, and future of our craft.

Peter Dykstra is our weekend editor and columnist and can be reached at pdykstra@ehn.org or @pdykstra.

His views do not necessarily represent those of Environmental Health News, The Daily Climate, or publisher, Environmental Health Sciences.

Banner photo credit: Dr. Robert Bullard, Known as the "Father of Environmental Justice," at the Michigan Environmental Justice Summit in 2017. (Credit: University of Michigan School for Environment and Sustainability/flickr)

A nod to some folks who've bettered the craft and the planet.

Incentives for biking are missing from the climate deal

A pair of provisions designed to supercharge the sale and use of both traditional bikes and battery-powered ones were dropped from the surprise climate deal.
Sunrise in the woods

Get our Good News newsletter

Get the best positive, solutions-oriented stories we've seen on the intersection of our health and environment, FREE every Tuesday in your inbox. Subscribe here today. Keep the change tomorrow.

Huron River hexavalent chromium
exavalent chromium/Flickr

Huron River testing does not detect hexavalent chromium after spill

No-contact recommendation remains in effect as continued testing takes place along the river and within the Wixom wastewater treatment facility.

'It's very bad': GOP hones climate attacks before elections

In public comments and private conversations, Republican lawmakers and strategists appear to be settling on a climate and energy message that they’ll use leading up to the November elections. They are framing policies to reduce emissions as the cause of high gasoline prices, a driver of inflation and a form of taxation on working Americans.

A dirty scandal for a clean energy leader

A wave of revelations about Florida Power & Light begs a question of parent company NextEra Energy: will a sullied reputation seep into its clean-energy efforts?

In New Orleans' Lower 9th ward, climate leaders inspire the next generation

Founded in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the Center for Sustainable Engagement and Development is changing how the Lower 9th Ward prepares for disaster - and inspiring the next generation along the way.

The problem with wine bottles

They may be a perfect container for aging wine, but glass bottles contribute enormously to climate change.

Drones, AI being used in climate change research at new centre on P.E.I.

UPEI's new centre dedicated to fighting and adapting to climate change houses multiple research projects, with topics ranging from environmentally efficient farming, to coastal erosion and rising sea levels.
From our Newsroom
Colorado fracking

How Colorado is preventing PFAS contamination from the oil and gas industry

And how other states, including Pennsylvania, could do the same.

fracking kids health

PFAS: The latest toxic concern for those near fracking

The “forever chemicals” are used by the oil and gas industry, but a lack of transparency and accountability makes it impossible to know how widespread contamination could be.

supreme court climate change

Op-ed: Reflections on the Supreme Court’s Decision in West Virginia v. EPA

Danger resides in the majority’s having invoked a sweeping “Major Questions Doctrine” to justify its decision in this relatively narrow case.

children health

Derrick Z. Jackson: Children will suffer the consequences of recent Supreme Court rulings

A rash of recent decisions by the high court will irreparably impact our children's health.

summer reading list

Our annual summer reading list, 2022 edition

Happy 4th of July! Here's some summer reading picks from our staff.

environmental injustice

Centering biodiversity and social justice in overhauling the global food system

“The food system is the single largest economic sector causing the transgressing of planetary boundaries.”

Stay informed: sign up for The Daily Climate newsletter
Top news on climate impacts, solutions, politics, drivers. Delivered to your inbox week days.