Pulitzer Center Update

Education Resources for The New York Times Magazine's 'Losing Earth'

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Thirty years ago, the waters of Lake Tai, China’s third-largest lake, were clear of algae. But the lake is surrounded by several high-density cities, including Shanghai, Suzhou and Changzhou, metropolitan areas that have grown rapidly in the past few decades. Rampant sewer dumping and livestock drainage, combined with shifting agricultural practices, allowed the algae blooms to flourish, and now human mismanagement and global warming have entrenched them. ‘‘They love warm, stagnant, nutrient-rich conditions,’’ said Hans Paerl, a professor of marine and environmental sciences at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Over the past decade, the blooms have significantly expanded, and their season has grown longer. In 2007, the ‘‘pea soup’’ conditions of the lake were so bad, Paerl said, that the cities surrounding the basin ‘‘had green slime coming out of their faucets, and the central government had to bring in drinking water.’’ At least two million people were without fresh water. Image by George Steinmetz. China, 2017.

Thirty years ago, the waters of Lake Tai, China’s third-largest lake, were clear of algae. But the lake is surrounded by several high-density cities, including Shanghai, Suzhou and Changzhou, metropolitan areas that have grown rapidly in the past few decades. Rampant sewer dumping and livestock drainage, combined with shifting agricultural practices, allowed the algae blooms to flourish, and now human mismanagement and global warming have entrenched them. ‘‘They love warm, stagnant, nutrient-rich conditions,’’ said Hans Paerl, a professor of marine and environmental sciences at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Over the past decade, the blooms have significantly expanded, and their season has grown longer. In 2007, the ‘‘pea soup’’ conditions of the lake were so bad, Paerl said, that the cities surrounding the basin ‘‘had green slime coming out of their faucets, and the central government had to bring in drinking water.’’ At least two million people were without fresh water. Image by George Steinmetz. China, 2017. 

The years from 1979 to 1989 were critical for climate action. At the start of this decade, scientific consensus about global warming was beginning to emerge. By the middle of the decade, the scientific community understood with unprecedented clarity that human activity was contributing to a rapid derangement of the natural world, one that would threaten economic and societal collapse if left unchecked. But efforts to marshal the political will and industry support to change course all failed.

In “Losing Earth: The decade we almost stopped climate change,” an authoritative piece that takes up an entire edition of The New York Times Magazine, Nathaniel Rich reveals how the current narratives and arguments around climate change were formed, and why this problem has remained so difficult to solve. In this 5-minute video, Rich introduces the story and reflects on its central questions.

“Losing Earth” and the accompanying curricular materials will enable teachers and students to have bold conversations about climate change, the media’s role in shaping discourse about the issue, and the political willpower needed to enact critical environmental policy.