Lesson Plans

Evaluating Environmental Reporting at Home and Around the World

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Traffic policewoman Sandhya Bhartj directs traffic in central Patna. Her cloth mask does little to protect her from the smallest particulate pollution. Image by Larry C. Price. India, 2018.

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The fuel for the coal-fired kilns is sourced from Africa, Indonesia, and Russia. Image by Larry C. Price. Bangladesh, 2o18.

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In March, Geophysical Research Letters reported that the western part of Greenland’s ice sheet is melting at its fastest rate in at least 450 years. Some scientists believe that the Arctic hasn’t seen ice melt like this in 5,000 years. If the ice sheet melts entirely, sea levels would rise 20 feet, leaving Lower Manhattan underwater. Jason Gulley, a geologist, and Celia Trunz, a Ph.D. student in geology, have been conducting meltwater research by releasing a fluorescent red dye to determine how and why more rivers form on the surface of the ice sheet and what will happen as a result of these new and turbulent flows. So far, they have found that the rivers lubricate the ice slab, making the sheets move faster toward the coasts, which could cause even more icebergs to calve into the ocean. Image by George Steinmetz. Greenland, 2017.

In March, Geophysical Research Letters reported that the western part of Greenland’s ice sheet is melting at its fastest rate in at least 450 years. Some scientists believe that the Arctic hasn’t seen ice melt like this in 5,000 years. If the ice sheet melts entirely, sea levels would rise 20 feet, leaving Lower Manhattan underwater. Jason Gulley, a geologist, and Celia Trunz, a Ph.D. student in geology, have been conducting meltwater research by releasing a fluorescent red dye to determine how and why more rivers form on the surface of the ice sheet and what will happen as a result of these new and turbulent flows. So far, they have found that the rivers lubricate the ice slab, making the sheets move faster toward the coasts, which could cause even more icebergs to calve into the ocean. Image by George Steinmetz. Greenland, 2017.

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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. 

Before you explore, consider:

While all journalists endeavor to relay factual accounts, the impact of their reporting varies widely, from broad policy change to evoking a particular emotion in the individuals it reaches. In your opinion, what is the purpose of environmental reporting? What should it accomplish?

Pulitzer Center reporting to explore:

Reflection questions:

  1. How well did these stories accomplish what you consider the purpose of environmental reporting to be?
  2. What tools did the journalists use to make their stories more effective?

Extension activity:

The journalists behind “The Weight of Numbers” project are in the process of publishing profiles of seven locations around the world: Lagos, Nigeria; Santiago, Chile; Skopje, Macedonia; Visalia, California; and Shijiazhuang, China.

If you were a journalist covering climate change and the environment in your community, what image, location, person, group, problem, or solution would you focus on? What medium/media would you choose to convey your story, and why? Some of the media used by Pulitzer Center grantees in the reporting you explored are listed below.

  • Text
  • Photo
  • Video
  • Audio/Podcast
  • Infographic
  • Interactive
Educator Notes: 

This was developed as a preparatory lesson for students attending a workshop on climate change and environmental journalism at Tsinghua University in Beijing.

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