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Pulitzer Center Update September 21, 2015

This Week: The Pope and Xi, Religion and Environment


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The Chinese government and people, confronted with colossal environmental challenges, are turning to...

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Our new E-book 'Ecological Civilization' is available on a variety of platforms. Image designed by Jin Ding.


The United States is host this week to the leader of the world's largest Christian religion and the head of its most populous country. Each of them presents a set of a wide-ranging issues, as daunting for themselves as for the world. None is as fundamental or far-reaching as the challenge of reconciling economic growth and opportunity with the requirements of long-term environmental sustainability. New projects from the Pulitzer Center tackle that challenge head on.

"Ecological Civilization," our latest e-book, addresses the connections between the environment and religious and cultural traditions—connections that resonate as much in China as within the Catholic Church. It is a compendium of the talks and proceedings of the International Conference on Ecological Environment, a day-long meeting this past June in Beijing that was co-sponsored by the Pulitzer Center, the Communication University of China, and the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. This e-book features presentations and reporting by Pulitzer Center grantees Sean Gallagher, Gary Marcuse, Shi Lihong, Fred de Sam Lazaro and Sim Chi Yin.

In a timely front-page story for The News & Observer in Raleigh, Pulitzer Center grantee Justin Catanoso reports from Peru on reconciling the pope's call for wealthy nations to protect the environment while aiding the poor. Justin visits La Orora, a mining community degraded by 77 years of smelting heavy metals but where the poor simply want to work, no matter the damage to the environment or their own health. As one unemployed miner, a devout Catholic, told Justin, "We are well aware of the pollution. But the pope is not going to hire me."

Justin is director of journalism at Wake Forest University, one of our Campus Consortium partners. He is among the speakers at a conference Sept. 28 at American University, another Campus Consortium partner, that addresses the question of religion and climate change in the public sphere, with special emphasis on the role of journalists and the media. Religion and environment also figure in our latest Lesson Builder lesson—a way for high schools and colleges and others to engage in these issues that directly affect us all.


We also have a Lesson Builder lesson on The Geography of Poverty, the stunning survey of persistent poverty across America that has been featured all summer on MSNBC. The final chapter of the series includes photography by Pulitzer Center grantee Matt Black and reporting by MSNBC journalist Trymaine Lee, in a damning indictment of how Native Americans have benefited so little from the massive hydroelectric projects and fracking booms that have transformed their land.


Disease linked to dirty water has long been a chronic problem in Nepal. After the devastating earthquake in Kathmandu last April, there were fears of major epidemics. In his mini-doc for The New York Times, Pulitzer Center grantee Pierre Kattar looks at a deadly outbreak of hepatitis that occurred a few months before the earthquake and follows the story into the tent camps that housed thousands after the devastation. Our Lesson Builder lesson ties Pierre's reporting to other Pulitzer Center projects on water and sanitation.


Amid the chaos of Syria there is an island of what seems like sanity. Pulitzer Center grantee Jenna Krajeski visits Rojava, the Kurdish enclave in eastern Syria where a society built on the teachings of the Vermont-based anarchist and ecological philosopher Murray Bookchin serves as an unlikely antidote to the dystopian "caliphate" of the ISIS jihadists.

"Rojava, according to its champions, will be a new grassroots democracy where law and security is entrusted to local councils; where women and minorities are guaranteed equal participation; and where wealth—once belonging to Assad's Baathists—is distributed according to need among citizens. Supporters claim that their efforts will not only liberate Kurds, but serve as a model for better governance in a crumbling, sectarian Middle East," writes Jenna in this deeply reported account for Virginia Quarterly Review.

Despite some genuine achievements, not everyone is thrilled with the Rojava experiment. "Revolutions, no matter how popular, never speak for an entire population, and no different," writes Jenna. "But in the context of the Syrian civil war, these dissenting voices come across as more than just antirevolutionary; they join a chorus of Syrians whose displacement has come to define the cost of the war and, now, the cost of the Kurdish experiment."

Until next week,

Tom Hundley
Senior Editor

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