Pacific Standard's environmental coverage this year took us to Fiji and Nepal and Germany and India and Mongolia—but some of our most important work happened much closer to home. Right as we started preparing our year-end lists at our offices in Santa Barbara, the Thomas Fire began its assault on the communities around us, driven by angry winds and fed by dry growth parched from 250-plus days without rain. The Los Padres National Forest, which borders Santa Barbara on the northeast, is now aflame, and those who haven't evacuated have been walking around for two weeks wearing particulate respirator masks.
Below, you'll find powerful stories about those fires. You'll also find Kate Wheeling and Max Ufberg's oral history of the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill, a remarkable account of how a community's response to disaster sparked a national movement—the sort of movement we could really use right now.
This is a scary century in which to be awake, especially if you're writing about climate, and 2017 was one of the scariest years yet. The Antarctic lost an ice shelf the size of Delaware. Weird Mediterranean hurricanes keep happening and intensifying. There was a rash of record-breaking fires, storms, and droughts across the United States. It was year of further extremes throughout the world; if an area isn't experiencing its wettest year in history, it's likely experiencing its driest. From the standpoint of domestic policy, 2017 was a travesty—not least in the case of Puerto Rico, where, rather than offering proper aid after Hurricane Maria, the GOP instead is planning to fix the problem by saddling the island with still more debt.
The best way to combat anti-climate policy is to stay informed. These pieces are a good place to start.
- "How Can You Prepare for a Cyclone When You're Living in a Tent?" by Kate Wheeling
Nearly two years after Cyclone Winston destroyed their homes, one extended family in Fiji prepares to weather another cyclone season in government-issued tents that are wearing thin.
- "Backed by Industry Cash, the House Committee on Natural Resources Hands the Public Lands to Oil and Gas Interests," by Jimmy Tobias
Nineteen Republicans voted the Secure American Energy Act out of committee this month. They've collectively received millions from oil and gas interests.
- "The Business of Shooting Pigs From the Sky," by Ariel Ramchandani
A Texas-style response to the country's feral pig epidemic involves tourists with assault weapons and helicopters.
- "California Wildfires Are Harming the State's Most Vulnerable Populations," by Kate Wheeling & John Upton
As Southern California's firestorm continues to grow and air quality plummets, what happens to one of the largest unsheltered homeless populations in the nation?
- "Tragedy of the Common," by J.B. MacKinnon
The extinction crisis extends far beyond rare and endangered species.
- "The Butterfly Effect," by Kate Wheeling
Southern California's Ellwood Mesa, with nearly 80 acres of protected eucalyptus forest, is a refuge for the vanishing western monarch butterflies during the winter months. But the state's most recent drought has left the future of the forest in jeopardy.
- "The Fallacy of Endless Economic Growth," by Christopher Ketcham
What economists around the world get wrong about the future.
- "'The Fear of Dying' Pervades Southern California's Oil-Polluted Enclaves," by Jim Morris
As the state wins praise for its progressive climate policies, refinery emissions vex people in low-income communities. Things may get worse.
- "What Native Americans Stand to Lose If Trump Opens Up Public Lands for Business," by Kate Wheeling
Trump's decision to roll back Utah's national monument protections is as much a threat to tribal sovereignty as it is to the environment.
- "'The Ocean Is Boiling': The Complete Oral History of the 1969 Santa Barbara Oil Spill," by Kate Wheeling & Max Ufberg
On January 28th, 1969, crude oil and gas erupted from a platform off the coast of Santa Barbara, California. Alarm over the disaster reverberated around the world, energizing the nascent environmental movement and leading to a slew of legislative changes.
- "The Native Tribe Reintroducing a Lost Species on Its Own Land," by Jimmy Tobias
"The way we see it is, any native species that belongs here, that should have been here ... why not bring it [back]?"
- "When the Desert Pushes Back Against Human Engineering," by Kate Wheeling
Five landmarks in the American Southwest illustrate the limits of engineering the environment to human favor.