2018 was a record-breaking year—and when it comes to the environment, that's not a good thing. California's most destructive wildfire on record razed the town of Paradise to the ground. One of the most intense hurricanes ever to make landfall in the United States submerged the Florida Panhandle in 10 feet of storm surge. Heat waves, drought, and algal blooms threatened lives across the globe. And to it all cap off, the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a near-apocalyptic report finding that, without "drastic and immediate action," the world could warm more than 1.5 degrees—bringing even more extreme weather to hundreds of millions of people. 2018 provided ample proof that climate change now impacts survival on a daily basis.
But with every broken record comes people pushing to fix it, and here at Pacific Standard, we brought you stories on the survivors, activists, and scientists who are holding climate change deniers accountable. Under the Trump administration, new federal policies are actively harming the environment, removing references to climate change, rolling back environmental regulations, and attacking public lands protections. Meanwhile, many agencies charged with protecting the environment—and, with it, human lives—have failed to enforce existing laws.
The year's best stories do not necessarily contain "drastic and immediate" action, but they do feature people who are dedicated to exposing the truth or exploring creative solutions. (And as a more personal kind of salve, there's this year's honorable mention: an ode to fat bears.)
- "The Endling: Watching a Species Vanish in Real Time," by Ben Goldfarb
On the frontlines of extinction in the Gulf of California, where the vaquita faces its final days.
- "Awakening the Grizzly," by Jeremy Miller
Inside the effort to reintroduce grizzlies to California.
- "Peru's Great, Chaotic Biochar Experiment," by Kate Wheeling
Australian plant ecologist Brenton Ladd wants to reengineer the notoriously nutrient-poor soils in the Amazon, and, in the process, save the world's trees. But first, he has to convince Peruvian farmers and non-profits—and, occasionally, his own research team—that he's not just another gringo with a strange idea.
- "California's Looming Water Pollution Problem," by Kate Wheeling
In California's Central Valley, the oil industry has been dumping wastewater into unlined—and under-regulated—ponds, threatening the state's limited groundwater and the humans who rely on it.
- "Inside Ryan Zinke's Department of Industry Influence," by Jimmy Tobias
"They are undermining the department's mission at every turn": New documents reveal just how much the Department of the Interior favored industry over conservation.
- "The County's First Climate Change Casualties?" by Elaina Plott
Scientists predict Tangier Island could be uninhabitable within 25 years. This is the story of the people willing to go down with it—and why they've risked it all on Donald Trump to keep them afloat.
- "What Will Mexico Do When Its Deadliest Volcano Erupts?" by Mark Oprea
Popocatépetl, Mexico's largest active volcano, sits next to some major population hubs. With a major eruption forecasted within the next 100 years, will the public be ready?
- "Deleting a Species," by Rowan Jacobsen
We are on the brink of being able to genetically engineer an extinction. Should we?
- "The Things They Lost in the Fire," by Alissa Greenberg
After fleeing the Carr Fire, survivors ask: What did they leave behind?
- "Failure at the EPA," by Kevin Stark & Winifred Bird
The agency has left immigrants and minorities to fend for themselves at toxic waste sites across the country.
- "A Massive Pipeline Is Being Planned in Oregon. But Local Landowners Won't Go Down Without a Fight," by Kate Wheeling
A proposed natural gas pipeline is uniting Oregonians across the political spectrum.
- "What Happened at Camp Lejeune," by Lori Lou Freshwater
I grew up drinking and bathing in the toxic waters around a military base in North Carolina. Thirty years later, I went back to investigate.