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Letter From the Editor: The Water Issue

Introducing the May/June 2016 issue of Pacific Standard.
Behind the scenes of a photo shoot for this special issue.

Behind the scenes of a photo shoot for this special issue. (Photo: Taylor Le)

Everywhere we look, we encounter stories about water, drought, and climate change. But what are the solutions? How do we get people to understand the urgency of implementing them? And how do we work together to make decisions that are thoughtful and equitable for all parties involved?

With these questions in mind, we set out, a year ago, to dedicate an entire issue to water, approaching the subject from all angles and across formats, from our short scene pieces to our longer features. This isn’t just an issue about drought — though, from our vantage point in California, that’s something we’ve seen for five years now — or about access to fresh water. But we’ll touch on those too.

This issue seeks to inform, educate, and inspire readers on every aspect of the most important resource on our planet. As Jason G. Goldman writes in his review of Alok Jha’s The Water Book, “it would not be hyperbole to say that our planet’s greatest civilizations would not exist but for fresh water.” And they will perish in its absence.

In these pages, and with expanded behind-the-scenes dispatches online, Eva Holland examines what happens when a place whose hold on the public imagination for centuries was based on its inaccessibility suddenly becomes accessible. She joined a cruise ship and traveled through the Northwest Passage, where receding sea ice has made navigation possible for the first time. With the potential for mass commercial shipping on the horizon, and risk of a humanitarian or environmental disaster in one of the planet’s most remote regions, the debate over who owns the passage, Holland reports, is heating up.

Bonnie Tsui profiles Jane Lubchenco, a former member of President Barack Obama’s science dream team who is now working as the United States’ first-ever oceans envoy; James McWilliams questions why drowning remains the fifth-leading cause of unintentional injury or death in the U.S.; Moises Velasquez-Manoff visits dead zones along the West Coast, where climate change is altering the ocean so rapidly it’s starting to resemble the oxygen-depleted waters that preceded many of the mass extinctions in Earth’s past; and more.

To complement these stories, we’re hosting a panel in downtown Santa Barbara on June 12. Moderated by Adam Nagourney, the Los Angeles bureau chief for the New York Times, the conversation will be the first in a new series of events in which we scrutinize the nation’s biggest problems. It is our belief that, with thoughtful debate among experts, we can push important ideas out to a wider audience and nudge the national conversation away from political gridlock and special interests and toward public awareness, action, and constructive policymaking. You can find more information about this event — and others to follow — at, where we’ll also be bringing the discussion that takes place here in Southern California to our global audience.