China's rapid economic expansion in recent years has been widely heralded as a boon for its people and its government. In this sweeping 10-part series, The New York Times fully exposed and explored the dark side of that unprecedented development: ravaging degradation of the environment.
Reporter Dan Egan
By the end of 2009, after a multistate lawsuit was headed for the U.S. Supreme Court, the nation knew about the perils of Asian carp becoming the latest invasive species to reach the ever-fragile Great Lakes. In late December, the fight to force Chicago to close some locks to keep the fish from spilling into Lake Michigan prompted an urgent editorial in The New York Times declaring “there isn’t a lot of time to act.” Thanks to Great Lakes reporter Dan Egan, readers of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel knew for years this day was coming.
It was Egan who first reported where the 50-pound leaping fish had come from. It was Egan who first reported that the plan to use an electric barrier to keep the fish from migrating up the Chicago River was doomed to fail. And it was Egan who first reported the fish had indeed breached the barrier, a revelation that forced a storm of federal lawsuits.
That investigation was part of Egan’s ongoing series, “Great Lakes, Great Peril,” begun in 2008. This reporting was preceded by another series, “Troubled Waters,” that introduced many readers to the multiple threats facing the nation's greatest freshwater resource. Through his dedication to covering environmental issues facing the Great Lakes region, Egan has continuously reinforced his standing as one of the nation’s foremost environmental journalists.
The Great Lakes rank high among the nations' most treasured -- and important -- natural resources. Apart from their scenic beauty, they support a commercially valuable fishing industry, provide fresh water for several major cities and hundreds of smaller communities, and offer boundless recreational opportunities for millions of visitors. Yet the Lakes are in trouble. They suffer from years of regulatory neglect, persistent industrial and municipal pollution and, more recently, multiple assaults from invasive species.
Quagga mussels cluster on a line hanging in Lake Mead, Nevada. Credit: Bryan Moore/National Park Service
Dan Egan of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has done more than any other journalist in America to chronicle the decline of this once-great ecosystem, to alert the public to new threats and to force governments to take remedial action.
Four years ago, Egan first reported on the latest invasive species -- the giant carp imported from Asia that escaped from an experimental sewage treatment project in Arkansas, made thir way up the Mississippi, destroying other species along the way, and are now on Lake Michigan's doorstep near Chicago. If allowed the gain access to the lakes, these fish could be the last straw for an ecosystem and a once-flourishing commercial and recreational fishing industry already devastated by a series of other foreign invaders like the lamprey eel, the zebra mussel and, more recently, a tiny little destroyer known as the quagga mussel.
Egan continued to chronicle all these problems in 2009 while adding new dimensions to his reporting. Among other discoveries, he found that the mussels had begun to infect fresh-water lakes throughout the region and had spread as far west as Nevada's Lake Mead -- transported, apparently, by tourists towing their boats. He also uncovered fresh material about the reasons behind the ominous drop in water levels in Lakes Michigan and Huron, including an apparently misguided federal dredging project.
The future of this vast ecosystem does not look particularly rosy. But its prospects are better than they were a few years ago, thanks partly to Egan's sound reporting. The states that depend on the lakes have banded together with Canada and the Federal government to take remedial action, and Congress has finally appropriated real money to restore beaches, stop pollution and investigate ways to deal with the species that have already invaded the lakes and keep new species from reaching them.
If these efforts yield success, Dan Egan's journalistic persistence and his ongoing series --"Great Lakes, Great Peril " --will deserve an enormous amount of credit.
Dan Egan covers the Great Lakes as a full-time beat for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. His work was recognized in 2010 as a Pulitzer Prize finalist for explanatory reporting. It also has been honored with the National Headliner Award for health/medical/science reporting, the National Headliner Award for environmental reporting, Columbia University's John B. Oakes Award for Environmental Journalism, the Inland Press Association award for explanatory reporting and the Hal Hovey award for outstanding coverage of state and local government. Egan started reporting in 1992 at Sun Valley's Idaho Mountain Express and has also worked at the Idaho Falls Post Register and the Salt Lake Tribune. He has been a feature writer, a higher education writer and an environment writer, and he spent two years covering the U.S. Ski Team in advance of the 2002 Salt Lake Winter Games. He graduated from the University of Michigan in 1989 with a degree in history.
Author Cleo Paskal
Global Warring examines the rapid pace of global change by combining insightful economic and political analysis with the most likely environmental change scenarios. Author Cleo Paskal identifies problem areas that could start conflicts (access to water and resources in Asia), economic trends that are shifting the balance of power (China’s policy of nationalistic capitalism), and geopolitical realignments (the burgeoning strategic partnership between the United States and India).
Paskal makes sense of this overwhelming topic by dividing it into five sections: how seemingly impervious western nations, such as the United States, are shockingly vulnerable to hurricanes, storm surges and rising sea levels, and what that could mean for their internal stability and economic development; how the thawing Arctic is opening up a vast resources, strategic shipping routes such as the Northwest Passage and geopolitical leverage; how changing precipitation patterns, extreme weather and water shortages are creating severe disruptions in India and China, and how that could affect their relations with each other, and the world; how rising sea levels may shift borders and alter the very notion of statehood, potentially challenging international law to the breaking point; and , finally, what could happen in coming decades, and how to avoid the worst of it.
Paskal combines ten years of research; the latest findings from the Hadley Centre and the United Nations; and interviews with top political, security and economic strategists with her own extensive travel as a foreign correspondent. The result is an accessible, compelling, and chilling reminder that Global Warring is not only coming, it’s here.
In this fascinating, penetrating and stylistically crafted book, Cleo Paskal goes where other examinations of climate change have not – beyond the impacts to particular species or ecosystems and to the very structure on which our global civilization is built: the relationships between and among nations.
Paskal makes a convincing case that climate change will threaten global security and rock already tenuous geopolitical balances around the world. She begins with the most likely climate-change scenarios, then subjects them to insightful economic and political analysis.
She envisions the United States and the European Union facing off against China and Russia in a new kind of Cold War, one centered not on ideology but on such issues as control of the emerging Northwest Passage through the Arctic and water shortages in Asia. Within the U.S., France and other countries, she sees the potential for enormous unrest based on changing climate factors.
Yet Paskal’s book is far from scare-mongering. Rather, it lays out policy prescriptions that can help Western governments and their citizens manage through both adaptation and mitigation. This is cutting-edge journalism, the first of what will certainly be the next wave of climate-change exploration.
Cleo Paskal is a geopolitical expert and writer who specializes in the geopolitical, security, and economic implications of environmental change (including climate change). She is a Senior Fellow at the Royal Institute of International Affairs, Chatham House, London, UK, and a consultant for the US Department of Energy’s Global Energy and Environmental Strategic Ecosystem. Paskal is also Adjunct Faculty in the Department of Geopolitics, Manipal University, India, and Adjunct Professor of Global Change, School of Communications and Management Studies, Kochi, India. She has guest lectured at universities on most continents, including Cambridge University and the London School of Economics. She has been asked to present her findings to a wide range of stakeholders including the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, Canadian Security Intelligence Service, UK Ministry of Defense, EU, NATO and the German Foreign Office. She has also briefed high-ranking government officials from many countries and CEOs from some of the world’s largest companies on specific scenarios they might face in the coming years. Paskal is also an award-winning journalist who has contributed to, among others, Maclean’s, the National Post, The Globe and Mail, CBC radio, The Economist, The Independent, and the Sunday Times. She has presented radio shows for the BBC and wrote an Emmy-winning documentary television series. She is currently a columnist with the Toronto Star.
Poisoned Waters, aired by PBS Frontline on April 21, 2009, was a tough-minded report that clearly laid out America’s failure to ensure the health of its waterways.
The documentary, created by a seven-person team led by executive producer Hedrick Smith, not only exposes threats from legacy pollutants, massive dead zones, and contaminated storm water runoff from unchecked sprawl and growth. It also reveals fresh dangers in America’s drinking water from still-unregulated endocrine disrupters used in many everyday products.
“It is the most impressive and well-researched documentary I’ve seen on this subject,” says Chuck Fox, former EPA Asst. Director. “Sophisticated, comprehensive, brave… The best succinct statement in print or on film of the need for immediate action to make safe the water we drink,” adds Roger Kennedy, former Director of the National Park Service.
Rep James Oberstar (D-Minn), Chairman of the House Transportation Committee, cited his viewing of Poisoned Waters in calling for action on new environmental legislation. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson highlighted the film on her own website. Bill Ruckelshaus, EPA’s first Administrator, said Poisoned Waters “will help us enormously” in motivating public action to save Puget Sound.
Almost 40 years after the passage of the Clean Water Act, America’s waterways remain polluted by agricultural and industrial waste and runoff from urban sprawl. Poisoned Waters, a two-hour documentary from PBS Frontline, documents the history and consequences of inadequate government regulation for the environment, wildlife and humankind.
The film centers on the plight of the Chesapeake Bay and Puget Sound, two case studies that illustrate the crisis facing coastal waters, rivers and lakes nationwide. Stunning visuals of underwater dead zones, pollution plumes and mutant frogs demonstrate the impact of decades of development and neglect. Three years in the making, the documentary includes probing interviews with major players in the water quality debate, from elected officials to the chicken industry to community organizers.
Well-researched and thought-provoking, Poisoned Waters resists pointing fingers at easy targets. Instead, the film makes the point that everyone bears some responsibility for water pollution. And it looks at solutions, including land use policies, that are helping to prevent further damage.
Senior Producer and Correspondent Hedrick Smith, Pulitzer Prize-winning former New York Times reporter and editor and Emmy award-winning producer/correspondent, is one of America’s most distinguished journalists. For 26 years, he covered Washington and world capitals for The New York Times winning the Pulitzer Prize for international reporting from Moscow in 1974. He has created 50 hours of award-winning PBS prime-time specials and mini-series on Washington’s power game, Soviet perestroika, the global economy, education reform, health care, teen violence, terrorism and Wall Street, winning Emmys for two Frontline programs, The Wall Street Fix and Can You Afford to Retire? His latest production, Poisoned Waters, is a probing two-hour examination of America’s track record on cleaning up its waterways since passage of the Clean Water Act in 1972. Smith has authored several best-selling books, including The Russians (1976), the Power Game: How Washington Works (1988), The New Russians (1990) and Rethinking America (1995).
Director Rick Young began his career with PBS in 1989 and his credits include more than 15 programs for PBS flagship documentary series, Frontline, and the Center for Investigative Journalism. He currently heads the PBS Frontline production unit at American University School of Communication’s Investigative Reporting Workshop, completing a one-hour program, Flying Cheap. From 2002-2009, Young worked with Hedrick Smith Productions as producer for seven programs, including two Emmy award-winners, The Wall Street Fix and Can You Afford to Retire? His five other collaborations with Hedrick Smith include Poisoned Waters, Tax Me If You Can, Is Wal-Mart Good for America? and Spying on the Home Front. Earlier, Mr. Young was reporter and co-producer on three Emmy-nominated shows with Frontline Producer Mike Kirk. Previously, Mr. Young served from 1983-1989 as an investigator on the staff of the U.S. House of Representatives. His stories and commentaries have appeared on NPR and The New York Times, Washington Post and the Baltimore Sun.
Producer Marc Shaffer is an award- winning independent journalist and documentary filmmaker, whose work airs nationally on PBS and the commercial networks. In addition to serving as Producer for Poisoned Waters, Shaffer has produced one-hour programs for six PBS multi-hour series for Hedrick Smith Productions, including the People and the Power Game, Critical Condition, Surviving the Bottoms Line, Juggling Work and Family, Seeking Solutions, and Bigger Than Enron. Independently, he has produced both for PBS Frontline and the Bill Moyers Journal. Shaffer’s films have covered a broad swath of American life, from corporate corruption to the complexities of health care to environmental threats facing our nation and the world. Shaffer’s films have twice been nominated for national Emmy awards, and this work has garnered dozens of other awards and honors. He is the founder of Inside Out Media (www.insideoutmedia.org), a not-profit documentary production company. Marc lives in Oakland with his wife and two children.
Cameraman Peter Pearce has been shooting documentaries for over 35 years on subjects ranging from religious fundamentalism to American history, non-violent conflict, and threats to the environment in Poisoned Waters for Hedrick Smith Productions. His work has been viewed on PBS Frontline, PBS American Experience, The Smithsonian World, and POV. In addition, he has filmed for HBO, ABC, The Discovery Channel and numerous Independent theatrically released documentaries. Many festivals and competitions, among which are four George Foster Peabody Awards, three Emmys, two Alfred I. duPont/Columbia University Awards, and one Academy Award. Pearce was raised in Louisville, Kentucky and went to the University of Denver where he studied film-making. In his professional career, he has traveled widely to Europe, Africa, Asia, North and South America.
Editor Penny Trams is a veteran of 25 years editing documentaries and other programs for network television, PBS and various cable outlets such as Discovery and National Geographic’s Television. Projects she has worked on have won numerous awards including the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism award, several Emmys, and the BACA award for outstanding documentary. She collaborated with Hedrick Smith Productions both on Poisoned Waters and on another two-hour PBS special, Making Schools Work. Additional recent projects include a feature-length documentary, With All Deliberate, and a five-hour series, Monastery, for The Learning Channel. Trams studied film at The London International Film School.
Field Producer Catherine Rentz has worked as a staffer on four documentaries for Hedrick Smith Productions before joining the American University School of Communication’s Investigative Workshop in 2009. In addition to her work on Poisoned Waters, she worked on three earlier documentaries broadcast on PBS Frontline: Can You Afford to Retire? Mission Retirement, and Spying on the Home Front. On this project, Rentz led the research and did much of the filed reporting for the Chesapeake Bay. Her latest project has been as field producer for the PBS Frontline program Flying Cheap. Prior to joining HSP, Rentz worked as a data analyst at the nonprofit Investigative Reporters and Editors group and wrote articles and commentaries for the Indianapolis Star and Houston Chronicle. Rentz graduated from the University of Texas and received an MA from University of Missouri School of Journalism.
Associate Producer Fritz Kramer, an avid hiker, skier, and nature lover who grew up in Asheville, NC, returned from a summit-climb of Mount Kilimanjaro in July 2007 to take his place in the production team for Poisoned Waters. For Poisoned Waters, Kramer led the research effort on Puget Sound and did field reporting in the Pacific Northwest. Previously, he served as a researcher and production assistant for two other PBS Frontline documentaries creased by HSP, Can You Afford To Retire? and Spying on the Home Front. His latest assignment has been as associate producer for the PBS Frontline program, Flying Cheap for the Investigative Reporting Workshop at American University’s School of Communications. Kramer has also worked for the ABC News Washington Bureau editing overnight news and new media content. Kramer graduated for the University of North Carolina in 2005, where he was a Morehead Scholar