Pulitzer winning climate news

David Hasemyer

InsideClimate News reporter David Hasemyer is co-author of the Dilbit Disaster: Inside the Biggest Oil Spill You've Never Heard Of, which won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting, was a finalist in the 2012 Scripps Howard Awards for Environmental Reporting and won an honorable mention in the 2012 John B. Oakes Award for Distinguished Environmental Journalism. Prior to joining InsideClimate News, he was a freelance journalist whose career included an award-winning tenure at the San Diego Union-Tribune as an investigative reporter. Hasemyer's work has been recognized by the Associated Press, the Society for Professional Journalists, the Society of American Business Editors and Writers and the California Newspaper Publishers Association. He has also been a finalist for the Gerald Loeb Award.

Among the articles Hasemyer researched and wrote for the Union-Tribune was a series about a 10-million ton pile of nuclear waste, a remnant of the uranium-mining boom in the 1950s and '60s that threatened the Colorado River. Those stories have been widely credited as critical to the U. S. Department of Energy's decision in 2000 to move the pile away from the river. Hasemyer graduated from San Diego State University with a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism.


Fracking Fumes Force Texas Resident to Shutter Home Business After a Decade

The Buehrings' property on the south Texas prairie is surrounded by more than 50 wells and nine oil-and-gas facilities, all within 2.5 miles of their home.

Mar 22, 2015

It's the height of tax season, when Texas tax preparer Lynn Buehring would usually be working horribly long hours to keep ahead of the crush of clients wanting to beat the April 15 filing deadline.

Not this year. After a more than a decade in business, Buehring has closed her Karnes County office.

Buehring said she was forced to shutter the business because noxious fumes from the dozens of oil-and-gas facilities that surround her rural home and office became so overpowering she could no longer work.

The unbearable odors also were driving away clients who couldn't stand to come to her office, she said.

"The smell and how it would make you sick...I just couldn't take it anymore," Buehring said.

So she notified her 85 clients that she was closing the Business Barn––so named because Buehring had established her office in a small red barn that sat in the yard of the ranch house she shares with her husband, Shelby.

"It was the hardest thing to do," she said. "But I had to do it."

Could Absolute Consensus on Global Warming Come in a Suitcase?

Emily Wilson has big plans for her portable instrument that measures carbon dioxide and methane from the ground to four miles into the sky.

Mar 16, 2015

NASA scientist Emily Wilson has big plans for a little gadget.

She has developed a suitcase-sized instrument that measures carbon dioxide and methane wafting into the atmosphere from ground level to four miles into the sky.

"I have a pretty big vision," Wilson said.

She wants to create a worldwide network of these portable monitors to track the two potent greenhouse gases that have been identified as major contributors to global warming.

One day, she said, she hopes these instruments will be used to establish a comprehensive inventory of greenhouse gas emissions around the world.

Yes, it's easier said than done, she acknowledged. But the 43-year-old optical physicist at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., is determined––if not yet completely sure how––to make it happen.

"In order for there to be an absolute consensus on global warming there have to be global measurements that leave no opening for debate about what is happening," Wilson said.

NASA scientist Emily Wilson has big plans for this suitcase-sized instrument she hopes will someday be deployed around the world to track greenhouse gas emissions. Credit: NASA

Doctors Connect Climate Change and Worsening of Respiratory Illness

Doctors seeing worsening of asthma associated with exposure to ozone or other pollutants, more severe allergy seasons, and more cases of lung disease.

Mar 10, 2015

It's been so bitter cold in New England this winter that it didn't surprise Dr. Mark R. Windt when one of his patients came in wheezing and complaining of shortness of breath.

The cold air had aggravated her asthma.

The daytime high temperatures sometimes weren't getting out of single digits.

"That is cold, COLD," said Windt, a specialist in allergies, immunology and pulmonology in North Hampton, N.H.

Scientists have attributed the frigid temperatures and historic snowfalls to storm tracks that have become stronger and more frequent because of increased greenhouse gas emissions that alter atmospheric conditions.

"There's no doubt climate change had an effect on my patient's asthma and is having an effect on the health of others," Windt said.

Windt and a majority of his colleagues in the American Thoracic Society who specialize in the treatment of respiratory illnesses are connecting some of their patients' disorders to climate change.

A recent survey by the society found that the majority of its members believe climate change is having a negative impact on the health of their patients. The survey was published in the February issue of the Annals of the American Thoracic Society.

A Weak Link to Harvard-Smithsonian Gave Star Power to Climate Contrarian Willie Soon

Though employed by the prestigious institution, Soon had to attract outside funding for his research and entire salary to keep his job.

Mar 4, 2015

When Stephen Mulkey was an environmental scientist at the University of Idaho in 2010, he agreed to serve on a panel opposite Wei-Hock Soon, the scientist at the center of a scandal over fossil-fuel industry funding of climate research.

Mulkey, the head of the college's environmental science program, advanced the scientific consensus that climate change is caused by burning of fossil fuels. He had the vast majority of climate scientists worldwide on his side.

But Soon, who promotes discredited science that the sun is the primary driver of global warming, had something stronger on his side in that debate: the imprimatur of Harvard University and the Smithsonian Institution.

Since 1997 Soon has been employed by the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. And that's how Mulkey remembers Soon’s introduction to the crowd in Boise for the seminar on global warming arranged by the Idaho Council on Industry and Environment, a non-profit organization that urges "the use of sound science and facts in shaping public policy."

The gravitas of Harvard-Smithsonian's credibility versus the University of Idaho's was a mismatch, recalled Mulkey, who is now president of Unity College in Maine and recently authored a blog post on the imbalance.  

"The audience ate up what Soon had to say," said Mulkey, who described the group as pro-industry. "It's like, here's this Harvard scientist telling us all the other scientists are lying to us."

Smithsonian's Inspector General to Probe Willie Soon

An immediate response to troubling allegations around Dr. Willie Soon’s failure to disclose funding sources for his contrarian climate change research.

Feb 23, 2015

The Smithsonian has opened an investigation into the ethical conduct of Willie Soon, one of its part time scientists and a climate-change skeptic who is facing scrutiny for failing to properly disclose his work was funded by fossil fuel interests.

The Smithsonian probe follows disclosures this weekend—through the release of public documents—that Soon failed to divulge industry funding for 11 studies that were published in nine scientific journals.

"The Smithsonian is greatly concerned about the allegations surrounding Dr. Willie Soon's failure to disclose funding sources for his climate change research," according to a statement released by Smithsonian.

Documents Reveal Fossil Fuel Fingerprints on Contrarian Climate Research

Scientist Willie Soon calls his papers 'deliverables' to fossil fuel executives, and grants a big coal utility pre-publication review and anonymity.

Feb 21, 2015

After finishing a study contending that solar activity is increasing global warming, scientist Willie Soon of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics reported his news to a utility company that was a major funder of his work.

"I have a big super-duper paper soon to be accepted on how the sun affects the climate system," Soon wrote in a 2009 email to Robert Gehri, a research specialist with Southern Company Services, a mega utility company in the southeastern U.S. that generates power largely from coal.

Soon, one of few skeptics in the climate science community, described the paper that was published in the journal Physical Geography as "fairly significant scientifically in that this is the first successful formulation of a sun-climate connection." He was writing a follow-up note to Gehri, whose company has provided more than $400,000 from 2006 through 2015 to fund Soon’s research—and part of his salary.

The emails and related documents were obtained by Greenpeace through Freedom of Information Act requests. They were made public today by Greenpeace and the Climate Investigations Center, an environmental watchdog organization based in Virginia.

The communications show that Soon called his peer-reviewed research papers "deliverables" in return for funding from fossil fuel companies. In addition, the documents reveal that Soon and Harvard-Smithsonian gave the coal utility company the right to review his scientific papers and make suggestions before they were published. Soon and Harvard-Smithsonian also pledged not to disclose Southern’s role as a funder without permission.

Although the emails don’t show a response from Gehri, an industry executive with a long track record of working behind the scenes to downplay the significance of global warming, they do show Soon sharing a collegial familiarity with industry executives, media skeptics and organizations dedicated to undermining prevailing climate science.

The theory advanced by Soon that the sun is a contributor to recent climate change has been widely discredited by scientists worldwide as well as by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the world’s leading international body on climate science. Nevertheless, the theory has stoked long-simmering public confusion about the sun’s role in global warming that continues to this day.

For decades, the industry has latched on to controversial findings like those advanced by Soon and a small group of contrarian scientists to create the impression that researchers are divided about the cause of climate change. It has pumped millions of dollars into research projects to cast doubt on mainstream climate science showing that the primary driver of global warming is the burning of fossil fuels.

The trove of documents released today offers one of the starkest glimpses yet into the workings of this strategy of peddling scientific doubt. Scientists, academics and policymakers say the strategy has helped the industry in delaying or thwarting decisive steps toward curbing global warming.

States Drag Their Feet on Congressman's Frack Waste Investigation

Cartwright finds responses from Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia too little and too late.

Feb 17, 2015

A Pennsylvania congressman wanted to know how his state and two neighboring states oversee the disposal of the often toxic waste generated by fracking oil-and-gas wells.

Now, Matthew Cartwright has some answers, and he finds them late–and lacking.

Cartwright, a Democrat from eastern Pennsylvania, launched the investigation in his state last October. A month later, he expanded his inquiry to Ohio and West Virginia. 

Responses from two states failed to provide substantive, detailed information to the congressman while one state has ignored the request.

Among the issues Cartwright raised:

  • How each state inspects oil-and-gas waste facilities.

  • What information the states require to pinpoint what's in the waste.

  • An explanation of the process for handling complaints regarding fracking waste disposal.

Answers to those questions are important for both residents and the environment in regions that are disposing of huge quantities of fracking waste, Cartwright said in an email interview.

"States continually argue that this is a state's issue and they can best handle it," Cartwright said. "We are simply asking states to please provide a little more insight into how they handle this issue and more importantly, how they enforce their own regulations.

Natural Gas Pipeline Battle in Michigan Moves South

Battle-hardened veterans in six counties protest and win, crediting 'power of determined people.' Now three other counties are in the cross-hairs.

Feb 10, 2015

To a dogged Michigan township supervisor, the recent decision by a Texas company to scrap plans to run a natural gas pipeline across the property of hundreds of landowners shows that people can fight—and win.

Atlas Township Supervisor Shirley Kautman-Jones said she believes the voices of outraged residents were heard loud and clear by Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners when it decided to abandon plans for its ET Rover pipeline in six central Michigan counties.

"Never underestimate the power of determined people," she said.