We take a leap of faith with every story we tell. It starts with an idea, a character or a moment in time that seems important and compelling, but there are no guarantees. We’re left to trust the power of reporting and the conviction that there’s nothing more valuable than the search for truth and nothing more fascinating than real life itself.
The animating idea behind “American Climate,” a documentary series of short video portraits and essays we published last year, was that intensifying extreme weather events caused by climate change had already become a frightening new normal for thousands of Americans, in ways that would affect millions, even tens of millions, in the years ahead.
Could we capture the future and make it a present reality for you—something you could more deeply understand, something you could feel?
The events of last week seemed to validate the vision, and our journalism, as wildfires raged across the West and yet another hurricane battered and flooded the Gulf Coast.
The fear we captured in Stephen Murray’s voice as he roused elderly residents from a mobile home park in Paradise, California, before the Camp Fire burned the town to the ground, causing 85 deaths, in November 2018, was echoed two weeks ago by desperate firefighters working to evacuate 80 residents from a small Oregon town.
The desperation Brittany Pitts experienced clinging to her children as Hurricane Michael blew ashore in Mexico Beach, Florida, in October 2018 foreshadowed the plight of a family found clinging to a tree last week in Pensacola, in the torrential aftermath of Hurricane Sally.
The loss Louis Byford described at his gutted home in Corning, Missouri, after catastrophic flooding on the Northern Great Plains in March 2019, was felt a few days ago by homeowners in Gulf Shores, Alabama, after Sally blew through the town.
We were most gratified, on the eve of the storm, when the Society of Professional Journalists’ Deadline Club in New York named Anna Belle Peevey, Neela Banerjee and Adrian Briscoe of InsideClimate News as the winners of its award for reporting by independent digital media for “American Climate.” The judges’ award citation seemed to deeply affirm the story we’d set out to tell:
“Everybody reports disaster stories, but InsideClimate News went beyond the death and destruction to starkly show readers how a California wildfire, a Gulf Coast hurricane and Midwestern flooding were connected. Enhanced with videos and graphics, ‘The Shared Experience of Disaster,’ paints a multi-faceted picture of the effects of climate change on the planet, making it all the more real with powerful testimony from survivors.”
As Neela wrote in one of her “American Climate” essays, “The Common Language of Loss”: “Refugees are supposed to come to the United States; they aren’t supposed to be made here. But I don’t know what else to call these people who have had everything stripped away from them. … They are the Californians who rushed down burning mountain roads, wondering if they would ever see their children again. They are the people left homeless by a storm surge in Florida or river flooding in Iowa. Now, with increasing frequency and soberingly similar losses, the refugees are Americans.”