Supporters of President-elect Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva celebrate his victory in the Brazilian presidential election. Photo: Daniel Munoz/VIEWpress

The best environmental journalism of 2022

A selection of the stories we wish we had written over the last 12 months

Supporters of President-elect Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva celebrate his victory in the Brazilian presidential election. Photo: Daniel Munoz/VIEWpress

The best environmental journalism of 2022

A selection of the stories we wish we had written over the last 12 months

Supporters of President-elect Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva celebrate his victory in the Brazilian presidential election. Photo: Daniel Munoz/VIEWpress

The dirty road to clean energy: how China’s electric vehicle boom is ravaging the environment, Rest of World, Antonia Timmerman

For people living in the Indonesian fishing village of Kurisa, life is being transformed by the electric vehicle revolution. Residents complain about high levels of toxic air and water pollution from the nickel-processing facilities that dot the area, manufacturing key components for Tesla’s lithium batteries. Data obtained by Rest of World showed that “upper respiratory infections have been at the top of the list of diseases in the district” since 2018. Reporter Antonia Timmerman felt the impact of the pollution around Kurisa firsthand. Soon after visiting the area, she contracted an eye infection that doctors attributed to the dust and air pollutants she’d been exposed to. “Today,” she wrote, “I’m still waiting to fully regain the function of my left eye, which can only be restored by a cornea transplant.”

Junk carbon offsets are what make these big companies ‘carbon neutral’, Bloomberg Green, Akshat Rathi, Natasha White and Demetrios Pogkas

The carbon offsetting industry has grown significantly in the last couple of years, as companies try to work out how to meet their net zero targets. Journalists at Bloomberg have been among the best at demystifying the sector, pointing out clearly and coherently why some offsetting projects don’t make any sense. This piece on the lack of additionality of many renewable offsetting schemes was an impressive dissection of a booming industry.

How Republicans are weaponising public office against climate action, New York Times, David Gelles and Jesse Coleman

When Democrats control the White House and both houses of Congress, how could the climate denying Republican Party sabotage the energy transition? In a blockbuster investigation involving thousands of pages of documents, the New York Times and an investigative outfit called Documented identified the strategy underway by fossil fuel lobbying groups like the Heritage Foundation, the Heartland Institute and the American Petroleum Institute. A group of state treasurers have been withholding contracts from companies that are looking to reduce emissions, punishing banks for reducing their investments in coal, and pressuring companies to drop the ‘woke’ climate cause. Even as macro trends tend towards decarbonisation, and the centre left enjoys some electoral success, polluters have turned to guerilla warfare.

How Truss’ post-Brexit farming policy descended into chaos, The Guardian, Helena Horton 

During Britain’s libertarian fever dream this autumn, green groups across the spectrum were shocked into action by the deregulatory zeal of the Liz Truss government. From curbs on solar to controversial investment zones, the #AttackOnNature saw combative environmental activism enter the mainstream. At the heart of the movement was reporting by the Guardian’s Helena Horton, particularly her series on efforts to scrap the ELM scheme, long-fought-for nature recovery subsidies. A particular highlight was how the farmers union pressed the government to launch an inquiry into how she was leaked the info.

‘It’s like an oven’: Life in Britain’s hottest neighbourhoods, BBC News, Harriet Bradshaw, Rob England and Deirdre Finnerty

As the UK steamed in its first-ever 40C heatwave, BBC News took us into sweltering homes up and down the country, where the temperatures sometimes topped 30C before midday. It was part of a piece explaining the phenomenon of ‘heat islands’ – built-up urban areas that can be up to 5C hotter than those with simple features such as shade and green space. People in deprived areas are more than twice as likely to live in heat islands as their wealthier counterparts, the piece found.

Investigation reveals Egypt’s ‘super coral’ at risk from oil pollution, BBC News Arabic and SourceMaterial

To mark the start of the UN climate summit in Sharm el Sheikh, BBC News Arabic and SourceMaterial published a story based on leaked documents showing that an oil terminal, formerly owned by BP, had been dumping toxic wastewater on the country’s Red Sea coast for years. A well-timed piece on how big oil has left a toxic legacy in many parts of the world. 

Can you reach net zero by 2050? FT

A compelling and extremely clever piece of explainer journalism dressed up as a video game. This piece genuinely made climate policy fun, all while making hard-to-grasp aspects of climate change tangible. It took most of us three goes to get to net zero, for what it’s worth.  

Beyond catastrophe: a new climate reality is coming into view, New York Times, David Wallace-Wells

As the realities of climate change were becoming more apparent to just about everyone and a new form of anti-science, pro-fossil fuels right-wing populism was emerging in the US and elsewhere, David Wallace-Wells 2017 essay ‘The Uninhabitable Earth’ and later book of the same name, captured the zeitgeist. Wallace-Wells remains one of the most influential climate writers today because of his talent for clear, explanatory writing on a subject inclined to tiresome proselytising. This essay, published a month before world leaders met to discuss the future of the planet at COP27 in Egypt, captured the contradiction of the moment we find ourselves in. The development of renewable energy means a transition to a clean, green energy system has never been more achievable and yet emissions continue to rise. As he wrote: “two degrees is not inevitable; both better and worse outcomes are possible.”

Drax: UK power station owner cuts down primary forests in Canada, BBC Panorama,  Joe Crowley and Tim Robinson

Swapping coal for logs has been a boon for power company Drax. They’ve received millions in state subsidies for going green, even though scientists have been sceptical about the carbon accounting of swapping coal for trees. This BBC investigation discovered that the company had been chopping down trees from primary forests in Canada. As ecologist Michelle Connolly told Panorama: “It’s really a shame that British taxpayers are funding this destruction with their money. Logging natural forests and converting them into pellets to be burned for electricity, that is absolutely insane.”

The Manchin climate deal is both a big win and a deal with the devil, The New Republic, Kate Aronoff

Joe Biden achieved what no other US president has ever done in 2022: he passed meaningful climate legislation in the Senate. The Inflation Reduction Act, despite its unspectacular name, was a momentous achievement, which could transform the US economy. But it was also flawed, as Kate Aronoff wrote in the New Republic, packed with incentives for fossil fuel companies, including new permits for oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico and off the coast of Alaska. However, as part of a nuanced and sophisticated essay, Aronoff also noted an analysis by the firm Energy Innovation, which found that “for every ton of emissions increases generated by [the bill’s] oil and gas provisions, at least 24 tons of emissions are avoided by the other provisions”. If that holds, she argued, “then this deal looks much better than nothing”. 

How Joe Manchin aided coal and earned millions, New York Times, Christopher Flavelle and Julie Tate

For much of 2021 and 2022, Joe Manchin had a claim to be the most important politician in the world. The man with the casting vote in the US Senate, it was only by directly compromising with him that Joe Biden was able to pass his landmark climate bill. But why was Manchin so reluctant to address climate change? Could it be because of his long association with big coal, as documented here by the New York Times?

French cash, Russian fuel, Ukrainian blood, Global Witness and Le Monde

After Russia invaded Ukraine, Global Witness set to work exposing Russia’s connections to household name European companies. This piece, making use of satellite data and open source intelligence techniques, was a well-told investigation on an issue of great importance. 

The razor’s edge of a warming world, GQ, Emily Atkin and Caitlin Looby

“My friends and family have died of heatstroke. This is normal for us. It’s part of our routine,” Muhammad Jan Odhano told GQ. Odhano, who works as a community organiser in Jacobabad, Pakistan, added. “Every year we feel it’s hotter than the last. It’s unfair. We are not contributing many greenhouse gasses in Pakistan. We see nothing specific to reduce the climate effects.” Emily Atkin and Caitlin Looby deserve tremendous credit for showcasing the stories of ordinary people living with climate change in the global south. An eye-opening and sensitively told piece of journalism.

BP paid rural Mexicans a ‘pittance’ for Wall Street’s favourite climate solution, Bloomberg,  Max De Haldevang

Another offsetting investigation from Bloomberg, this time exposing the inequities in the carbon market. As part of its net zero plans, BP invested in a community project in Mexico aimed at protecting a dwindling forest through the sale of carbon credits. Only thing is that the community members had no idea how much carbon credits sell on the market and, at the time the credits were put up for sale, the market was in a slump. The result: the community members got much less than they hoped for. “It’s pretty unjust,” said community leader Álvaro Tepetla. “You only find out about all this afterwards.”

Environment Agency has ‘no idea’ how much water is taken from rivers and groundwater, The Guardian, Rachel Salvidge

Few people are as responsible for elevating the issue of England’s polluted rivers and coastlines as journalist Rachel Salvidge. This piece exposed the Environment Agency’s lack of oversight, as the country remained in drought after days of heavy rainfall. Next year she will launch a new investigative non-profit called Watershed. We’re looking forward to seeing what she uncovers next. 

Dom Phillips and Bruno Pereira’s deaths show the Amazon’s destruction, Washington Post, Terence McCoy

In June this year, British journalist Dom Phillips and Brazilian Indigenous expert Bruno Pereira, went missing in the Amazon’s Javari Valley. Following a 10-day search led by Indigenous locals — and a delayed, inadequate official response — their bodies were recovered. Terence McCoy —  a good friend of Dom’s — went to the forest to investigate the story behind the brutal killings and situate it in the hostile atmosphere towards environmentalists and Indigenous rights activities fostered by the Bolsonaro administration. 

14,000 people were poisoned by pesticides during the Bolsonaro administration, Repórter Brasil and Agência Pública, Bruno Fonseca and Júlia Rohden

One of the immediately quantifiable harms of the Bolsonaro administration has been the steep increase in pesticide approvals: 1,800 new pesticides, half of which are banned in Europe. This investigation by stellar Brazilian outlets Repórter Brasil and Apublica found that during this time more than 14,500 people were poisoned by pesticides, with 439 fatalities — that’s one death by acute pesticide poisoning every three days, with black men being the worst affected group. Pesticides expert Guilherme Cavalcanti de Albuquerque attributed this tendency to structural racism, which means the Afro-Brazilian population is more likely to perform precarious, dangerous jobs, including pesticide application. “The black population has been denied access to education for centuries and, even when there is qualified education, structural racism imposes greater difficulty in accessing less dangerous jobs. Black people are left with this type of work that is harmful to health,” he said.

A race for lithium is sparking fears of water shortages in northern Argentina, Climate Home, Natalia Alcoba

Indigenous people have joined farmers, activists and scientists in launching legal challenges against mining in Argentina’s lithium triangle, Natalia Alcoba reported in January. Lithium is vital for the energy transition but mining in northern Argentina is creating water shortages, according to scientists.

Brazil gold miners carve illegal ‘Road to Chaos’ out of Amazon reserve, The Guardian Tom Phillips

Tom Phillips has done great work this year. His reporting on the search for his friend and colleague Dom Phillips and Bruno Pereira was intensely moving. For this piece, he, together with journalists from Brazilian broadcaster Globo, followed the development of an illegal road taking gold from the Amazon. 

Mines, pipelines and oil rigs: what HSBC’s ‘sustainable finance’ really pays for, The Bureau of Investigative Journalism and SourceMaterial, Josephine Moulds, Marcus Leroux and Meenakshi Kapoor

A top-rate piece of follow-the-money reporting, giving a welcome insight into just how sustainable, or not, HSBC’s ‘sustainable finance’ work really is. From the reporting: “an analysis of the bonds HSBC counts towards its sustainable finance target found at least $2.4bn worth of deals for companies that are worsening the climate crisis.” 

DEFRA pressured officials to clear ports giant over Whitby crab deaths, Open Democracy, Russell Scott

In October 2021, dead crustraceans started piling up on the North Yorkshire coast, hurting local fishing communities. Russell Scott showed his command of FOI rules and Environmental Information Regulations to get hold of documents showing that politicians had leaned on regulators to rebut an independent report that suggested that dredging by a ports giant might be to blame. 

Lebanon’s crypto miners, Rest of World, Jacob Russell and Adam Hasan

In one of the few parts of Lebanon with a continuous supply of electricity, a small group of crypto bros have been hard at work, leading to power outages for surrounding communities and stoking tensions with local law enforcement. A fascinating piece of reporting, funded by the Pulitzer Center