Backgrounders

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Issue Backgrounders are a monthly SEJournal Online feature to help journalists better cover emerging environmental issues, especially challenging or under-reported topics. Each Issue Backgrounder focuses on a specific environmental topic, offering key questions, basic answers, source contacts and other resources. For questions and comments, or to suggest future Issue Backgrounders, email Backgrounder editor Joseph A. Davis at sejournaleditor@sej.org.

 

January 19, 2022

  • With billions of infrastructure dollars now on the table to clean up orphan oil wells, states are already elbowing their way in for a taste. But as our new Backgrounder explains, the process to ensure they cannot pollute the environment or spew climate-change gasses is a complex one. And the sheer (and largely unknown) number of orphaned wells adds to the complications.

December 1, 2021

  • The history of environmental racism is a long one in the United States, far longer than the efforts to address the problem. But reporting on environmental justice continues to tick upwards, and an analysis in the latest Backgrounder points to promising progress, explaining why for journalists the year ahead may yield important stories, whether about future footholds or new missteps.

November 3, 2021

  • The COVID-19 outbreak has left little unchanged — including how environment reporters do their jobs, given that many experts believe the disruption of the human-wild interface could be the source of the next deadly virus. The new Backgrounder makes the case in this analysis, looking at how societies — and journalists — handled this pandemic and must prepare for possible future outbreaks.

October 6, 2021

  • It sometimes feels like journalists lurch from one catastrophe (or hurricane, flood, wildfire, heat wave) to the next. But that can mean missing the bigger story: Disasters, increasingly linked to climate extremes, are often interlocking events, in which one system failure causes the next and the next. The latest Backgrounder explores three case studies, and how news media can focus attention on steps toward resilience.

September 8, 2021

  • Carbon capture and storage technology has been around for years, but is being repositioned as a way to continue using fossil fuels in the face of climate change. Backgrounder takes a close look at how it works, its history and its politics. But even as the technology is taken up by Congress, the question is: Does the math add up?

July 14, 2021

  • With heat waves driven by global warming pounding parts of the western United States this summer, environmental journalists mustn’t overlook the toll on especially vulnerable populations, among them disadvantaged groups, the elderly, those in low-income housing and more. The latest Issue Backgrounder helps reporters understand heat’s health effects, track heat-vulnerable populations and clarifies how communities can prepare and prevent the worst public health impacts.

June 9, 2021

  • Corporate boardrooms are increasingly arenas in the fight over the future of energy and the environment, making it vital for journalists to understand the players, their motivations and the potential impacts on business planning. The new Issue Backgrounder explores the implications of recent news around investment policy, explaining some of its origins and deciphering the shifting scrimmage ahead.

May 12, 2021

  • The climate change gas methane, relatively little controlled but with a global warming potential many times that of carbon dioxide, has been much in the news recently and promises to remain there. The latest Backgrounder helps environmental journalists track the problem by detailing methane’s sources — from oil and gas production, agriculture and landfills — and the politics surrounding its regulation.

April 14, 2021

  • The path of our planetary climate may depend largely on our transition away from energy sources that cause global warming. And that, in turn, may rely on one thing: improved batteries. The new Backgrounder explores the future of energy storage — how batteries work, the progress the technology has made and the brutal battery competition ahead between the United States and China.

March 17, 2021

  • A much-anticipated infrastructure bill in Congress could help address the United States’ poorly rated roads, pipes and powerlines. But could the massive measure also do the heavy lifting for much-needed climate policy? The latest Backgrounder takes a deep dive into the context around climate-friendly infrastructure legislation, and looks ahead on what’s expected and how to report it.

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