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Issue Backgrounder is a monthly SEJournal Online column to help journalists better cover emerging environmental issues, especially challenging or underreported topics. Each 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

July 15, 2014

  • After Katrina, Louisiana may have hit the national spotlight for a time, but coastal communities elsewhere around the country will have to find their own answers to the question “Why does anyone still live there in harm’s way?” — even as more and more people move toward the coast and the water moves ever closer to them.

October 15, 2013

  • This special report on climate change adaptation will help environmental journalists better understand and cover this growing topic. Top-notch beat reporters share how to best get at the nuts and bolts of adaptation in coastal communities and agricultural ones, a leading communications thinker shares insights into the “message” of adaptation, and we provide snapshots of a few of the many noteworthy adaptation projects, as well as the special challenges faced in one developing nation.

July 15, 2013

April 15, 2013

  • More than one observer has compared covering energy to the folk tale about the blind men who try to describe an elephant, and end up shouting at each other because they’ve each grasped a different part of the beast and believe their portion represents the whole thing. Freelancer Jennifer Weeks reports.

January 15, 2013

September 15, 2012

April 15, 2012

October 15, 2011

July 15, 2011

  • Everything from the social media’s importance to the need for a detailed disaster plan — Robert A. Thomas, professor and director of the Center for Environmental Communication, School of Mass Communication at Loyola University in New Orleans, outlines 17 take-away lessons for journalists.