Rachel Carson Environment Book Award: SEJ 22nd Annual Awards for Reporting on the Environment

First Place

"Wild New World: The Epic Story of Animals and People in America" by Dan Flores

Cover of "Wild New World"

Published by W.W. Norton & Company

Judges' comments: "Western historian Dan Flores' monumental 'Wild New World' tells the story of the Edenic bestiary that graced North America prior to the arrival of humans, and the devastation that has been wrought by the predatory carnivores Homo sapiens ever since. Flores weaves a mesmerizing natural history of the New World, using genomics and evolutionary biology to trace the decline of animal species from the advent of weapon-use by the Clovis people some 13,000 years ago — after which most of the continent's large mammals vanished — to today's Sixth Extinction. While lamenting the staggering loss of evolutionary richness unleashed by our species' self-denial about our animal nature, 'Wild New World' celebrates what was, and reminds us to experience and honor what remains."

About the winning project:

Dan Flores is a Santa Fe, New Mexico, writer who grew up in Louisiana and spent much of his career as a professor at the University of Montana. The author of 11 books, he has written for the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune and Time Magazine. Along with appearances on Anthony Bourdain's Parts Unknown on CNN and on The Joe Rogan Experience podcasts, Flores is featured in Ken Burns's 2023 film on the story of the American buffalo. His most recent books are "American Serengeti," winner of the Stubbendieck Distinguished Book Prize in 2017; "Coyote America," a 2017 New York Times Bestseller, winner of the Sigurd Olson Nature Writing Award and a Finalist for PEN AMERICA'S E. O. Wilson Prize in Literary Science Writing; and "Wild New World," one of Kirkus Reviews’ Best Nonfiction Books of 2022 and a Finalist for the 2023 Ralph Waldo Emerson Book Prize.

"Wild New World: The Epic Story of Animals and People in America" was Dan’s pandemic book, but the idea for it actually came from his oldest memory, when at the age of four he lost his first animal companion and his mother told him that humans were exceptional from all other life, that only we had "souls and go to heaven." That idea troubled Dan his entire life and eventually led to "Wild New World," an effort to write a big history of the human animal and our interactions with the grand bestiary evolution had fashioned in North America, a story both disturbing and ultimately, in spite of all, optimistic.



Second Place

"Confronting Climate Gridlock: How Diplomacy, Technology, and Policy Can Unlock a Clean Energy Future" by Daniel Cohan

Cover of "Confronting Climate Gridlock"

Published by Yale University Press

Judges' comments: "This is the book we would place in the hands of citizens and political leaders overwhelmed by the bewildering task of keeping up to date on the successes and failures of cutting greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. Clearly and briskly written for a non-science readership, the book shows a path toward ending the gridlock that stalls domestic policy and global agreement. Professor Cohan engagingly educates us with accounts of smart projects that are leading to a clean energy future while at the same time offering hope that there is time to act."


Third Place

"Brown Pelican" by Rien Fertel

Cover of "Brown Pelican"

Published by LSU Press

Judges' comments: "This is as much a quiet meditation on a little-understood bird as it is a call to reconsider the way we, as humans, engage with the natural world. From the first page, Rien Fertel grabs your attention and refuses to let go. He weaves the history of avian conservation and coastal development with personal stories of intimate and strange encounters with a bird that might as well be a dinosaur. The brown pelican, it turns out, is an animal worth spending time with. Those who already know they love birds, or the Gulf Coast, or environmental history will find new and surprising details in this slim and beautiful book. Those who are new to these topics will be surprised and delighted by the relevance of a book with the name of a bird."


First Honorable Mention

"Citizen Justice: The Environmental Legacy of William O. Douglas — Public Advocate and Conservation Champion" by M. Margaret McKeown

Cover of "Citizen Justice"

Published by Potomac Press-University of Nebraska Press

Judges' comments: "A federal circuit court judge with a talent for impeccable research has produced a book that plumbs the lifelong dedication of Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas to preserve America's wilderness. Judge McKeown, in clear and fluid prose, brings legal opinions to life with anecdotes and entertaining historical tidbits. The book will stand for the ages as a monument to the man who used his influence with presidents and members of Congress to halt development and establish public parks throughout the nation."


Second Honorable Mention

"Tree Thieves: Crime and Survival in North America's Woods" by Lyndsie Bourgon

Cover of "Tree Thieves"

Published by Little, Brown Spark

Judges' comments: "'Tree Thieves' is the rare thriller about trees. Bourgon dives into the wild history of stolen lumber — a resource that has made its way into our chairs and tables, and that comes from irreplaceable old-growth trees. The story of how these trees are poached, and the implications for our forests and the communities around them, is riveting. Bourgon, an oral historian, spends ample time with tree poachers, Indigenous community members, people who lived in former logging towns and members of law enforcement, which gives the story of these crimes depth and complexity."


Third Honorable Mention

"Water Always Wins: Thriving in an Age of Drought and Deluge" by Erica Gies

Cover of "Water Always Wins"

Published by University of Chicago Press (North America), Head of Zeus/Bloomsbury (UK and Commonwealth), Zhejiang People's Publishing House (China)

Judges' comments: "As climate change propels the world toward increasing deluge and drought, 'Water Always Wins' points out the failures of our efforts to control water with ever-larger infrastructure, and shows how communities can instead sustain this indispensable resource with urban landscapes that nurture it along its languorous flow to the sea. Science journalist Erica Gies' real-world accounts of the approach she calls 'Slow Water' provide both engaging reading and critical guidance for life in a water-challenged future."


The Society of Environmental Journalists' annual Awards for Reporting on the Environment honor the best environmental journalism in 10 categories, bringing recognition to the stories that are among the most important on the planet. Prizes are $500 for first-place winners and $250 for second-place winners in all categories. Plus, the Nina Mason Pulliam Award for the "best of the best" environmental reporting will award $10,000 to one entry selected from the first-place winners of SEJ's Awards for Reporting on the Environment. The Pulliam Award also includes travel, registration and hotel expenses (up to $2,500) for the winner, or representatives of the winning team, to attend SEJ's annual conference.

The SEJ contest is the world's largest and most comprehensive environmental journalism competition. This year, a record-breaking 589 entries in 10 categories were judged by independent volunteer panels of journalists and professors.

On November 16, 2023, at SEJ's 2024 Journalists' Guide to Energy & Environment event in Washington, D.C., we'll announce live the winner of the Nina Mason Pulliam Award and its $10,000 cash prize.

SEJ's 2023 Esteemed Judges and Screeners
SEJ's 2023 Awards Committee

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