Story briefs

Exploring how other journalists have handled stories about adaptation can be a guide to your own adaptation reporting. Here are two brief case studies that examine how one veteran reporter looked at a long-standing story another way, and how another news team reported on the beat with a positive perspective. See more examples in the resource guide's list of media sources. And share leads on your own story briefs.

1. Looking for the new angle on adaptation

Sometimes a big climate risk and adaptation story reported repeatedly over time can only be told well if it’s seen from a completely different perspective. Case in point: Mark Schliefstein of The Times-Picayune in New Orleans was part of the Pulitzer Prize-winning team whose reporting warned that problems with the city’s levees raised flood risk from hurricane storm surge -- several years before the levee’s 2005 catastrophic failure during Hurricane Katrina left the city inundated. During the years-long recovery that followed, Schliefstein continued to report repeatedly on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ new, multi-billion-dollar levee system.

But then he started to notice something surprisingly different - a new trend by the Corps to reduce water risk not by emphasizing levees but with “non-structural alternatives.” In other words, instead of just building new flood control structures as it generally has, the Corps is now looking at the costs and benefits of options like raising homes or relocating residents out of floodplains. One example is a new hurricane levee proposal west along Lake Pontchartrain, which lies north of New Orleans. The Corps rejected locals’ request to extend the levee through three or more parishes, instead limiting it to one parish and including raising structures for the other parishes.

Schleifstein has reported a number of these “non-structural alternative” stories now, including one about the Corps proposing voluntary buyouts outside levees, and another about a plan to elevate more than 1,500 structures in nearby St. James Parish. You can read more of his reporting on this angle here, here and here, as well as more about him.

2. Looking for the positive adaptation story

The climate adaptation story isn’t just a tale of fending off disaster. It’s also a story of opportunity and potentially positive impacts. The popular public radio show “Marketplace” has picked up on that notion, and reminded us of it recently in the wake of mounting reports of the risks and downsides of climate change.

“Climate change is a business opportunity. There. I said it,” commented show host Kai Ryssdal in typically off-beat style during a mid-2014 broadcast. He pointed out that as far back as 2008, the magazine-style program had sent two of its reporters to the frozen far north to look at how global warming would affect things like oil exploration, fishing opportunities and shipping routes through the Northwest Passage. Among their findings: the opening of new oil and gas resources, the emergence of potentially major new shipping ports and ice-free shipping routes, engineering innovations to protect infrastructure, even stores of melting ice water that can be used to brew the world’s purest beer.

As Ryssdal puts it: “There's a way that capitalism — arguably the root cause of global warming — can help us find a way out. Or, at least, a way to mitigate the looming apocalypse. If companies, governments and people realize that market forces can work to our advantage in this — without resorting reflexively to well-entrenched positions — well, then maybe we've got a chance.”

Here’s an archive to those 2008 reports.