Backstories of 2014

IntothewoodsIt’s that time again between old and new years, when its possible (and maybe even necessary) to pause and take a sort of life intermission to our regularly scheduled rushing around. A good time for reflection and crucial website updating! Below are a links to a few of my favorite 2014 articles.

But first I want to tell you about the unexpected backstory to my investigative report published on in July. With a research grant from the Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute, I went to Paraguay.  The story examined deforestation linked to the factory farmscape that produces most of the world’s food. When my story ran, environmentalists and Big Ag companies were already talking about how to “decouple” agricultural production from deforestation. Here’s what happened next, according to Glenn Hurowitz of the activist group, Forest Heroes:

Dear Christine,

Following Wilmar International’s announcement of a cross-commodity No Deforestation, No Peat, No Exploitation policy in December 2013, Cargill was faced with intensified pressure to adopt a similar policy. Its customers at big consumer companies like Kellogg, Nestle, Dunkin’ Donuts, Mars, and many others suddenly had the opportunity to buy palm oil from a Cargill competitor that was taking real steps to eliminate deforestation. And campaigns by Forest Heroes, Rainforest Action Network, Greenpeace, and other groups were ramping up pressure on Cargill’s customers to demand the company announce a No Deforestation policy as well.

Wilmar International’s policy sent shockwaves through Cargill around the world. The company knew that it was at serious risk of losing market share if it couldn’t deliver the deforestation-free products its customers were demanding. But the company is highly decentralized, and many of its key traders around the world wanted to preserve maximum flexibility in purchasing decisions. Cargill executives in South America in particular bitterly resisted a Wilmar-like policy. In our negotiations with Cargill, they ultimately decided to narrow their announcement to just palm oil. As a result, on July 29, Cargill announced a relatively strong No Deforestation policy, but applied it only to palm oil.

Cargill’s policy won praise from Forest Heroes and our allies, but we almost immediately started pressing them to apply their policy across different commodities. We made the point that it doesn’t make any difference to the forest whether it’s being cleared for palm oil, or for soy, cattle, or sugar. But it’s one thing for a campaigner to make an assertion like that, and quite another to have concrete evidence of it. But it’s on a different level of persuasiveness entirely to have that evidence presented in Rolling Stone, and in such a compelling fashion.

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One of South America’s “last great” forests

Screen Shot 2014-12-29 at 7.02.57 PM this week published my investigative story examining how U.S.-based agribusiness companies such as Cargill are propelling factory farming across South America setting off a domino effect of deforestation that’s decimating the Gran Chaco Forest.

READ the story

Geomapping is changing the insurance industry

WFstoryimage800                            Above: hailstorm map from Weather Fusion

New technology is changing how insurers investigate hail claims

GIS mapping—the same technologies that have given us Google-style maps, the GPS in your car, and bike-sharing apps—is also transforming the way many industries get things done.

Read my story in the Dallas Morning News about how GIS maps are changing how insurance claims are paid.

Ice Chaser

James Balog’s Dramatic Images Document Climate Change

National Geographic photographer James Balog says he was skeptical about climate change until he saw it happening firsthand. Watching once-towering glaciers falling into the sea inspired his most challenging assignment in a storied 30-year career—finding a way to photograph climate change.

In exploring Balog’s Extreme Ice Survey, a breathtaking photographic record of vanishing glaciers, and his award-winning documentary, Chasing Ice, Natural Awakenings asked about the challenges he faced to bring this dramatic evidence of climate change to a world audience.

READ my new article.

(Photo courtesy of James Balog)