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.

Continue reading Backstories of 2014

Share Madness

Can renting cars by the hour and crashing in strangers’ spare bedrooms really change the economy?



My latest cover story in the Washington City Paper allowed me to call on a couple of years of personal experiences as a “collaborative consumer.” I also got to talk to other people using D.C.’s car and bike shares, Airbnb and eatFeastly hosts, as well as a bunch of pundits who say the burgeoning “sharing economy” is ushering in big changes in the way we live.


Here’s an excerpt from the story:

Sharing enthusiasts see a future with less pollution, inefficiency, and injustice—not to mention fewer cars. But sharing services aren’t always green (you can, after all, share a private jet). They seem more likely—not less—to accentuate class differences and perpetuate the same bad behavior on commercial, labor, and environmental fronts that everything that came before them did. And while sharing depends on high-tech social media and smartphone apps, in many ways the collaborative world harkens back to the past: to barter systems; the hyper-localism of preautomobile societies; and the almost small-town importance of reputation, which will increasingly follow us around as “data exhaust” that could replace the credit rating. Still, the changes afoot are propelled by decidedly 21st century realities: population growth, booming cities, rising costs, and shrinking personal space.



Environment + Culture: More closely tied then you’d think?

If I hadn’t become a journalist, I may have taken up sociology.  I’m fascinated about what makes society work; how people think and why; and how different cultures can come to very different views — or sometimes very similar ones — through different — or remarkably the same — experiences and approaches.

At the beginning of my career, I had the good fortune to spend six years in Mexico writing about everything from Mexican cinema to the country’s political elections and economic development for the Dallas Morning News and other newspapers.

This year, I’ve had a chance to reconnect with this interest in “the general assignment,” as in general assignment reporting. As the managing editor of the new Latino cultural site, Hola Cultura, I spend part of every day now focused on the arts and humanities.  Besides becoming more fluent in online video and other forms of multimedia communication, which are most certainly the future of journalism, the work has reconnected me to a past love: reporting on Hispanic culture.

While running is a blast, I haven’t lost interest in stories about environmental issues and their connections to most aspects of life — a web of relationships often reflected upon in art. Since it’s been awhile since I updated this site, here’s a roundup of environmental stories I’ve published in recent months:

Continue reading Environment + Culture: More closely tied then you’d think?

Zero Waste revolution?

"Empire of Dirt" By niXerKG. Creative Commons license.

After reading one too many reports that corporations were going “zero waste,” I began to wonder what this means for landfills. Could we really be headed toward a world without trash dumps and Superfund sites?

Considering that there’s possibly as much as 30 tons of industrial trash for every ton of municipal solid waste, we are talking a lot of trash; though corporations have even trashed the word and now consider their castoffs the fodder of new “profit centers.” But what happens to these newly branded “resources” after they’ve been “reduced, reused or recycled”? I learned the answer is far from straightforward. Read the story on

Climate change fueling extreme weather?

Earlier this year I had an assignment investigating the links between climate change and weather. In the course of the reporting I talked to a Yale pollster who says last year’s extraordinary weather — dry and drought-like or rainy and flooded  in most places — has done more to convince people that the climate is indeed changing than any number of increasingly urgent reports like this one from the OECD.

For the story, I spoke with climate scientists too, and learned about efforts to better pinpoint when rising global temperatures play a role in a particular extreme of weather. It’s a still evolving area of science. Controversy rages.  Kevin Trenberth, a climate scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, has perhaps most riled his colleagues — not to mention climate change contrarians and non-believers — by suggesting that today global warming should be considered a factor in all weather.  Not all climate scientists agree — one even called it a “crap idea” in a major UK newspaper! But Trenberth hasn’t backed off. He elaborates on the idea in a new article due out this spring.

You can read all about this (and much more!) in my just published cover story in E Magazine. There’s also a sidebar on the impact to harvests and water supplies if the world remains on its current trajectory toward 10+ degrees Fahrenheit of warming.

If you still have time, check out my piece on Italy’s growing woes with the “ecomafia.”