The nice thing about those VF articles is that they dole out plenty of room for the complicated intersection of science, politics, and business that entrench so many of our environmental problems. For readers who don’t have time to leaf through eight to ten thousand words, however, Mother Jones’s May/June issue accomplishes the same feat with slightly shorter articles. MoJo doesn’t actually note anywhere that it’s a special issue, but the cover is bright green and sports a C.F.L. bent into a question mark. It is also one of the few magazines that really stacked the book from cover to cover with environmental stuff. There is an excellent analysis of the international geopolitics of oil, which makes a forceful argument that national oil companies, such as PetroChina and Russia’s Gazprom, are far more hazardous, in many ways, than the big, private companies, like Shell, that we’re used to hearing about.
The best piece, however, is the most incisive feature I’ve seen so far on Canadian oil sands, which now commonly pop up in shorter energy news articles (especially ones about carbon sequestration), but haven’t received much dedicated treatment themselves. Not only does this effort capture the environmental impact of the “dirty, wasteful business” on a global scale, it gets in a poignant description of the social (drug abuse and prostitution), demographic (soaring real estate prices and homelessness), and medical (possible cancer cluster and government hush job) ripple effects in northeastern Alberta. The only thing in Mother Jones that tipped toward boring was Bill McKibben’s green cheerleading-he’s a dedicated environmentalist and talented writer, but the essay lacked bite. So did the one he wrote for Outside’s 2008 Green Issue, which came out in March. And that’s another problem: editors know the obvious essayists (guys like RFK Jr. and McKibben) for these annual spreads and they really need to guard against overlap, especially the innocuous kind.
There was other, much better stuff in Outside, but unfortunately not as much as in last year’s issue, which had more variety. Still, there are two notable works. The first is an engaging account of Cuba’s accidental and haphazard environmentalism. Patrick Symmes, who has been reporting there for fifteen years, goes in search of the communist nation’s underground green movement. The tale is not very sciencey, at least not in the typical way, with loads of experts; instead, it’s more travelogue, which gives it a genuinely frustrated feel that is very readable. The other nice piece is an off-the-beaten-path political profile of Mark and Tom Udall, cousins and representatives from Colorado and New Mexico, respectively. It’s an interesting account of the conservationist legacy of the Udall clan going back a century, and amid the noise of the presidential campaign, an interesting take on the balance of power regarding control of environmental legislation among politicians of the interior West. Lamentably, there’s not a lot in to recommend in Outside besides these two articles.
Fortune, however, was even more disappointing; instead of publishing a Green Issue this year, it demoted coverage to a Going Green section. The articles were good enough in most respects, but they merely rehashed old information about carbon markets and the like, and showed none of the ambition that was on display last year. The exception was a outstanding piece about Kona Kamapachi and progress and future of sustainable aquaculture.