A better read, overall, was Discover’s Better Planet Issue. If the longer narratives of the other magazines aren’t you’re style, this is also the place to go, obviously, for some nuts-and-bolts science reporting. It starts with a series of briefs on better energy, water, air, conservation, and food. It then moves on to one of the best stories I’ve read on the swirling debate around the threat of chemicals like bisphenol-A (BPA) and phthalates in plastic consumer products. Just as Michael Shnayerson did with polar bears in Vanity Fair, Jill Neimark takes a step back, calmly summarizes the literature, describes the scientific uncertainties, and makes a deft argument for more regulation. The other thing to check out in Discover is a fascinating breakdown of your magazine’s (helps to be holding the print edition, I guess) carbon footprint. The editors track emissions generated to print about one million copies every month-from harvesting timber and making paper, reporting, writing, and printing stories, to delivery and disposal. The analysis is similar in a way to the “body burden” chemical studies that have become so annoyingly popular in the media today, but it’s far more interesting and conclusive. It’s a detailed account of the magazine manufacturing process, which ultimately produces 962 tons of carbon dioxide per issue, or 2.1 pounds per individual copy.
The New Republic
Alongside Outside and Fortune in the midrange quality of its Green Issue is The New Republic (they call it the Environment Issue). TNR deserves praise for being a newcomer to the spring fling, and also for launching a very good energy and environment blog online, but the table of contents is pretty thin on eco-investigation. There’s a very average piece about nuclear that serves as the only environmental feature. Most of green ink is crammed up front in short articles. The best one there is an interesting analysis by Jeffrey Rosen of the Bush administration’s manipulation and distortion of the GOP’s traditional antifederalist platform in order to strong-arm environmental policy.
The New York Times Magazine
The only Green Issue that really tanked this year (even more than Fortune) came from The New York Times Magazine. It stepped it up a notch from last year’s issue, which consisted mainly of a cover story about why the U.S. should lead global sustainability efforts. This year, almost every page went to the environment, but other than a couple of decent front-of-the-book pieces (about incentives that would make Americans drive less, and why a universal charger for all our electronic gadgets is unfortunately unlikely), in the well the editors opted for poorly executed design over solid journalism. Instead of printing any long investigations or deeply reported narratives, they went with forty-two short, stand-alone paragraphs on all manner of things green. Admittedly, they are fairly interesting, and there are a few great tech items-like superconducting cable, permeable sidewalks in Chicago, Paul Crutzen’s risky plan to geoengineer the sky against global warming, and the pebble-bed design for nuclear reactors. It is overwhelmingly disappointing, however, that the Times could not muster the energy to include at least one hard-hitting feature. Also (and I rarely nitpick this stuff) the design of the shorts was terrible-a migraine-inducing font, sometimes in a garish red, with overblown graphics.
Hit or miss, though, it’s nice to see so many magazines making Green Issues a regular spring installment. Last year, when I wrote a similar roundup, a reader posted a comment online asking how these special editions perform on newsstands and in ad sales compared to other issues. It’s a very good question and at press time we were still trying to get those numbers, so stay tuned.