Climate Change in The Boston Phoenix’s Final Issue

Bill McKibben's essay reminds us of a role the Phoenix won't play anymore.

The Boston Phoenix uploads its final issue (online only) this week, leading with a piece by climate change activist Bill McKibben explaining why he’s pushing for Ed Markey over Stephen Lynch in the Democratic Senate primary. It’s a good data point to add to the argument of Wen Stephenson, a journalist whose work on climate change has found a home in the Phoenix in the past several months. Stephenson explained this week on the blog of The Atlantic’s James Fallows that one particular reason the publication’s death is bad new for Massachusetts is that it focused on climate change activism:

To put it simply and bluntly: [Editor in Chief Carly Carioli] championed not only the climate issue but, equally important, the young and increasingly powerful grassroots climate movement, at a time when virtually no one else (outside of environmental blogs and magazines) could be bothered to give them a serious thought. Those pieces of mine—to my utter amazement—went somewhat viral, garnered national attention to the Phoenix, and put the climate movement on the map for a lot of readers. I know an awful lot of people right now who feel a piercing sense of loss, and powerlessness, and quite frankly, real anger, knowing that the only widely-circulated publication in Boston paying serious attention to climate change has gone away.

Stephenson admits that this is a bit of a rehash of his big cover story last year arguing that the mainstream media ignores climate change. Putting that point slightly aside, another of his useful takeaways is that though climate change is a story of global scale, it can be covered by local journalists with local angles. The loss of a local publication means one less outlet filled with journalists who write about climate change in Massachusetts specifically. McKibben’s piece in the final Phoenix, is another great example of how to localize it. Here’s one passage:

Why focus on Massachusetts? Well, here’s 10 reasons to start with. Because a lot of Massachusetts is at sea level, and the ocean is rising even faster than scientists predicted. (Last summer the Arctic melted so badly that 80 percent of its summer ice is now gone, and Greenland showed dangerous signs of destabilizing.) Because people in Massachusetts suffer more asthma attacks as the temperature goes up. Because summers are getting too hot and winters too short. Because the storms that pound the coast are getting fiercer. Because people in Massachusetts care about the rest of the world, too, where 100 million people are expected to die from the effects of fossil fuel unless we quickly rein in our consumption. Because Massachusetts is a lovely part of this planet we call earth, which faces a challenge greater than it has ever faced. Because the state understands that its economic future lies not with fossil fuels but with a green-tech revolution. Because it’s hard to play pond hockey anymore. Because the Atlantic Ocean is 30 percent more acidic than it was 40 years ago—seawater changes its chemistry as it absorbs carbon from the atmosphere. Because all of this is just starting—we’ve raised the temperature one degree and it has melted the Arctic, and the scientists who predicted that outcome tell us we’re in for a rise in temperature of four or five degrees unless we get to work fast. Fast. Not at a convenient pace, but fast. Doing all that we can.

The Boston Globe editorial board wrote in the general sense that when thinking about the Phoenix’s closing, we should consider “the careers that might not be launched, the questions that might not be asked, and the stories that might not get told.” With its final issue, the paper is reminding us of the specific stories it liked telling that others might not.