03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Best Environmental Journalism of 2009

OnEarth logoMajor news organizations are cutting science reporters, stoking fears that important journalism on environmental issues is in danger of drying up.

Yet OnEarth magazine still managed to find plenty of good work to celebrate this year -- and not just in our own pages! So we asked our staff and contributors to recommend the books, magazine articles, newspaper stories and online reporting that had the greatest impact on them in 2009. Here are the results:

David Mas Masumoto (Free Press)

Behind every organic label you see in your grocery store or food co-op, there's a story. Many of them aren't very interesting. Catering to the likes of Wal-Mart, an increasing number of organic farms are large-scale, corporate-owned operations, not all that different from conventional farms in their soulless methods of mass-production. In Wisdom of the Last Farmer, David Mas Masumoto tells the most fascinating kind of story, reminding us that, at its best and most authentic, organic farming requires not only soul, but intimate knowledge of place, a deep grasp of subjects ranging from plant physiology to tractor repair, and unrelenting physical labor. Masumoto here continues the chronicle of his family's 80-acre fruit farm in California's Central Valley that he introduced in his memorable 1996 book, Epitaph for a Peach. Chapter 1 begins on a February day when his 76-year-old father suffers a stroke while disking weeds between rows of 100-year-old grapevines. Nearing despair as the price of heirloom peaches declines along with his father's health, Masumoto weaves an inspiring yet unflinchingly honest narrative of redemption and healing. The book teaches us that, ultimately, a healthy food chain is about the careful, labor-intensive cultivation of human relationships right along with the earth. -- Craig Canine, contributing editor

Greg Harman, The San Antonio Current, September-October 2009

In a 13,000-word, three-part series, San Antonio environmental writer Greg Harman shows readers what's at stake in the current industry campaign to create a "nuclear renaissance" in Texas. Harman uses primary source documents, original research, and dozens of interviews with key players on both sides of this critical issue. The piece is beautifully written and structurally solid, an exemplar of its genre. Harman presents a narrative version of a life-cycle analysis. Part 1 looks at the short- and long-term effects of uranium mining. Part 2 delves into the business practices and promises of the Texas nuclear industry. Part 3 concludes with the unsolved problem of what to do with nuclear waste and what's happening with it now. Nukes of Hazard is exactly what alternative weeklies are supposed to provide but frequently don't: a powerfully written, in-depth piece about an issue that is most important to readers -- now that they've found out about it. -- Osha Gray Davidson, correspondent

Charles Duhigg, The New York Times, August-December 2009

Duhigg's investigative reporting has uncovered a series of disturbing revelations about the water we drink. He started in August with news that the weed killer atrazine might be more dangerous (and contaminating more of our reservoirs) than previously thought. In September, he told readers that chemical companies have violated the Clean Water Act more than 500,000 times in the last five years, mostly without punishment. By October, Duhigg was explaining that because of tougher air pollution laws, much of what coal-fired power plants once spewed into the atmosphere is now dumped into lakes, rivers and groundwater instead. Then in November, more bad news: More than 9,400 of the nation's sewage systems have broken the law by dumping human waste, chemicals and other hazardous materials into lakes and rivers over the last three years alone (and those are just the ones that reported it). Duhigg's revelations (which continue this month) are spurring efforts to strengthen enforcement and fix shortcomings and loopholes in the 1972 Clean Water Act. Those are the kind of results that Pulitzer Prize jurors love; expect Duhigg's work to contend for the award this spring. -- Scott Dodd, online news editor

Douglas Fischer, The Daily Climate, November 2009

To open his four-part series on the global stakes of climate change, Douglas Fischer, editor of The Daily Climate (an online publication of the nonprofit Environmental Health Services), writes: "This is the consequence of failure at Copenhagen: A marked shift in scientific effort from solving global warming to adapting to its consequences, a hodge-podge of uncoordinated local efforts to trim emissions -- none of which deliver the necessary cuts -- and an altered climate." Fischer's first installment laid out, in unequivocal terms, what was at stake around the world as leaders came together to negotiate a deal in Copenhagen (a process that had decidedly mixed results). A focus on local mitigation efforts, in the second installment, adds a note of hope to the series by examining efforts that are moving cities and states in the right direction. The final two pieces look at geoengineers -- the people tasked with helping us navigate an adapting world -- and the new green economy, in which "industry's full-throttle acceleration toward a low-carbon future" might offer our best chance of beating climate change. Fischer's narrative is a reminder that the planet's clock is ticking -- and it is perhaps even more chilling in the harsh light of our new, post-Copenhagen world. -- Crystal Gammon, intern

Elizabeth Kolbert, The New Yorker, August 31, 2009

Elizabeth Kolbert pokes with a sharp stick in this omnibus review of recent environmental titles. In particular, she uses the self-importance and calculation of the "No Impact Man" phenomenon to describe the yawning gap between adopting a "green lifestyle" and actually solving environmental problems. Renouncing material goods -- or "buying green" -- while failing to do anything about the extraordinary waste surrounding you won't change the world, no matter how many books it sells, or how personally gratifying it may be. -- Emily Gertz, correspondent

James Hoggan with Richard Littlemore (Greystone Books)

How exactly is it that -- a full 20 years after George Bush the Elder promised to beat the greenhouse effect with the "White House Effect" -- the majority of Americans still either doubt or are unclear about the science of climate change? Jim Hoggan and Richard Littlemore's Climate Cover-Up helps explain, laying out the deliberate (and most would say immoral) campaign to manipulate the public discourse on climate change. Hoggan, a PR guy, and Littlemore, a journalist, make for a fierce team. The flack in Hoggan can sniff out unsavory public relations tricks a mile away, and he knows where to look and who to ask for leaked memos and confidential studies. Through meticulously documented analysis, Climate Cover-Up picks up where Ross Gelbspan's 2005 Boiling Point left off, gathering research originally published on the website into a coherent narrative that chronicles the fossil fuel industry's efforts to discredit climate science and manufacture confusion. You'll be outraged. (Download the first chapter here.) -- Ben Jervey, community editor

Ted Genoways, Mother Jones, November/December 2009

Mother Jones' special issue previewing the Copenhagen climate conference ("Climate Countdown," November/December 2009) was full of compelling stories about what's at stake in international climate negotiations -- none moreso than Ted Genoways' article on the Yukon River and one man's race to keep it from reclaiming the Alaskan frontier. Suspenseful and dramatic, the story gave readers a chilling view of a place and situation that most of us can't imagine -- the worst flooding in the Yukon's recorded history, which took place in May. Genoways' in-depth reporting and storytelling vividly illustrated the fury of nature (while suggesting that said fury is a product of our own devising) and the resilience of those who live at extremes. -- Elizabeth Royte, contributing editor

Alex Shoumatoff, Vanity Fair, May 2009

[Editor's note: Hey, when we asked our contributors to submit their favorite stories of the year, we didn't say they couldn't vote for themsevles!] An hour and a half north of San Francisco, the 3,000-acre Bohemian Grove Club's membership includes many of the country's top CEOs, pillars of the military establishment, prominent Republicans and, until four years ago, one of author Alex Shoumatoff's old college buddies. This fourth-generation member discovered that the club had been clandestinely logging ancient redwoods in remote parts of the Grove -- unbeknownst to most of the club's members -- for 22 years. "It's not that they need the money, but they want it," a neighbor of the club told the author. He uncovered a web of collusion reminiscent of the movie Chinatown that includes the club's management, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Prevention, the Save the Redwood League, a top redwood ecologist, and the IRS. He's now in discussions with Jane Fonda, who wants to make a movie about the story. -- Alex Shoumatoff, contributing editor

This post originally appeared at OnEarth magazine, where you'll find plenty more great environmental journalism.