The best environmental blogs: a few not in the running


I’m sure you’re all on tenterhooks waiting to see the outcome of our recently announced, completely unfair, arbitrary, and unasked-for battle of the environmental blogs. Who’s got the class to win this skating competition, and who’s standing in the shadows with a crowbar?

photo of kerrigan-harding opera from

Just like those cardinals who confab to elevate a new pope, our progress so far has been a model of, um, restraint. A Google spreadsheet has been generated to record the arbitrary ratings which will separate the enviroblogical Nancy Kerrigans from the Tonya Hardings. All the blog names and URLs have been alphabetized nicely, which gives the project a pleasing air of officialdom.

Now that all is in order, we need to simply READ, and wait for the hand of God, I mean the tendrils of Gaia, to direct us.

In the meantime I’ve imperiously decided to eliminate a few sites from the running. As is hopefully obvious from posts like this and this, I really value work with original source material, whether it’s from the library of US Census Bureau or the library of personal experience in out in the muck.

There’s a reason for this. Besides the fact that the blogosphere is mostly just a chamber of echoes, memes repeating and recycling ad infinitum, I see a lot of environmentalism as fetishizing nature from afar. That’s not the same as loving it or understanding it. It’s a theological approach based on concepts, principles, logic, without a touchstone of reality.

I really want writers to go somewhere and touch something — whether it’s a data file or a blackberry bush — and earnestly try to find out something for themselves, rather than just rehash press releases or beat the same old dead horse deader with second and third hand arguments.

I’m not asking bloggers to become newspaper reporters or scientists. I’m just asking them to make a little effort to do something besides talk. That’s not easy for the standard blogger to do, because it takes time. Anybody who lives up to that standard gets props from me. If they can combine that kind of effort with the informality and interactivity of a blog — that’s beautiful, man. It’s a new medium of writing.

However, there are a few bloggers out there who have it easier than others in this regard, because their blogs seem to be formally associated with paying news sources. They don’t have to dig as hard — their colleagues are doing it for them — or their environmental feature writing work is regular enough to provide a true subsidy for their blogging.

Accordingly, here are some notes about several blogs that will not be in our unfair, arbitrary, and unasked-for competition. Apologies to anyone I call a “pro” who is not! Corrections gladly accepted.

Another Green World is a newsy yet opionated blog with a recent focus on California politics. Sponsored by LA Weekly, and apparently fueled by Judith Lewis’ feature writing, the experience and blunt perspective of a professional reporter comes out here. For Californians, this looks like an invigorating daily read.

Another newspaper-associated blog is The Times Online’s Eco-Worrier, one of many online q&a columns offering “eco-etiquette,” Miss Manners-style. (E.g. “Q: Help! I’ve become dependent on handy-sized bottles of mineral water.”) This column works. Anna Shepard strikes the right light tone — though, as often happens on technical matters, the commenters can be more informed than the erstwhile “authority.”

Gristmill is one of the biggest and best environmental blogs. Its close association with the magazine Grist keeps it superinformed, and the site certainly hosts some of the headiest discussion of environmental issues on the web.

One memorable series of stories from Jason D. Scorse looked at tensions between conservationists and animal rights advocates. The blog format really shone here… the discussion was voluminous, fascinating, and even occasionally footnoted. Though the content of that discussion was mostly from the “theological” school of environmental discussion (heavy on systematic theory), it was both intelligent and lively, and it demonstrated a real divide between two passionate groups of people who you’d think ought to be allies. Simultaneously, it showed how blogs are different from magazines.

Gristmill is certainly worth reading on a regular basis. But despite Grist’s tagline (“environmental news and humor”) the blog is deadly earnest, and I pity those who live in this headspace 24/7.

Finally, I’m pulling a sharp site called Mongabay out of the “competition,” for a completely different reason. Mongabay is really high quality when it comes to source material — the editor and primary author, Rhett Butler (no kidding, that’s the name) contributes original photos, seems to read conservation journals (not just newspaper rehashings), and even puts graphs in his posts! Mongabay also gives a much-appreciated link. Thanks!!!

But, alas, it’s not a blog, in the sense that I can’t find any way to comment on articles. Reader discussion is one of the defining qualities of the blog format, as those Gristmill and Eco-Worrier pieces show so well. It’s especially fun when the author gets down off their pedestal and talks in the comments too.

There’s potential chaos in those exchanges, a slight Gillooley-feel. It rarely happens, but it’s always possible the curtain might suddenly be thrown back and sordid unprocessed reality — clashes of personality and ego, spontaneous wisdom or wit — suddenly exposed. Now that’s what I’m talkin’ about.

But enough jabbering. Back to reading our big list of blogs, skating our compulsory figures, and watching our knees.

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