Alumni Profilesspring2006

Bringing Global Warming Home


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Michelle Nijhuis' award-winning High Country News articles

Written in the Rings
What happened to winter?
The Ghosts of Yosemite




Michelle Nijhuis ’96 has won a top national honor—the Walter Sullivan Award of the American Geophysical Union—for a series of articles about global warming published in 2005 in High Country News, an environmental publication based in Colorado. The articles explore the evidence of global warming through tree rings, winter temperatures in the Pacific Northwest, and wildlife in Yosemite National Park.

The selection committee said Nijhuis did “a particularly good job of combining science, policy, and human interest in telling the story of global warming from a regional perspective. It is an excellent example of science writing for the public—engaging, informative, unbiased, and easy to follow.”

Localizing the story was key for Nijhuis. “We had been talking for a long time about covering global warming, but we were kind of overwhelmed,” she says. “We were looking for a way to cover it so that it would be relevant to people in the West, so it wouldn’t just seem like this faraway phenomenon.”

As Nijhuis pursued her reporting, interviewing a wide range of scientists, she found the experience reminiscent of her time in college. “They were seeing a lot of pretty significant changes that they felt pretty confident they could attribute to global warming,” she says. “I ended up spending a lot of time out in the woods and mountains with them looking at those changes.”

Nijhuis majored in biology at Reed and spent her thesis year “in the dark of night with a headlamp,” studying salamanders in the Columbia River Gorge. After graduating, she “mucked around” for two years, studying tortoises in southern Utah, red frogs in California, and wildfires in Arizona.

“At that point, I realized I didn’t really have the focus I needed to spend the next couple of decades looking at one particular subject,” Nijhuis says. “I had been interested in writing so I decided to give journalism a try.” She joined High Country News as an intern in 1998 and is now a contributing editor. She also freelances for other publications, including Smithsonian, Orion, and Audubon.

Nijhuis plans to continue her work on global warming. “Unfortunately, the story is not going to go away, and it’s only going to get bigger,” she says. “It’s a wonderful field. You’re always working on something new and you’re never bored. You’re scared sometimes, but you’re never bored.”

Several other Reedies have racked up noteworthy journalistic accomplishments this year. Eric Westervelt ’91 recently became Jerusalem bureau chief for National Public Radio (he previously reported on national security in Washington, D.C.); his first assignments were covering Ariel Sharon’s stroke and the victory of Hamas in Palestinian elections. Will Swarts ’92 now has a daily stock column, “One-Day Wonder,” at Peter Zuckerman ’03 landed his former newspaper, the Idaho Falls Post-Register, a Scripps Howard award for Distinguished Service to the First Amendment this spring, for his investigative reporting on the coverup of sex abuse involving the local Boy Scouts. Zuckerman is now at the Daily Journal in Los Angeles. And Michael Perlstein ’84 was part of the intrepid news team at the New Orleans Times-Picayune that won two Pulitzer Prizes in April—for public service and breaking news reporting. Perlstein was one of ten reporters and editors who remained in New Orleans to cover Katrina and its aftermath. He chronicled his experiences in the Winter 2006 issue of Reed magazine.

—Erin Coupal ’09