December 2015 –
In the winter of 2014
I found myself in Manila in journalistic crisis. I had come to Southeast Asia on a Pulitzer-funded project to write about the murders of environmental journalists. It had not gone well. The first leg, in the forests of Cambodia, would end with the editors killing the piece. Now, with a typhoon bearing down on the city, I was supposed to go to Palawan, on the Philippines' far western frontier, to write about a murdered radio reporter for The New Republic.
And just as I was anxiously refreshing weather reports, trying to figure out if I could beat the storm to the airport, my Google Chat beeped: catastrophe. A note from a friend: The New Republic had undergone some sort of internal coup. My editor had quit. So had most of the other editors. The magazine that had sent me to the Philippines had been gutted. The project was collapsing around me, and a typhoon was bearing down.
I do not know what reserves got me out of my hotel, into a taxicab, and to the Manila airport to begin a story that had no home and no apparent future. (It was the right call: two years later, both that story, and the Cambodia story, are in print: you can read them below.) Out of that decision came the stories in this collection: a linked, multi-country odyssey from Southeast Asia to the Amazon, tying together stories of extraordinary people facing down the storm on the edges of the frontier.
Dying for the Planet
The last twenty years has witnessed a boom in environmental journalism—and in killings of journalists and other environmental activists. At last count, dozens journalists had been murdered on the environment beat in the developing world. Last year, I went to Cambodia and the Philippines for the Pulitzer Center to try to answer why.
September 1, 2016
Cambodian journalists are dying in a quest to save the country's forests.
California Sunday Magazine
November 18, 2015
The Philippines is one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a journalist, especially if you’re in talk radio.
The Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting
December 16, 2015
In the last decade, 41 journalists have died covering the environment -- more than were killed in the entire war in Afghanistan.
Cities in the Forest
From Southeast Asia I traveled to the Peruvian Amazon on a fellowship from Mongabay, to explore a region being rapidly transformed as the Brazilian and Chinese states have poured money into a system of roads, rivers, and dams designed to bind together the nations of the Amazon Basin. Down these new roads travel waves of impoverished settlers from the Andes Mountains, clearing the forest in search of the same things Americans settlers sought in the West: a new start, a better life, a chance to strike it rich. Now the government and army are coming to the lawless frontier they have created, trying to bring order to the wilderness.
Al Jazeera America
September 22, 2015
Among the illegal settlers carving a fresh start from the edge of the forest.
August 21, 2015
Tracking the source of the migration boom in the frozen highlands of Peru.
October 6, 2015
Faced with organized crime and deforestation on its frontier, the Peruvian government has taken decisive action -- by declaring the area a protected national park. Will this be enough? (paywall)
October 6, 2015
A Q&A with legendary explorer and ethnobotanist Wade Davis on psychedelia, ayahuasca, the things that you find in the the jungle, and the forces that are coming out of it.
Bringing up the Bodies
In 2011 I traveled to a different sort of jungle: Guatemala City, a sprawling, honking, vibrating city grown feral out of the movements of millions of people seeking to strike it rich. I came to report on a different sort of battle against the wilderness: a series of anti-mafia and war crimes trials, as local prosecutors tried to tame the huge, corrupt Guatemalan state.