Kitchen table convos from the Gulf Coast South. 
This newsletter revolves around good journalism coming out of the Gulf Coast. Often, the journalism is produced by local outlets. But if there’s one thing I’ve picked up over the past ten months of getting Salt, Soil, & Supper to press each week, it’s that local outlets in some parts of our region of the South are struggling to report at the rate the climate crisis requires these days. 

In other words, there are a lot of holes in climate and foodways coverage—less so in large states like Texas and Florida, but more so in states like Mississippi and Alabama. Oddly enough, Louisiana—thanks to the national attention it’s received since the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill—is an exemption to the newsroom climate coverage trends I’ve picked up on. 

Thankfully, there are organizations helping fill these gaps. Some come with funding. Others, data. 

Meet John Upton, the partnerships editor at the site Climate Central. Climate Central is unique, in that it’s a catch-all team of climate data scientists and journalists who work together to develop better stories for localities. (Full disclosure: I recently signed on to work as a correspondent with Climate Central.) Live in a place like Mississippi or Alabama—or anywhere, really—and got a climate idea or vulnerable site in mind? Give them a shout

Food’s up (!!!) this week, as always. Check out my seafood and mirliton bisque recipe below. Don’t know what mirliton is? Well, that’s why you should keep scrolling. 

More from Scalawag on the future of the Gulf's climate:

Imagining another world in post-Irma Florida

Lewis Raven Wallace

Xander Peters: How would you explain Climate Central? It's always struck me as a hybrid research machine-meets-journalism partnership system. 

John Upton: It's a hell of a thing to explain what Climate Central is. We’re an organization that has climate scientists, climate journalists, and climate communicators all kind of working together. What that looks like is a lot of behind the scenes work. We have a fantastic sea-level rise team that publishes a lot of academic papers. We use their tools for analyses around the country, when it comes to looking at risks to communities and people and sites. We also have a really strong data team. There's a program called Climate Matters that's been working for years with TV meteorologists, who used to be very reluctant to discuss—or even really believe in—climate change. That program helped them talk about it on the air and helped visualize the changes that are happening locally around the country in terms of increasing temperatures, intensifying rainfall, these types of meteorological trends. So, we have a data team that they pull data from, I think it's something like 250 individual weather stations around the country. Every time they put out a release on U.S. meteorological trends, there’ll be 250 individual checks, and 250 individual data sets. They've been sending those localized checks and datasets to meteorologists for years. 

And then, in the past few years, we've also been working with print and digital and radio reporters and producers. Now, every week, Climate Matters sends out a bulletin that contains data—usually local charts, but also a whole bunch of reporting suggestions: How do you cover this trend within your community? And as we've been looking to tackle topics beyond meteorological trends, particularly in working with reporters, we've been looking increasingly to academia and to other organizations to collaborate with them to get the data sets that address things like future projections, adaptations, solutions like clean energy. We've diversified Climate Matters over the years. Now, it’s not just about climate impacts, but also about adaptations and responses and lots of other interesting stuff. We're constantly going through data that's being generated internally, or that we're getting from academia and our other partners that we're then using for our projects. 

 (See also: Saving Climate Changelandia, in Scalawag) 

We're not just putting information out to help journalists out. Climate Central, throughout its history, has always done science and journalism. But we used to do science stories that were national—here's a new scientific paper, here's a story about what that paper is—and that is, obviously, the most boring type of science journalism you can do. But that was still important, because there was nobody else out there doing that. It was Climate Central's niche for a while. But now everybody has climate reporters, especially at the national level, so we don't really worry so much about national coverage anymore. We don't worry about writing stories about science. What we've done now is in the past few years, we’ve overhauled our journalism approach. We're now taking the same data that that we're using for our sea level rise papers, everything, and we're using that data to help us locate interesting stories around the country–local stories. We look at the data and see where there's an interesting trend. Then we partner with local outlets around the country. They do the local reporting, and we do the science and data reporting, provide the leadership, and help them frame these stories. We identify these interesting climate stories using data science, but then when we tell the stories. It's always about people in that community. 

XP: It’s pretty much a one-stop shop for all things climate data. 

JU: It’s a full spectrum. The scientists are really great with data, and they can really help figure out what's going on in terms of numbers and trends. But then we've got the whole spectrum of work with journalists, who are really great at getting out there in the field, talking to people, figuring out what these numbers and data mean. What we see is the research, our science, informs our journalism a lot. But then also, the journalism, when we're out there working with local outlets, finding local stories, we're really figuring out what that data means. 

That’s it in a nutshell. [LAUGHS] 

XP: Obviously I don’t want to tip your hand on any upcoming projects in the works, but what do you think is particularly important about this moment in covering climate on the Gulf Coast? 

JU: The Gulf Coast is a wholly unique coast in America. What we are seeing on the Gulf Coast are these incredible vulnerabilities—heat, storms, and rising sea levels at the same time, as in so many of these locations along the Gulf. In many communities there, it's quite conservative, and in conservative communities, you tend to have not seen much local conversation over the decades, particularly not in the media, about climate change. It's just an extremely unusual coast. So, Climate Central’s approach is not to helicopter in and tell stories, it's to find local partners who really understand the local geography, the local communities, and work with them to tell stories together. We see a lot of Gulf Coast journalism written for audiences in the Northeast. There's a lot of helicoptering in that happens on the Gulf Coast. At the same time, you've got not only repetitive disasters occurring down there, but really persistent disasters. Some of these hurricane recoveries, particularly Louisiana and Texas, my God, just years of misery, absolute misery

 (See also: Too heartbreaking to leave, too expensive to stay, in Scalawag) 

I don't think that the extent of that suffering is well known outside the Gulf Coast. I think it's extremely important. We aren't necessarily in there trying to highlight this to the rest of the country, but we're in there working with journalists to help them cover climate change better, more effectively. What's really crucial is to incorporate it into the rest of the average–when covering government, when you're covering business, sports. The trick is to bring in the climate change conversation. I'm out there right now trying to set up more local journalism collaborations. Over the years, our sea level rise team has done tremendous amounts of work when it comes to mapping Louisiana’s coastline. Texas was recently identified as being kind of one of our priority sites. We’re just keeping an eye on opportunities to investigate climate change issues and environmental justice issues down there and to tell those stories through many different ways. 

XP: Are there any examples of work y’all are proud of on the Gulf Coast or elsewhere? 

JU: A few years ago, there was that horrible storm in Baton Rouge. The flood didn't get really any media coverage. I did a big multimedia story. That was right before we kind of shifted instead to doing more through partnerships. I also did a really good story on the emergence of the popularity of living shorelines—oyster reefs instead of sea walls along the Florida Gulf Coast.

XP: I remember you mentioning in our talks a while back a story about a Harriet Tubman statue on the East Coast, and how it was among a number of sites that are vulnerable to climate change. I read it. It was a really great story. Was it influenced by y’all’s research team? 

JU: Our sea level rise team over the years, they've always done all these amazing papers. They've developed this amazing coastal database that we're now using to look at individual risks to individual sites and landmarks. We’ve looked at NASA space launches in Florida. We're looking at some redevelopment sites on the East Coast. We also have a reporter looking at vulnerable restaurants in a town in South Carolina. We're doing some stuff in Atlantic City. The Harriet Tubman story was not on the Gulf Coast, but the challenges of the Gulf Coast, they're very similar. It's rapidly subsiding, rapid local sea level rise. The landscape is changing very quickly. It's a very low-income area. All these reasons are similar to what you see in the Gulf Coast. 

The population of Lake Charles, Louisiana, shrank more than any U.S. city in 2020

Southerly, Carly Berlin 

“New USPS data tells a story about climate change and displacement.”

The Corpus Christi water wars

Rolling Stone, Reed Dunlea

“A coalition of residents is trying to halt the region’s rapid industrial sprawl. The fight is now centered on the water supply for a massive new Exxon SABIC plastics plant in the drought-prone Texas city.”

Tampa Bay lost 13 percent of its seagrass in two years, study shows

Tampa Bay Times, Zachary T. Sampson

“Experts say reducing pollution that fuels algal blooms is critical.” 

La Niña brings wildfires

The Texas Observer, Christopher Collins

"Texas fires are growing in volume, severity, and sheer number.” 

Streams and lakes have rights, a US county decided. Now they’re suing Florida.

The Guardian, Isabella Kaminski

"A novel lawsuit is taking advantage of a local ‘rights of nature’ measure passed in November in effort to protect wetlands.” 

As U.S. Sugar quietly expands north of Lake Okeechobee, environmentalists fear Everglades cleanup losing out to farming

Florida Bulldog, Joel Engelhardt

“For months environmentalists have whispered that the Legislature’s push toward water storage north of Lake Okeechobee was driven by sugar interests. Behind their fear is the belief that an underground water storage method that got $100 million in the two past legislative cycles and is in line for another $50 million this year would do more to help farming than it would to help the Everglades.”

Seafood and mirliton bisque

The Ingredients: 
  • 3 mirliton (chayote squash)
  • 1 tablespoon liquid crab boil
  • 1 pound peeled shrimp 
  • 1 pound lump white crab meat 
  • 1 stick of butter 
  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • 1 bell pepper, diced
  • 2 ribs celery, diced 
  • 2 cups corn, cut from cob 
  • 2 tablespoons flour 
  • 1 quart 1/2 & 1/2 
  • Cajun seasoning of choice 
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic 
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder 
  • 2 to 3 bayleaf 
  • 8 splashes of Crystal hot sauce 
  • 1 can cream of celery soup
  • 1 can cream of potato soup
  • 1 small bunch green onion, diced 

The Steps: 
  • Cut the mirliton in half and boil in salted water with 1 tablespoon of liquid crab boil. When the mirlitons are tender, drain and let cool. Remove the seed and any tough skin and cut in about 1-inch cubes, set aside. 
  • In a large soup pot, sautée your onions, celery, and bell pepper with ½ stick of butter until tender, and add the Cajun seasoning. Do not let vegetables cook until brown. 
  • Add the rest of the butter and flour, and stir together for 3 minutes before adding everything except shrimp, crab, and mirliton. 
  • Let simmer on low for about 30 minutes, then add your mirliton. 
  • Add shrimp immediately after, cook for 5 minutes, then add crabmeat. Top with chopped green onions in your bowl. You can add some cayenne pepper if you want more of a pop.
That's it. 
I hope you got enough to eat. There’ll be enough to go around next week and the week after.


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