In chapter 4 of Climate of Contempt I explore the way competition from social media and advocacy journalism has crowded out – and changed – traditional journalism. And I use this blog to point out examples of the kind of incomplete picture of the politics and the world one can get from those sources.

But I also note in the book that, for the most part, the energy and environment reporters for major mainstream print outlets do a pretty good job of covering energy transition issues. But in my opinion, one of the very best is Sammy Roth of the Los Angeles Times.

Most people who understand that the costs of climate change exceed the costs of reducing emissions now — and that the gap will grow as atmospheric carbon levels grow — worry about that fact. Roth’s reporting on the energy transition in the western U.S., in a series called “Boiling Point,” gives voice to those worries. But it also explains the perspectives of those who get hurt by the transition, and why that leads them to oppose it.

The Los Angeles Times sits behind a paywall, but you can sign up for “Boiling Point” as an email newsletter.

Whether it’s the loss of fossil fuel jobs or being forced to host some piece of new clean energy infrastructure against their will, Roth gives voice to opponents of green energy projects without caricaturing or condemning them.

The April 18 Boiling Point newsletter is a thoughtful reflection on his reporting travels, and included a plea and lament about human beings’ resistance to change:

Yet as I’ve traversed the American West over the last two years with my L.A. Times colleagues, exploring how the transition from fossil fuels to cleaner energy is reshaping sensitive ecosystems and rural communities, one lesson has risen above the rest: If we don’t embrace change now, while we still have a choice, far worse changes will eviscerate us later.

But that conviction and that angst coexists with empathy. Reflecting on his visit to a coal town in Montana, Roth had this to say:

Coal is their everything. A mine and major power plant — plus a smaller power plant — collectively employ about 600 people. If I lived there, I’d probably be fighting to keep the coal industry alive, for myself and my friends and neighbors. I might even question climate science.

On his visits to California’s Imperial Valley, Nevada and Wyoming:

Some farmers don’t think their neighboring growers should be allowed to replace fields of cattle feed and vegetables with solar panels, even though farm-to-solar conversions can save drought-depleted Colorado River water and slow global warming. Why are those farmers upset? Because they see industrial solar projects as a threat to their longstanding agricultural way of life.

Variations of the same aversion to change are at work in Nevada, where conservationists are working to block solar projects that would destroy desert wildlife habitat they’ve dedicated their lives to safeguarding. And in Wyoming, where some lawmakers have spent nearly 15 years trying to slow wind energy development.

Please understand that I’m sympathetic to all of those concerns. That’s why I’ve spent the last decade reporting on them.

I wrote Climate of Contempt in part to urge a political dialogue that includes more of this kind of nitty-gritty attention to the complexity and tradeoffs associated with the energy transition — and less rallying against and demonization of opposition. That sort of honest, clear-eyed understanding of the political challenge is sorely needed, in my opinion. So, I could not appreciate this kind of reporting more.

Over time online journalists seem to be coming to terms with the difficult tradeoffs the energy transition entails as they delve more deeply into “how” questions.  (Indeed, some now specialize in explaining the very concerns they once dismissed or mocked on social media.) And the writing in some energy- and climate-focused news outlets seems to be getting more careful and precise over time. For writers whose primary goal is to educate readers on this complex subject, experience and expertise bring appreciation for the “known unknowns,” and greater circumspection.

Sammy Roth goes further, though. He resists what some other experts and writers cannot: namely, the temptation to portray the transition’s opponents as  dupes of the powerful, or narrow-minded obstacles to progress. Instead, he empathizes with them without sacrificing his support for the transition. His writing seems to accept that in a pluralistic society people of good will disagree about important things. In our American democracy, that acceptance is necessary in order to resolve those disagreements.

Subscribe to Sammy Roth’s “Boiling Point” newsletter. You won’t regret it. – David Spence