Connecting cocaine and the environment

Eco journalism is a unique beat with its own challenges and approaches, but it doesn't always have to exist separate from the rest of the day's news in "environment" sections visited only by committed activists.

The green beat will naturally tend to ooze out into all sorts of areas, because to a greater or lesser extent, the environment affects everything in it. It's generally good that reporters and editors encourage that sort of subject sprawl because it can help make otherwise abstract concerns more real to readers and open up new insight on otherwise tired topics. Even stories that appear unrelated at first – this year's Olympic Games in Beijing, for instance – can turn out to have a green angle to them.

The Los Angeles Times recently featured an excellent piece along these lines about the destruction of Colombia's rainforests in the ongoing struggle between government forces and cocaine producers and coca farmers. Seeking refuge in national parks where aerial fumigation is prohibited, the coca growers have burned thousands of acres of biodiverse rainforest in order to grow their crops. "Forest on the eastern side [of Macarena National Park] has been decimated, and rivers have been fouled by toxic chemicals used by narcos to clear overgrowth and process cocaine," the story warns.

In the past, reporters have raised questions about the ecological impact of a proposed barrier fence along the U.S.-Mexico border and, further back, the state of the environment in Iraq and North Korea .

While column inches on these cases need to be reserved for the immediate, life-and-death news of the day, shading in bits of the environmental picture when possible gives readers a more complete sense of what's going on and helps integrate the eco beat with the rest of the news. Instead of keeping all coverage of the earth cordoned off in a special part of the website or buried deep in a newspaper's midsection, green journalists can give more readers a bigger picture.