Michelle Nijhuis

Award-winning journalist and pretty good mom Michelle Nijhuis writes about science and the environment from western Colorado. Follow her on Twitter.

A biologist explains what security experts can learn from nature

Raphael Sagarin. Marine biologist Raphael Sagarin has eclectic interests. During the course of his career, he’s scoured an Alaskan gambling record for clues to climate change, retraced John Steinbeck’s and Ed Ricketts’ survey of the Sea of Cortez, and even studied how Easy Cheese escaped early chlorofluorocarbon regulations. In 2002, as a science fellow on Capitol Hill, he turned his biologist’s eye to post-9/11 Washington, D.C., with its proliferating Jersey barriers and security checkpoints. “I started thinking about the fact that somehow, organisms keep themselves safe in a world that’s every bit as unpredictable as our world,” he says. Natural …

A sci-fi writer and an environmental journalist explore their overlapping worlds

Pump Six and Other Stories, by Paolo Bacigalupi. Science fiction writer Paolo Bacigalupi, author of the new collection Pump Six and Other Stories, envisions a future filled with environmental terrors. His characters move through worlds transformed by climate change, genetic engineering, drought, and toxic waste — places that seem exotic at first, but on second glance are just a few unwitting steps beyond today’s headlines. As Bacigalupi’s Colorado neighbor, I’ve watched his work evolve — and watched with interest as he borrowed themes from environmental journalism. So I sat down with him to discuss the complicated relationship between environmental reporting …

Indigenous leader Julio Cusurichi Palacios battles for an intact Amazon

Julio Cusurichi Palacios. Photo: Goldman Environmental Prize. The Peruvian Amazon is one of the most remote places in the world. In its wildest corners, in the Madre de Dios region along the Brazilian border, some indigenous communities continue to live far from modern society. But their solitude is eroding: Loggers are pushing deeper into the forest, searching for increasingly rare stands of big-leaf mahogany, and oil development is on the rise. Julio Cusurichi Palacios, an indigenous leader in the region, has allied himself with these “uncontacted” groups. For many years, he fought for the establishment of a forest reserve in …

Canadian Sophia Rabliauskas fights to protect her First Nation territory

Sophia Rabliauskas. Photo: Goldman Environmental Prize. The boreal forests of Canada, which stretch across the midsection of the country, are blessed with abundant wildlife, pristine wetlands, and vast carbon-storage capacities. For Sophia Rabliauskas, these abundant forests are also home. She’s a member of the Poplar River First Nation, and she grew up in its traditional territory, a two-million-acre stretch of forest on the eastern side of Lake Winnipeg. She’s lived in the tiny, isolated Poplar River community for most of her life, and expects to retire there. But Poplar River’s territory is bordered by industrial logging and hydropower development, and …

Working with the fishing industry, Orri Vigfússon protects North Atlantic salmon

Orri Vigfússon. Photo: Goldman Environmental Prize. “I have a passion for salmon,” says Orri Vigfússon. “It’s the king of fish. It’s just a spectacular creature.” Vigfússon is a veteran business exec — the Icelandic brand Icy Vodka is one of his enterprises — and he’s now using his negotiating savvy to protect the iconic North Atlantic salmon. Since the late 1980s, his North Atlantic Salmon Fund has raised money to buy netting rights from commercial fishers and create economic alternatives to the salmon business. The group has also brokered several moratorium agreements with North Atlantic nations, leading to an estimated …

Willie Corduff has taken arms against a sea of Shell troubles

Willie Corduff. Photo: Goldman Environmental Prize. “We’d never objected to anything in our whole lives,” says Irish farmer Willie Corduff. But when Shell Oil proposed to put a high-pressure gas pipeline through his family farm, Corduff changed his quiet ways. He and a handful of his neighbors refused to allow Shell on their property — a stance that landed them in jail, and gained them international attention as the “Rossport Five.” Shell has its sights set on the Corrib gas field, which lies off the northeastern coast of Ireland, more than a mile and a half below the seabed. After …

Ts. Munkhbayar fights destructive mining in Mongolia

Ts. Munkhbayar. Photo: Goldman Environmental Prize. Born into a family of Mongolian herders, Ts. Munkhbayar remembers when the livestock was healthy, the water was clean, and kids went ice skating on the nearby river. “I had a very happy childhood,” he says. In the early 1990s, a gold-mining boom overshadowed all that; because of widespread hydraulic mining, which uses high-pressure water systems, the river shrank, his family was sickened by polluted well water, and community members fled. “I just couldn’t stand there and see the whole village be destroyed by the mining companies,” Munkhbayar remembers. He began to organize his …

Hammer Simwinga provides alternatives to African poaching

In the 1970s, one of the densest populations of elephants on the African continent roamed the Luangwa Valley of Zambia. By the end of the next decade, massive poaching for the ivory trade had decimated herds throughout Africa, and the elephant population in North Luangwa National Park had plunged from 17,000 to 1,300. Though international authorities shut down the ivory trade in 1990, poaching remained a way of life for many in the Luangwa Valley. Hammer Simwinga. Photo: Goldman Environmental Prize. Hammerskjoeld Simwinga — known as Hammer — has helped to change that. Simwinga, who grew up in the valley, …

Interviews with the 2007 winners of the Goldman Prize

This year’s Goldman Prize winners fight for justice in the farm fields of Ireland and far beyond. Photo: Willie and Mary Corduff The digital age might allow us to transcend geography, but real places — places far and near, exotic and humble — still matter. Just ask the six winners of the 2007 Goldman Prize, who risk their reputations, their livelihoods, and their lives to protect very particular pieces of turf. Whether they’re fighting for a stand of big-leaf mahogany in the remote Peruvian Amazon, a family farm in Ireland, a stretch of boreal forest in Canada, or an incomparable …