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Articles by Staff Writer Jake Bittle

Jake Bittle is a staff writer at Grist who covers climate impacts and adaptation. His book about climate migration, "The Great Displacement," is published by Simon & Schuster.

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In an often-excerpted passage from his memoir, Life on the Mississippi, Mark Twain describes how his perceptions of the Mississippi River changed after he spent months piloting a steamboat up and down its muddy length. “The face of the water, in time, became a wonderful book,” he said, allowing him to read the bends and eddies that meant nothing to his passengers. But the tragedy of this “valuable acquisition” was that “the romance and the beauty were all gone from the river.” 

“All the value any feature of it had for me now was the amount of usefulness it could furnish toward compassing the safe piloting of a steamboat,” he wrote.

Even for those of us who will never pilot a steamboat, there is a vestigial lesson in this passage about how we perceive and talk about the environment. A body of water like the Mississippi River is something we experience with our eyes, ears, and noses, and it is in large part because of its beauty that we want to protect it. But it also has a specific human history — the river runs between artificial levees, or provides conveyanc... Read more

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