I love bird stories,” says Sandy Bauers, who writes the bi-weekly GreenSpace column in The Philadelphia Inquirer. She also loves stories about rivers, wildlife and trees. Always has. In addition to exploring environmental health issues, from the science of cancer clusters to mercury in tuna, Bauers practices the conservation and self-sufficiency she writes about, living on a three-acre property in Chester County, spending time outside every day. “Just noticing the beauty of our world,” and tending to her vegetable garden, Bauers is reminded daily “how much effort it takes — and sometimes just how futile it is — to try to coax or control nature.”
“It’s important to show how environmental factors might be affecting our health,” says Bauers, who also writes about the effects of climate change in our region — how spring is coming earlier, for instance. “Our region has exhaustive records that go back more than a century,” she says. “And the case is compelling.”
Originally from Wilmington, Del., Bauers graduated from the University of Georgia with a degree in journalism, and a particular interest in science and the environment. When she returned to the Philadelphia area, positions writing about these topics for the Inquirer were already filled.
“I just started worming my way in,” says Bauers. “I wrote the stories that those reporters weren’t writing or didn’t want to write. Finally, after two temporary fill-ins when reporters were on leave, I got the job.”
Bauers balances the weight of heavy pieces with human interest and good humor. Sometimes she flees Chester County for a wild adventure or a story. “Twice, my husband and I took a year off and spent it sailing our boat to and through the Bahamas,” she says. “Besides the sheer joy of it, I learned the value of conservation and self-sufficiency, and the difference between necessity and luxury.”
One of Bauers’ favorite stories put her on a plane to the tip of South America with New Jersey biologists who were studying the red knot, a shorebird that stops at Delaware Bay every spring to refuel as it migrates to the Arctic. “We camped near mudflats, ate poorly and got exceedingly dirty,” she says. “And I loved every minute of it!”
But back to Philadelphia. What makes a good environmental journalism story here? What does our city need to pay attention to that other places may not have to consider? “Waste and stormwater,” says Bauers. “Two topics that surprised me by being so interesting! Philly’s stormwater plan is the envy of the industry and will even change the way the city looks. Trees are capturing a lot of the runoff. Repaved roads are porous. Our streams will be cleaner because of it.”
Greenspace appears every other Monday in the Health & Science section of The Philadelphia Inquirer. Visit philly.newspaperdirect.com to view the digital edition.
Story by Julianne Mesaric