Special Reporting Project: Covering the Commons

All life on Earth depends on the global commons: shared resources and life-support systems that ensure a habitable planet. These vital life-support systems have operated naturally and in relative balance over the past 10,000 years, sustaining a vibrant and resilient biosphere and allowing the rise of human society.

But over the last 100 years, especially after 1950, our soaring population has driven escalating resource consumption and pollution, and begun to overwhelm and destabilize these natural systems, putting Earth’s biosphere, the modern world and humanity at risk.

Now, as our global economy causes us to approach — and possibly overshoot — dangerous life-support system tipping points, humanity urgently needs to radically transform its lifestyles and our ingrained global food, fuel and materials production and disposal habits.

In response to this crisis, Mongabay has launched the Covering the Commons Special Reporting Project (SRP), a series of informative articles reporting on the status of our global commons, which are critical for maintaining biodiversity, clean air and water, healthy land and oceans, and a stable climate. The series will help Mongabay’s audience identify the driving forces pushing the commons beyond their limits by investigating some of the worst actors undermining earth life-support systems. Additionally, articles in the series will highlight approaches to protecting and preserving the global commons by moving humanity toward a sustainable relationship with our shared home.

To achieve this goal, Mongabay is utilizing the concept of Planetary Boundaries (PBs), nine critical biosphere-sustaining systems, to explore how natural systems support the global commons and how we risk passing dangerous tipping points. The list of nine Planetary Boundaries (see chart) to be explored in this series (in order, starting with the most extreme tipping point risk as assessed by scientists) includes:

  • Biogeochemical flows (nitrogen cycle, high risk; phosphorus cycle, not quantified)
  • Biodiversity integrity (functional diversity high risk; genetic diversity not quantified)
  • Land system change (increasing risk)
  • Climate change (increasing risk)
  • Ocean acidification
  • Freshwater use / global hydrological cycle destabilization
  • Stratospheric ozone depletion
  • Atmospheric aerosol loading (various pollutant gases; not yet quantified)
  • Chemical Pollution / Novel Entities (synthetic organic pollutants, heavy metals, radioactive materials; not yet quantified)

According to the Stockholm Resilience Centre, four of nine planetary boundaries were crossed in 2015: climate change, loss of biosphere integrity, land-system change, altered biogeochemical cycles (phosphorus and nitrogen). Image source: F. Pharand-Deschênes /Globaïa

Some Suggested Story Topics / Guidelines:

Planetary Boundary state of knowledge: Overviews: Stories that explore the basic science of one or more planetary boundaries; how each life-support system functions, including evaluation of system’s current state of destabilization and the causes of imbalance; and/or offering general solutions. Video Explainer pitches that accompany these PB state of knowledge overview print story pitches will be especially welcome.

Planetary Boundaries: Going deeper: A look at PBs from a variety of angles, including geographic destabilization hotspots and what we can learn from them (e.g., climate change and the Arctic; nitrogen dead zones in the Gulf of Mexico; ocean acidification and Pacific region off the California coast); synergies between various PBs (e.g., how ocean acidification impacts biodiversity; how land-system change impacts both biodiversity and climate change). In-depth stories featuring new, pioneering research, reports, etc. will also be considered.

Innovative problem-solvers / success stories: Engaging stories that profile and introduce readers to the work of key actors (scientists, conservationists, entrepreneurs, NGOs, companies, engineers, city planners, activists, thought leaders and others) who are actively exploring and implementing approaches to stewardship of critical planetary life-support system processes. These success stories could document current initiatives around the globe, identify opportunities and gaps, and help readers understand best practices meant to prevent or forestall the overshooting of Planetary Boundary tipping points via the implementation of ambitious sustainability programs.

International initiative evaluations: Stories would look at the current status and successes / failings of international cooperative agreements aimed at protecting Planetary Boundaries (e.g., Paris Accord, Aichi Biodiversity Targets, Montreal Protocol Ozone Depletion Agreement, etc.). Articles could cover institutional PB status reports as they appear throughout 2021.

Most egregious bad actors: Profiles of companies, investment institutions, industry associations, and others most responsible for, and who most benefit from, producing the largest volumes of destabilizing resource consumption and pollution (carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus, etc.) and the largest areas of deforestation and accompanying biodiversity loss.

Other: Mongabay is open to diverse pitches from existing and new contributors for stories that fulfill the requirements of the Covering the Commons SRP.

All of these stories for this series have the potential to be told via narrative (online print stories and photos published on the Mongabay website) as well as via videos (short-form, 1-3 minutes; or long-form, 3-10 minutes) and podcasts, as appropriate. Potential categories of Mongabay videos to accompany articles include Explainers, expert interviews, profiles of individual/organization success stories, and profiles of egregious actors.

Contributors are also encouraged to maximize readership through republishing and syndication with third-party outlets.

How to Submit Your Pitch

Due to high application rate for this project, we are not currently accepting pitches. Please check again in six to eight weeks.

Please submit your pitch here along with your journalism resume and three clips. Pitches should be roughly 500 words in length. They should clearly explain the specific subject you would like to write about and your approach to covering it, describe a few potential sources, and include an itemized estimate of any travel funding needed to complete the project. Travel requests are currently discouraged due to the global coronavirus pandemic. Applications must be submitted in English.

Pitches will be considered on a rolling basis, until our budget is disbursed. Stories must be published by September 30, 2021.

Some potential sources for initial journalistic research:

Selected Global networks and organizations working on Planetary Boundary issues:

  • Earth System Governance Project
  • EAT Initiative
  • Future Earth
  • Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES)
  • Lancet commission on health and climate change
  • Local Governments for Sustainability, ICLEI
  • Resilience Alliance
  • Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI), Sweden
  • The World in 2050: Pathways towards a sustainable future
  • UN and UN Agencies focused on the 2030 Agenda
  • UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN)
  • World Business Council for Sustainable Development, WBCSD
  • World Economic Forum