2022 Excellence in Social Justice Reporting, Single Story finalist

Postcard From Thermal: Surviving the Climate Gap in Eastern Coachella Valley

About the Project

Telling stories that make climate and climate justice issues visceral, emotional and urgent is one the most important jobs of journalism in our times. “Postcard From Thermal: Surviving the Climate Gap in Eastern Coachella Valley” harnesses the wide-ranging powers of digital media to invite readers and viewers to engage in several ways.

This story took the crucial, but very abstract, subject of climate justice and made it specific, personal, and compelling. In the midst of the climate crisis with record high temperatures and wildfires, Pedro, Maria and their two kids have been struggling to find livable housing in the desert.

This is a dystopian portrait of Thermal, a Southern California town that’s both a playground for the rich and home to farm workers who live in uninsulated, sun-baked trailers in some of the hottest farmland in the world. Excessive heat, arsenic-laced water and dust storms plague the immigrant family’s already dilapidated trailer, the only kind of housing they can afford with agricultural wages. Less than 30 miles northwest, more affluent residents cool themselves in shimmering pools and on lush, green golf courses.

This is what social scientists call the “climate gap”: “the sometimes hidden and often-unequal impact climate change will have on people of color and the poor.”

All over California — all over the United States — such gaps are increasingly evident. In Thermal, this climate gap is almost cartoonish. Even as Thermal residents desperately need basic infrastructure, such as potable water and electricity as well as better housing, the county board voted to approve the luxurious Thermal Beach Club, a man-made 20-acre surf lagoon with custom waves.