2018 Explanatory Reporting, Small Newsroom finalist

Three Rivers Rising


About the Project

The City of Pittsburgh’s Climate Action Plan outlines the most ambitious goals yet to combat climate change. But will the city and its residents rise to the challenge? And what would it take? This project explores how climate change is and will be changing Pittsburgh.

Through a special in-depth series called “Three Rivers Rising,” PublicSource environmental reporter Oliver Morrison examined the city’s ambitious new climate action plan, which lays out its strategy to cut greenhouse gas emissions in the city 50 percent by 2030 and 80 percent by 2050. Animated graphics from illustrator Idil Gozde on the index page and throughout the series showed the “green” city of Pittsburgh’s hoped-for future — electric cars, bicyclists and a rich tree canopy, among other visualizations.

The lead article “Why environmentalists are poking holes in Pittsburgh’s climate change plan” examines how we got to this point. lessons learned, the way forward and the debate over whether a carbon tax would help.

Next, Morrison delved into “Within four walls: Pittsburgh’s climate problem starts indoors”. The iconic image of Pittsburgh features the three rivers rolling underneath its bridges with the Downtown buildings in relief. Buildings create 81 percent of emissions here. The emissions from Pittsburgh’s commercial buildings are several times higher than their counterparts in West Coast cities.

“A future with electric vehicles: Pittsburgh is plugging away,” examined one of the cities main strategies in reducing emissions from driving by electrifying the city’s cars. The city set aside $200,000 to purchase its first four electric vehicles and the electrical infrastructure to keep them charged. Next year, the city will partner with Ford to start testing electric police cars. And by 2030, according to its climate plan, one in every four city vehicles will be electric, as will every Allegheny County Port Authority bus, which they hope will also improve city air quality.

The city of Pittsburgh wants its residents to eat 50 percent less meat by 2030 and “Show your civic pride by shunning meat?” highlighted this goal of the climate action plan.

“Can a million carbon-sucking trees help Pittsburgh battle climate change?” Pittsburgh has committed to increasing its tree canopy about 50 percent by 2030. The plan is to actively plant 780,000 more trees over 12 years, to increase the tree cover from about 40 percent to 60 percent. An interactive graphic with data from The Pittsburgh Urban Forest Master Plan showed the percentage of existing tree canopy by Pittsburgh’s 90 neighborhoods.

The series took a deep exploratory look into an issue that is new to local government intervention. Because of the unique times we live in, the city’s climate action plan was deserving of an explanatory approach in order to educate residents on what actions the city plans to take and how it would affect their responsibilities and what they see happen around them.