Annual Davis Lecture presented by environmental journalist Dan Fagin


Dan Fagin speaks about his career and future works at the J. Roderick Davis Lecture. I HALLIE KING, NEWS EDITOR


Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and New York University professor Dan Fagin presented the annual J. Roderick Davis Lecture on Thursday, Nov. 2 at 7 p.m. in the Wright Center.

University Provost Mike Hardin opened the lecture with a brief history of the event.

“This series was established upon Rod Davis’ retirement by his friends and colleagues who wished to establish an annual Davis Lecture series in his honor,” said Hardin.

The event was hosted by the Howard College of Arts and Sciences and the Frances Marlin Mann Center for Ethics. Mann Center director Drayton Nabers was recognized alongside Davis for the success of the event.

Senior environmental science and economics major and Restoring Eden President Hope Reamer then welcomed Fagin with an introduction regarding his work and successes.

Reamer explained that, before becoming a professor,  Fagin worked alongside a Pulitzer Prize-nominated staff at Newsday. Additionally, he won two acclaimed science journalism awards during his career: the Science Journalism Award at the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Science in Society Award from the National Association of Science Writers.

Fagin’s lecture was loosely based around his 2014 Pulitzer Prize-winning book, “Toms River,” a nonfiction work about industrial pollution and its consequences in the small town of Toms River, New Jersey.

The book was also awarded the New York Public Library’s Helen Bernstein Award for Excellence in Journalism, the National Academies Science Book Award and the Society of Environmental Journalists’ Rachel Carson Environment Book Award.

Fagin began by explaining the background of his new work: a story about monarch butterfly migration in Mexico. However, he said that the story shares a similar societal connection to “Toms River” regarding the human connection to the world around it.

“The way I really describe what I do is that I tell stories about us and our planet,” said Fagin. “And this planet is a spectacular place.”

Fagin’s new work investigates the human effect on monarch butterfly migration just as “Toms River” investigated the human effect of disposing of hazardous waste illegally into Toms River.

He described the current human relationship to the planet as a time period known as “the Anthropocene.” Similar to other rapidly-changing epochs such as the Jurassic, Triassic and Hominid periods, the Anthropocene is the current classified drastic planetary change in the environment.  

“It’s a period of time during which human activities have had an environmental impact on the Earth, regarded as constituting a distinct geological age,” according to Paul Crutzen and Eugene Stoermer who defined the phrase in 2000.

The impact is profound, dominant and overwhelming, argued Fagin.

The human dominion over the planet is a balancing act between exploitation and stewardship, said Fagin. In the Anthropocene, the proper exercise of that power is up to us. That, he explained, is the common theme connecting “Toms River” to the story of the migrating monarch butterflies.

“As an environmental writer, what I’m really doing is trying to write Anthropocene narratives,” said Fagin. “Because narrative storytelling, we know, is the most profound form of communication.”

Fagin continued the lecture by explaining how he forms these Anthropocene narratives. He discussed the division between the public and their media trust and understanding with multiple, impactful data charts. The data measured climate science literacy, media trust, audience engagement and informational impact among other statistics.

These jarring findings amplified Fagin’s desire to share narrative pieces with an engaged consumer base. He advised consumers and producers to modify their course of action to more meaningfully disseminate information.

Fagin instructed consumers to be mindful of source credibility, the factual basis of primary sources, context, motivation and biases. He urged consumers to approach information with the goal of learning rather than proving a point – confirmation bias, Fagin explained, should be avoided.

For content producers – both professionals and those providing information personally through social media – Fagin’s emphasis was on raising public trust. He encouraged producers to prioritize accuracy, fairness, clarity, context, transparency, ethics and human interest in order to create the most truthfully compelling narrative possible.

Fagin said he hopes that environmental storytelling will continue to have unique and universal impact by building trust with true stories.

“The future of this planet – the home that we share, the one that we leave with our children and our grandchildren – depends entirely on the choices that we make,” said Fagin. “The choices that we make will depend largely on the stories we tell.”

Fagin used numerous graphics, charts and photos to deliver his lecture. I HALLIE KING, NEWS EDITOR


Hallie King, News Editor

Leave a comment

All fields marked (*) are required