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Lakes Rising: A Climate Change Mystery in the Caribbean

Image by Jacob Kushner. Haiti, 2016. Add this image to a lesson

Pulitzer Center grantee Jacob Kushner spoke at the University of Wisconsin-Madison about his Pulitzer Center-supported feature for National Geographic on the mysteriously rising Caribbean lakes in Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

During the past 10 years, the surface of Lake Azuei in Haiti and Lake Enriquillo in the Dominican Republic rose 10 meters, and nobody knows why. These changes caused entire towns to sink beneath the water’s surface.

The Dominican Republic and Haiti, which share the Caribbean island of Hispaniola, have seen natural disasters before–earthquakes, hurricanes, floods–but nothing like this. Experts from the United Nations, a French NGO, a Dominican university, a New York college and others have looked for clues to explain the cause behind the rise of these lakes. Some hypothesize the phenomenon is related to climate change, but the evidence is counterintuitive: Unlike ocean levels, which are rising, lakes across the globe tend to shrink.

While scientists scramble to figure it out, thousands of Dominicans whose farmland sunk beneath the water have little choice but to turn to a more nefarious occupation: charcoal. They’re cutting down tens of thousands of trees to produce 50,000 tons of charcoal annually, wrecking havoc on an ecosystem that’s already fragile due to the rising water. They transport the charcoal to Haiti under the cover of darkness on small boats across one of the same, rising lakes.

In his presentation at his alma mater, Kushner argues that it is urgent for journalists to do a far better job of explaining climate change to the general public. He also discusses the challenges of doing so when there is much we still do not know.

Kushner, a foreign correspondent covering East/Central Africa and the Caribbean, specializes in investigative and explanatory reporting into immigration, human rights, poverty and development economics, foreign aid and investment, and governance.

Originally from Milwaukee, Kushner majored in journalism and in the Latin American, Caribbean and Iberian Studies Program (LACIS) at UW-Madison. He holds a master’s degree in political journalism from Columbia University and was a 2013 Overseas Press Club Fellow for the Associated Press in Nairobi, where he is currently based. Kushner also is the author of the e-book, China’s Congo Plan. His work has appeared in The New Yorker, Foreign Policy magazine, and the Christian Science Monitor, among others.

Credit: Pulitzer Center

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