Our Most-Read Stories of 2014

The environmental headlines you couldn't help but click this year.

Each December when we take a look back at the most popular onEarth stories of the year, it’s fun (and enlightening) to see what resonated with our readers. There’s an old complaint in the media business that environmental stories have a hard time making the front page or the nightly newscasts; even an existential threat like climate change isn’t exactly breaking news, considering that we’ve known and understood the threat for decades.

So at onEarth, we’re always looking for ways to provide you, our readers, with a fresh take on environmental issues—stories that surprise, that share solutions, that explain the challenges facing our world and introduce us to the people working to overcome them. (That approach is especially true of our new daily newsfeed, Earthwire, whose mission is to identify, analyze, and explain the most important environmental stories of the day.)

I think 2014’s most-popular list shows that we’re on the right track. Whether it’s through maps, explainers, or in-depth investigative stories, our readers clearly appreciate new and unexpected ways of looking at the problems that confront us all—digging down into the details of the threats in their backyards, or understanding how dirty fuel from a distant part of the planet could further foul the air of a town they’ve probably never heard of.

So here are onEarth’s 10 most-read stories of 2014 (and thank you, readers, for all of your support):

1. Devil in the Deep Blue Sea

You might have heard of the giant dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico (the size of Connecticut at its peak, largely caused by runoff from farm fertilizer), but you probably didn’t know that the world’s oceans are full of oxygen-starved regions, where most sea life can’t survive, and that pollution is the primary cause. In our most popular story of the year, Brian Palmer provided a tally of the worldwide damage—and explained what can be done about it.

2. Where Art Thou, Superfund?

If there’s something that our list makes clear, it’s that people like figuring out if there’s something bad near them. This map lets you zoom in on all 1,700 toxic waste Superfund sites across the country. Most are near major population centers, so chances are, there’s one in your neck of the woods.

3. Invest in Canoes?

More maps! These great illustrations by cartographer Jeff Linn show what seven coastal U.S. cities would look like if climate change gets so bad that we melt both ice caps. Ever hear of the Seattle Islands or the Strait Outta Compton? Your descendants might!

4. Needle in a Landfill

When Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 went missing last spring, satellites scrutinized pretty much every patch of the Indian Ocean and South China Sea for debris. Instead, what the world found was trash, and lots of it, reminding us that 20 million more tons of garbage are dumped into our oceans every year.

5. Falling Starfish

A plague is destroying some of the world’s most vicious marine predators. Sharks? Barracudas? Nope, it’s seastars. Seriously, those five-armed guys are crazy good hunters. But now the predators have become the prey, falling victim to a “wasting syndrome” all along North America’s coastlines. Jason Bittel introduced us to the scientists who discovered the mystery and are working to solve it.

6. Hog Wild

Our editor-at-large Ted Genoways exposed how factory farms are poisoning Iowa’s drinking water—all to feed China’s growing appetite for Spam.

7. American Sacrifice Zone

Take a visit to Port Arthur, Texas, where the controversial Keystone XL pipeline would, if built, deposit 830,000 barrels a day of diluted, chemically treated tar sands oil for refining into heavy diesel, much of it for shipment overseas. Originally published in 2013, this in-depth investigation (also by Ted Genoways) made our most-read list again in 2014 after winning a prestigious James Aronson Award for Social Justice Journalism. Judges honored it for exposing "how the oil industry wreaks havoc on the environment and health of a predominantly poor, African American community."

8. Should We Really Save the Devils Hole Pupfish?

They’re an inch long. There are fewer than 100 left. We’re spending upwards of $5 million on preservation. Is it worth the effort? Jason Bittel explains why the answer is a definite “yes.”

9. The Tar Sands Bubble

Without the Keystone XL pipeline to move the dirty fuel to market, Canada’s tar sands are becoming an increasingly bad investment. Brian Palmer explains how, by fighting the pipeline, activists have disrupted the industry’s bottom line.

10. Comic Relief

Sooo, did you hear the one about the midterm elections? Yeah, not much to laugh about there, sorry. So to lighten the mood, the next night we sent MTV’s Josh Horowitz to cover the environmentally themed hijinks at NRDC’s Night of Comedy. Based on the story’s appearance on this list, looks like our readers were happy to enjoy some chuckles from Larry David, Seth Meyers, Amy Schumer, and friends.

Bonus: Bison Back East

This story was only published a couple of days ago, but it's already within striking distance of the Top 10, so it deserves a special mention! Susan Cosier takes us to the Illinois prairie (restored prairie, but still), where about 30 wild bison are the first to roam east of the Mississippi since the 1830s. A nice hopeful way to end the year.

Note: If you’d love to read more stories like this in 2015, it’s not too late to support onEarth’s award-winning nonprofit journalism with a tax-deductible contribution.

This article was originally published on onEarth, which is no longer in publication. onEarth was founded in 1979 as the Amicus Journal, an independent magazine of thought and opinion on the environment. All opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of NRDC. This article is available for online republication by news media outlets or nonprofits under these conditions: The writer(s) must be credited with a byline; you must note prominently that the article was originally published by NRDC.org and link to the original; the article cannot be edited (beyond simple things such grammar); you can’t resell the article in any form or grant republishing rights to other outlets; you can’t republish our material wholesale or automatically—you need to select articles individually; you can’t republish the photos or graphics on our site without specific permission; you should drop us a note to let us know when you’ve used one of our articles.

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