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Your Picks: Redefine's Top Stories in 2015

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As we ring in the new, time to wring out some of the old stories you liked best in 2015 | Photo: John Harke/Flickr/Creative Commons License

It's that time of year. Holiday decorations begin to look a little stale. You're laying in supplies for a New Year's Eve party -- or resolving to stay at home and avoid the hangover. You're wondering where the last year went: wasn't it January just like six weeks ago?

And all across the Internet come the merry tinkling of Best Of The Year We Just Survived posts.

Who are we at KCET's Redefine to fight tradition? Of the hundreds of stories we've brought you during 2015, these are the ten that all of you out there in the public found the most compelling. You clicked on them, you shared them on social media, you commented on them... usually after reading the articles, but apparently not always. Here are the Redefine stories you liked best -- or hated most -- in 2015.

 

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A note on how we compiled this list: Just taking straight page view counts is potentially misleading, because some of the stories we've published have had a year to rack up page views while others were published last week. But when I went through the year's page view stats and crunched the numbers, that didn't turn out to matter much. There was a clear, unambiguous top 10 list. Here it is, in increasing order of page views.

 

Number 10: That Feud Between NorCal and SoCal? Time to Get Over It (November 23)

November's think piece on the decades-long rivalry between Northern and Southern California spurred some interesting conversations on social media: about half the commenters on KCET's Facebook page said they'd never heard of the rivalry, while many of the remainder said the feud was justified because their less-favorite half of the state sucks.

Number 9: 7 Things You Need To Know About El Niño and the Drought (September 2)

In September, before the latest series of rains started coming ashore up and down California, a sizable storm of conflicting information about what El Niño would do to California's drought was raging across the internet. We did our best to clear up some of the confusion, and you seemed to appreciate that. Update: Things are looking pretty good for California in the next few months: the Blob is dead (for now), and we're expected to get above-normal precipitation for the next few months. And it still won't make up for the last few years of drought.

Number 8: Scores of Birds Killed During Test of Solar Project in Nevada (February 18)

This story touched a nerve, as it showed that risk to wildlife from solar power tower projects wasn't limited to the controversial Ivanpah Solar plant south of Las Vegas. Over a hundred birds were observed killed by concentrated solar energy during a day of tests in January, in which the project's mirrored heliostats were aimed at a spot above the plant's single tower in so-called "standby" mode.. Since then, the company says it has changed standby mode so that all the mirrors don't aim the same way, lowering the amount of solar "flux" in any one spot. But the plant, which is officially set to start pumping power into Nevada's grid, doesn't work in standby mode: its heliostats must be aimed at the plant's boiler to generate power. We'll see whether that results in injuries to wildlife -- or whether we hear about it doing so in an era of increasing political pressure on consulting biologists and wildlife agencies.

Number 7: 6 Ways Water Restrictions Will Change Life in California (April 2)

In April, before we were assured of a strong El Niño to bring us some small respite from the drought, the state was scrambling to find creative ways to meet mandatory water use cuts enacted by Jerry Brown. We looked at a number of ways those measures would change the state. Some of them are for the better, such as more and more Californians deciding lawns aren't the right look for their Californian landscapes. So far, none of the predictions we made have been proven false, though we'll see whether the social changes last past the next few possibly rainy months.

Number 6: Bigfoot Hunters Find Something Unexpected In Del Norte County (September 28)

Everybody's gotta believe in something, and the Bigfoot myth is arguably something. Our article on North Coast Bigfoot researchers inadvertently finding a rare and elusive Humboldt marten provoked a lot of interest... from Bigfoot's true believers who showed up to object to our statement that Bigfoot may well not actually exist. Regardless of the answer to that burning question, the shots of the beleaguered Humboldt marten are compelling enough to give the piece another look. The marten is so rare it was once considered extinct, but for some reason the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decided in April not to grant the little weasel protection under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.

Number 5: Understanding California's Bay Delta in 63 Photos (March 30)

We spent much of the first half of 2015 bringing you stories about California's largest and most endangered aquatic ecosystem, the San Francisco Bay Delta. (Here's a link to the 50 or so stories we put together.) This pictorial piece by water expert Chris Austin was the most popular of the series, with about five times as many readers as the second-most-popular story in our Bay Delta series. (Which, for the curious, was Emily Green's piece explaining California water rights.)

Number 4: You Should Probably Be Skeptical About This Bladeless Wind Turbine (May 15)

Every so often a story comes across the Internet in which a radically new approach to technology promises to fix a big problem that people are concerned about. In the case of the Spanish company Vortex Bladeless, that problem is bird injuries from wind turbine blades.

From window-mount solar electrical outlets to solar (freaking) roadways, some of the new ideas in the renewables world consist more of wishful thinking and less of actual engineering. This story was different: there's nothing keeping these bladeless wind generators from making electricity: it's just a question of making power cheaply enough to be attractive. Our take on the Vortex company's novel-looking bladeless wind power generator was that while the technology was interesting, it wasn't a slam dunk panacea to the need to generate wind power without undue injury to wildlife. For what it's worth, the MIT Technology Review had a substantially similar take.

That hesitance didn't keep Vortex Bladeless from running a wildly successful Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign this year, so we'll just wish the company luck in accomplishing its goal of making wind power safer and quieter.

Number 3: Video Shows Frightening Scale of SoCal Gas Leak (December 24)

At the rate this Christmas Eve post is racking up page views, it may actually end up in the number 2 spot by New Year's Eve. Two environmental groups hired a helicopter to fly over the Aliso Canyon gas leak. aboard was a photographer equipped with an infrared camera like those gas companies use to find leaks. This leak certainly got found: in the resulting video, it's an ominous black plume rising hundreds of feet over the northern reaches of the San Fernando Valley. Observers are already comparing this environmental disaster to the Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, and it promises to get worse through the first few months of 2016.

Number 2: Our Food Is Not Being Grown With Fracking Wastewater (September 16)

Fracking is a hot-button issue, and KCET food writer Rick Paulas walked right up to that button and kick-boxed it good and hard in his analysis of a prevalent social media topic. It's a difficult and complex topic: there's more than one kind of water involved in oil and gas production. None of it is likely safe to drink directly from the ground, but state and federal agencies have decided that so-called "produced water" -- the water that was down in the ground to begin with and which comes up with the oil and gas -- can be treated sufficiently to irrigate crops safely. If you don't trust those agencies' judgment, we certainly understand. But there's still a difference between produced water and fracking wastewater.

And the most-visited Redefine piece of 2015:

Number 1: 6 Reasons That Floating Ocean Plastic Cleanup Gizmo is a Horrible Idea (June 4)

With more than 16 times the page views of the tenth-most popular piece this year, this buzz-killing look at young inventor Boyan Slat's scheme to take plastic from the ocean upset a whole lot of people who really want a magic quick fix to a problem they're likely helping create. As evidence, check out the comment thread, where many commenters raise devastating counterarguments that thoroughly demolish the piece -- or which would if the piece hadn't addressed those counterarguments.

We'll have another retrospective of environmental news that deserved more coverage in 2015 later in the week, but for now keep that as a reminder: read carefully before you comment lest you make that same mistake.

For ongoing environmental coverage in March 2017 and afterward, please visit our show Earth Focus, or browse Redefine for historic material.
KCET's award-winning environment news project Redefine ran from July 2012 through February 2017.

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