Photographs by Daniel Obasi, Spenser Heaps, and Jamie Hawkesworth (from left to right)

The Best of Atmos in 2021

On The Frontline and beyond, Atmos published a multitude of climate stories centering the voices of the first and worst impacted by the climate crisis. Take a look at some of our favorites from 2021.

Another year has come to an end. It’s hard to believe 2022 is already here. We started the year with a historic failure in the U.S. Capitol when insurrectionists stormed its halls. Now, we’re ending the year likely with another government failure as we see President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better plan crumble under Sen. Joe Manchin’s unwavering allegiance to the coal industry.

 

So, yeah—what a year. I’m sure we all spent less time locked inside and more time with our loved ones, but the pandemic rages on. In fact, we saw more people die from COVID-19 in the U.S. this year than the last. Isn’t that sobering? Despite all the pain and division that came with 2021, the Atmos team managed to publish some beautiful stories on the magic that exists within all of us—and in the world around us. 

 

Welcome to The Frontline, where we’re raising a glass to some of the best stories of the year. I’m Yessenia Funes, climate director of Atmos. I’m making space for 14 stories (in no particular order) because climate justice touches everything we publish—from our magazine cover stories to our culture features. Join me in giving the team here a round of applause for another year of impactful storytelling. There are so many stories I couldn’t include—and even more stories to come in the new year.

Queen P: Pattie Gonia on Drag and Identity in the Outdoors

INTERVIEW BY WILLOW DEFEBAUGH

PHOTOGRAPHS BY EVAN BENALLY ATWOOD

 

Have you ever been hiking in heels? This cover story for our print issue this year is all about drag queen and outdoor enthusiast Pattie Gonia. They dress up even when they’re headed into the woods as a way to bolster LGBTQIA+ representation in the outdoors. We all have the stereotype of what an outdoorsy person looks like—and Pattie is here to dismantle that. After all, what better place to be your most authentic self than outside? That’s what the story explores—the safety of nature, the fluidity of nature, and the inherent beauty in what we can learn about ourselves. 

 

The piece is a heartfelt conversation with Editor-in-Chief Willow Defebaugh that is worth reading if you haven’t already.

 

Photograph by Stuart Franklin/Magnum Photos

The Roots of Sisterhood

WORDS BY VIRGINIA VIGLIAR

 

It’s a scary time to be a woman in America. We’re seeing states one by one chip at our ability to make decisions over our bodies. The national debate around abortion has reached new levels, but it also teaches us an important message around sticking together during these tough times. In this story, writer Virginia Vigliar reminds us of the lessons we should learn from nature—especially the roots that hide underground, tying together ecosystems and making them stronger.

 

There’s no such thing as climate justice without gender justice. There’s no solidarity without sisterhood.

Hinaleimoana Kwai Kong Wong-Kalu portrat

Meet Native Hawaiian Māhū Activist Hinaleimoana Kwai Kong Wong-Kalu

WORDS BY ALEXIS CHEUNG

PHOTOGRAPHS BY JOSIAH PATTERSON

 

Everything Alexis Cheung writes for Atmos is pure gold, but something about this Q&A with Hinaleimoana Kwai Kong Wong-Kalu always stays with me. Wong-Kalu is māhū, the Hawaiian third-gender identity, as well as the director of a short film on the history of this gender identity. The film, Kapaemahu, is a stunning piece of art all on its own—but it’s even more impactful after reading this interview.

 

History plays such a critical role in our societies. We must hold onto those stories and share them so that they live on for future generations. That includes the stories of our non-binary ancestors—and the connections to the land.

The Altered Destiny

WORDS BY KENDRIANA WASHINGTON

PHOTOGRAPHS AND STYLING BY DANIEL OBASI

 

This story is one that features two of the pillars of Atmos: stunning visuals and stupendous prose. In it, writer Kendriana Washington reminds us that some of the world’s oldest civilizations were made up of Black people. They’ve survived so much—and yet here they are. Still, they are met with some of life’s greatest challenges due to climate injustice and environmental racism.

 

“When civilization’s oldest societies, who dwelled on the planet in its most environmentally tumultuous periods, are unable to prosper on Earth, this world is approaching its end,” Washington writes. This thought-provoking piece is paired with a colorful fashion shoot that underscores the power of Afro-futurism in face of the climate crisis.

Photograph by Patrick Gorski/NurPhoto via Getty Images

The Legacy of Inyan

WORDS BY RUTH H. HOPKINS


Our contributing editor
Ruth Hopkins writes a monthly column for our site, so I struggled to identify which was my favorite. All her pieces resonate. Still, I had never thought much of rocks until I read this piece. I learned they’re more than stone; they’re spirits. Rocks make up so many foundational elements of this planet—and we can learn so much from them. The sweat lodge ceremony is one way to do so, which Ruth discusses in her story.

 

Learn about Ruth’s connection to Inyan, the stone spirit, in her September column for the site.

Defending Wild Rice

WORDS BY ALEXANDRIA HERR

VIDEO BY AMBER BLACK

 

We have a pretty impressive backlog of coverage around Line 3, a controversial crude oil pipeline that was completed early this year in Minnesota. This story by Alexandria Herr, however, really shows the sweet spot of Atmos coverage: the intersection of climate and culture. Sure, the oil pipeline is detrimental to climate action given its greenhouse gas footprint—but it’s also an attack on the culture of the Anishinaabe people.

 

This piece dives into the cultural significance of manoomin, or wild rice in English—and the legal battle to recognize it as a person. The pipeline has been affecting wild rice lakes that the local Indigenous populations have been relying on for centuries.

Skate project in Two Grey Hills on Navajo Nation
Photographs Courtesy Orenda Tribe

A For Community, By Community Skatepark On Navajo Land

WORDS BY LANDON PEOPLES

 

What does skateboarding have to do with climate change? Well, this piece by former Atmos editor Landon Peoples lays it all out. Ultimately, it’s about building community. We need spaces to gather, to dream, to build collective action. For Navajo youth, that looks like a skatepark. Plus, you can skip the car and opt for the board if you learn the skills to ride around.

 

The story shows the power of community organizing and investment. It shows how a single seed can sprout into a gorgeous garden that benefits everyone who walks upon the dirt.

Photographer Vanessa Charlot mother and son

A Love Letter to Black Birth Workers

WORDS BY MARLO D. DAVID

PHOTOGRAPHS BY VANESSA CHARLOT

 

Reproductive justice isn’t only about having a say over what happens to our bodies. It’s also about ensuring the health and safety of our bodies during one of life’s most vulnerable moments: birth. This story by mother and scholar Marlo D. David is a love letter to the Black midwives who helped deliver her two older sons many moons ago. 

 

This piece is a reminder of the critical role Black mothers play in the climate movement—and the way Black birth workers keep them grounded when they’re most in need.

Journeying Across The British Isles with Jamie Hawkesworth

WORDS BY DAPHNE MILNER

PHOTOGRAPHS BY JAMIE HAWKESWORTH

 

This was one of Atmos site editor Daphne Milner’s first stories for us. And it’s a memorable one. It’s a deep dive into a photo project by Jamie Hawkesworth best known for his fashion photography. The featured project, however, looks at the land. His images—paired with Daphne’s prose—tell a whimsical story of time, exploration, and discovery.

 

Journey through the British Isles by reading this piece. You won’t regret it.

Person in yellow field by Jumbo Tsui
Photograph by Jumbo Tsui/Trunk Archive

Reminder: The Roots Of Veganism Aren’t White

WORDS BY ELIE GORDON

 

If you love a hot take, you’ll most certainly want to read this banger by social director Elie Gordon. In one of the first stories of the year, Elie enlightens us all to the origins of veganism—and how white vegans have co-opted the space to ignore human rights and social justice. We can care about animals and people. It doesn’t have to be one or the other, especially as we shift our worldview to one that centers on all living beings as important.

 

Veganism is a great way to reduce your individual carbon footprint, but let’s honor its history by centering the stories of Black, Indigenous, or other people of color—and always treating one another with love and respect.

A Guide to Nature’s Remedies

WORDS BY MARIA FERNANDEZ GARCIA

PHOTOGRAPHS BY ALEXANDRA VON FUERST

 

As someone whose main hobby involves eating, I recognize how important food is. What Maria Fernandez Garcia is here to remind us of, however, is that food is also medicine. In this feature, she breaks down the medicinal value of seven foods, including grapes and sweet potatoes. There’s plenty of science to back this all up, too. What better time to find new ways to nourish your body than in the new year?

 

Let your loved ones join you in your health journey by sharing this story far and wide. 

Photograph by Fernando Gomez / Trunk Archive

A Botanical Bouquet in My Abuelita’s Garden

WORDS BY JENNIFER LUXTON

 

I didn’t want to include too many stories from The Frontline, but I couldn’t ignore this one. Authored by my good friend Jennifer Luxton, this story underscores how connecting with our culture can also help us connect to the land. Jennifer shares intimate details about her childhood and upbringing to illustrate the complexity of the Latine experience in America.

 

Unfortunately, climate change is here to threaten our cultural heritage as it heats up the planet (and our gardens). This poetic essay bridges that divide of culture and climate in a way that makes it unforgettable.

Farmer walks through cannabis field in Himalayas

Rebuilding a Hemp Ecosystem High in the Himalayas

WORDS BY BEATRICE MURRAY-NAG

PHOTOGRAPHS BY ANDREA DE FRANCISIS

 

Cannabis is a sacred plant for many cultures across the globe. This story explores the ancient relationships communities in the Indian Himalayas share with the plant. They especially depend on the plant for clothes, food, and sustenance. Industrial hemp is an alternative to other plants that may be more taxing on the environment. However, these mountain communities are struggling to maintain their connection to cannabis.

 

The future of cannabis doesn’t just lie in dismantling the U.S. war on drugs—it’s also about uplifting its use in the communities that first discovered the plant and its benefits.

Paid in Blood

WORDS BY YESSENIA FUNES

ILLUSTRATION BY GABI HAWKINS

INFOGRAPHICS BY FEDERICA FRAGAPANE

PHOTOGRAPHS BY SPENSER HEAPS

 

This is the only story I wrote you’ll find on this list—and that’s because it really encapsulates the type of storytelling we hope to bring more of for you all in the new year. This deep dive sheds light on the violence environmental land defenders face in Latin America—especially when their queerness is added into the mix. Fighting for the planet is dangerous in so much of the world, and the stories of those who are killed rarely get as much attention as they deserve. 

 

This story on the life and death of Fernando dos Santos Araújo is a must-read if you missed it this year. Here’s to hoping 2022 brings more protections for these tireless land defenders—and that their stories are told time and time again.

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