words by Yessenia Funes
PHOTOGRAPH BY Liliana Merizalde
The year is wrapping up, so it’s a perfect time to look at some of the best environmental justice stories Atmos published this year. So many stories go up outside of The Frontline. Here are some of the best ones chosen by climate editor Yessenia Funes.
Wow, 2020 is almost over. In a few short days, a new year will be upon us. Most of us are beyond ready for the year to end, but it’s worth looking back to reflect. Here at Atmos, we’ve been publishing critical stories on race and the environment long before The Frontline was born. Before I launched this newsletter, I published these two stories I’m quite proud of—but there’s even more work that was not authored by me.
Welcome to The Frontline, where I’m uplifting some environmental stories you may have missed this year. I’m Yessenia Funes, climate editor of Atmos. Justice and love are at the heart of how we tell stories at Atmos. That’s really what makes this publication so profoundly different from what else already exists. I’m wrapping up the year pointing you to some of my favorite stories Atmos published this year.
The Secret to Saving Asian Elephants? Oranges
Words by Zinara Rathnayake
Photographs by Nathan Mahendra
When Zinara Rathnayake came to me with this story idea, I was absolutely thrilled. People don’t typically think of wildlife and conservation as an environmental justice issue, but it very much is. In many parts of the world—including Sri Lanka, where this story takes place—conservation efforts are often complicated by conflict between the animals and locals.
For this story, Zinara explored how local conservationists were trying to manage elephant populations, which have been pushed into closer proximity to villages due to habitat loss. Turns out that Asian elephants really don’t like the smell of citrus. Read the story here to learn more about this surprising solution.
Words by Ceyenne Doroshow (As told to Willow Defebaugh)
Photographs by Kristin Powell
This story broke my heart and then put it all together again. It’s a beautiful telling of pain, loss, community, and sustainability. In the environmental space, we often think of sustainability as it relates to our consumption. How about sustainability as it relates to the soul? In this story for Atmos Volume 04: Cascade, Ceyenne Doroshow talks about her experience as a Black trans woman, about addiction, about motherhood. She shares valuable lessons—from housing to community—for the environmental movement.
Stories of environmental justice must go beyond calculations of polluted water or air; they must go deeper into who we are as a people and the systems that perpetuate our ugliest habits. They must explore what it means to be alive, to live—and the cost of living that life authentically. This story accomplishes all of that and more. Be sure to give it a read here.
Fierce Life: Maria do Socorro Silva
Words by Eliane Brum
Photographs by Liliana Merizalde
I, myself, missed this story when it first came out in May. It’s a necessary read for anyone invested in the well-being of the Amazon Rainforest and its caretakers. This profile of Maria do Socorro Silva details the horrible realities of colonialism today and how the extractive industry abuses Indigenous women who call the Amazon home.
Until Indigenous peoples can live in peace worldwide, we won’t have climate justice. In the Amazon, they’re on the literal frontlines of Earth’s future, fighting to protect an ecosystem we all rely on for its carbon sequestration abilities. Communities like Maria’s, of course, rely on it on a more personal level. In fact, they don’t simply rely on the forest. As Eliane Brum writes, people like Maria are the forest. Read this incredible profile here for an intimate portrait on Maria’s life.
Words by Danni Washington
Photographs by Michael James Fox
In a historic timeline, Danni Washington so clearly lays out all the connections between fossil fuels, plastics, pollution, health inequities, and more. She draws links between the ways beaches were long segregated and the toxic waters that surround Black communities. It’s a necessary read—peppered by stunning imagery from Michael James Fox. If you didn’t already know that plastics is one of the next big fights, this piece will help you understand why.
More importantly, perhaps, Danni forces you to reckon with your own complicity in the cycle that puts Black communities in harm’s way. What is inside your electronics? What plastic lies in your recycling bin? Where does it all go after you throw it “away”? And where does it all come from? This feature is a great example of what Atmos does best: tackle consumerism with a lens on the systems that fuel our toxic choices. Make sure you add this story to your reading list.
After The Fire: A Journey Through Yuin Country
Words by Amanda Jane Reynolds
Photographs by Tim Georgeson
This feature offers such a rich telling of Aboriginal and Indigenous history in Australia. The year kicked off with this continent on fire. It may very well end with fire again. What’s been missing from so much reporting on this issue, however, is the impact on Australia’s First Peoples. Their communities have long lived hand in hand with flames; the pain of witnessing it destroy rather than nourish is more than any one story can tell. Still, Amanda Jane Reynolds comes quite close to bringing that emotion to the page.
As the region enters its summer, this is an important piece to read. It ends with a poem, which can stand on its own as enough to warrant reading. Find the piece here.
Words by Ruth H. Hopkins
Space, the stars, and the moon have always been a part of Indigenous storytelling. For all of humanity, we’ve looked up to the dark sky—in awe of all we could not understand. These days, we understand a lot more, but we have yet to learn from the errors of our past. In this Sacred Ecology column, Ruth H. Hopkins ruminates on what Western society’s obsession with colonizing the moon says about us. Have we not learned that colonialism only results in destruction?
The story really pushes you to wonder about the future of human civilization and the lengths we go to leave our mark as a species. Exploration is one thing; colonization another. Reaching the moon again only to extract its resources is a complicated proposition—one Ruth stands against. Read her thoughts on the matter here.
Words by Rachel Cargle
Photographs by Ivan McClellan
This is probably my favorite story in Atmos Volume 04: Cascade. It looks at the history of Black horsemanship—and how it’s long been erased in the media we consume. The story begins as many do of being Black in America: slavery. The relationship between communities and horses begins when Black people who were enslaved were put to work on ranches. That relationship has blossomed since then, creating avenues to forge a new relationship to nature and the outdoors.
These stories have always been around us, but the media has long whitewashed them. Rachel Cargle outlines that history quite elegantly. This is a heartfelt story of Black joy—a celebration, you could say. As we wrap up this year from hell, Ivan McClellan’s photography is enough to lift your spirits. Take a look here.