words by yessenia Funes
photograph by noah klein
In her final edition of The Frontline, climate director Yessenia Funes celebrates the stories she’s published since launching the newsletter.
When I first launched The Frontline in 2020, a year of revolution, I wrote: “These issues are all connected, and The Frontline will draw all the lines.” I pride myself on the lines I’ve drawn and the connections I’ve made since then. I kept my promise to you, my dear readers. And now, our time must come to an end.
This will be my last time writing for The Frontline, at least in this capacity as climate director for Atmos. I’m leaving to pursue my own ambitions and dreams. I’ll still be writing for Atmos as editor-at-large, but I won’t be running The Frontline anymore. You’ll hear from me once a month. I’ll miss you, too, but let’s not be sad yet.
First, let’s celebrate the words you’ve read over the last two and a half years.
Since founding and launching The Frontline, I’ve committed to making climate connections many others miss. It’s this lens that makes space for the cultural shifts we need to step up to the climate crisis. Sometimes, those stories looked like my latest piece on teens and cannabis. Other times, the connections weave across borders—like the print story I wrote for Volume 06 Beyond on the Miskito Indigenous communities in Nicaragua and their recovery after Hurricanes Eta and Iota hit in 2020.
I’ve drawn ties between environmental pollution and policing, as well as reproductive rights. I reported on colonialism’s first appearance in the international climate reports put out by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. In the same way I’ve covered international climate summits, I’ve devoted time on The Frontline to TV shows and films I just couldn’t stop thinking about. I’ve made space for Jewish people, older people, young people, trans people, queer people, Indigenous people, Black people, Latine people, and the list could go on forever.
There are a few favorites I’ve worked on over the years: “Dust and Bones” is at the top of the list. My first collaboration with the Prison Journalism Project is another: “How to Endure the Winters of a Life Sentence.” While I love writing stories, I do believe that the most impactful ones come directly from voices on the frontlines. That one was written by Jeffrey Shockley, a writer who is incarcerated. One of my first commissions was an essay by Dr. Chelsea Mikael Frazier, who wrote about Black women’s contributions to environmental storytelling. The art by Amarilis Rodriguez remains one of my all-time favorites.
The Frontline has stayed true to the Atmos mission of strong art. This was a new challenge for me: producing original photography and illustrations requires a creative muscle I hadn’t developed before coming here. But now, I understand the importance of creative direction. This last year, in particular, The Frontline took story visuals to the next level.
In a story by Anmol Irfan about child marriage after Pakistan’s record-breaking monsoon rains and floods, photographer Eduard Sánchez Ribot found an abstract way to capture still-lifes of the wedding veils used in Pakistani cultures. When journalist Lynda Mapes wrote about land back efforts on Canada’s Vancouver Island, photographer Evan Benally Atwood shared images that felt so poetically Pacific Northwest while reminding readers that Native lands are everywhere. When I was offered an interview with Bomba Estéreo’s Simón Mejía, I moved quickly to lock down a writer and photographer team. Dana Scruggs’ gorgeous portraits work perfectly alongside the prose of Maria Cristina Sherman.
In one of the rare data visualizations Atmos has published, I worked with data journalist Federica Fragapane on “Paid in Blood,” a story from 2021 on the killing of an environmental defender in Brazil. A diary-style story by Liz Ricketts on the women of Ghana’s Kantamanto Market is probably one of the most creative pieces I’ve ever published on The Frontline. It provided a new perspective on the daily lives of the women forced to deal with the West’s used clothes—and the work Ricketts is doing to support them.
I’m so honored to have shared the words of so many luminaries, including environmental advocates like Tamara Toles O’Laughlin, Heather McTeer Toney, and Catherine Coleman Flowers. I’ve also interviewed leaders like Dolores Huerta, Ai-jen Poo, Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, and Rhiana Gunn-Wright. Profiles are my favorite type of stories to write. I didn’t get to do enough during my time here, but these profiles of activist-model Quannah Chasinghorse and youth activist Vic Barrett hold special places in my heart. Regular contributors to The Frontline like Amber X. Chen, Mélissa Godin, and Ashia Ajani do, too.
Ultimately, however, my heart belongs to you all, my readers. Every time you read one of my stories or comment on an Instagram post or retweet my work, I am rewarded. I am reminded that my stories have impact and that people are watching. The work I do would mean nothing if not for you all, the people who share the words and photos I put together.
Thank you. I’ll miss sending these out every Monday and Wednesday—but please keep in touch. I’m only getting started.