The West Coast is burning. The Arctic is melting. The Gulf is flooding. The world is heating. The climate crisis isn’t coming. It’s already here. And with its arrival, the frontline is gearing up for war. What are these communities defending? Their lives. The frontline is fighting for its right to thrive, not merely survive. It’s fighting for justice.
Welcome to The Frontline, a newsletter that’ll tackle all things environmental justice in your inbox every Monday through Thursday. The Frontline will explore some of the toughest conversations in the environmental space: racism, inclusion, pollution, corruption, extreme weather, heartbreak, and hope.
The best part? You get to hear from me, Yessenia Funes. I’m the climate editor at Atmos. You might’ve read my work before in Earther, Grist, Colorlines, or YES! Magazine. I’ve been covering the intersection of the environment and race for about half a decade now. The inequities humans experience at the hands of the ecological crises we face are what got me interested in this space at all. That’s why I studied both environmental studies and journalism during my college days. This shit can be complicated, but my job is to make it all as simple as possible for you, my readers.
The threat isn’t always an orange ash-laden sky. Sometimes, it’s the cop posted up on the block. These issues are all connected.
I’m focusing this newsletter on frontline communities because they include warriors who did little to create this mess. These are low-income communities, communities of color, towns founded by formerly enslaved people, tribal nations, immigrant bordertowns. They include nations in the Global South, like my mami’s home of El Salvador, as well as predominantly Black middle-class communities like the one I grew up in on Long Island. We don’t hear enough voices from these corners of society, and I’m here to give them a platform and to give you a new understanding of these issues.
These people are often the first to witness the cycle of climate catastrophe—from fossil fuel extraction in their backyards to deadlier extreme weather events as a result—yet they’re also the last ones our leaders rush in to save. Many frontline communities don’t expect environmental justice to come from the White House, Congress, or some celebrity. Instead, they rely on their own ranks to make it happen.
So… what is environmental justice, anyway? While the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines it as, essentially, redistributing the burden of development and pollution across all people—which it’s failing to do—the environmental justice movement has a better definition for the term. Set during the First National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit in 1991, the definition states:
Environmental racism is the disproportionate impact of environmental hazards on people of color. Environmental justice is the movement’s response to environmental racism. “Environmental equity” is not environmental justice. “Environmental equity” is the government’s response to the demands of the environmental justice movement. Government agencies, like the EPA, have been co-opting the movement by redefining environmental justice as “fair treatment and meaningful involvement,” something they consistently fail to accomplish, but which also falls far short of the environmental justice vision. The environmental justice movement isn’t seeking to simply redistribute environmental harms, but to abolish them.
For the individuals working toward establishing justice in their neighborhoods, environmental justice is about breathing clean air and drinking clean water. It’s about kicking law-breaking polluters out. It’s about increasing access to green spaces. More importantly, it’s about feeling safe to go outside. The threat isn’t always an orange ash-laden sky. Sometimes, it’s the cop posted up on the block. These issues are all connected, and The Frontline will draw all the lines.
This week, we’ll start with a little Justice 101. Don’t get too used to that, though. Some issues will be more explainery in nature. Others, however, will focus on the Big News of the week. You’ll also find some issues that offer teasers, mini data stories, and exclusive newsletter content to compliment features and investigations I publish. What you can be certain of is to hear from frontline voices and walk away with a new sense of urgency and empathy for the individuals already face-to-face with the climate emergency.
That’s kind of my thing. I keep it real. I pull no punches, and I’m all about humanizing climate change. I’m one of the few journalists who approach environmental justice with a holistic lens. Pollution isn’t only toxic air or contaminated water. It’s Confederate monuments. It’s pervasive gang violence. It’s everything harmful to our environment, to our homes, to our bodies.
The climate crisis is the most urgent issue of our time. It’s not just about the birds or the bees. It’s about you and me. Let’s get into it, baby.