Black Excellence

Let's honor a few Black climate leaders I look to for guidance.

Black Excellence
Artwork by Anthony Gerace for Atmos

LISTENING: to the clickety-clack of my keyboard
FEELING: excited to see one of my best friends get married
SEEING: my cat, mellow, nap

Tomorrow, I'm off to Cancun for a much-needed vacation. It'll be short and sweet — just enough time to see one of my best friends get married. I've got a lot to do (and I'm fighting a cold), so let's get to it.

Remember the story I wrote for Atmos last month about how El Salvador's president is persecuting environmental activists? Well, he won his unconstitutional re-election campaign Monday. My feed was full of Salvadoran friends and family celebrating. My own mom was just expressing her excitement when I saw her a few hours ago. Sigh. No one seems concerned that their country appears headed toward authoritarianism.

In fact, human rights experts are concerned about what this means for the wider Latin American region. It all feels especially dark as the media covers migrants arriving in the U.S. in a sensationalist way. My mother, who arrived as an undocumented immigrant in the '80s, is even feeling alarm over the so-called "migrant crisis" in New York City. I blame the oversimplified media narrative painting everyone as "criminals."

The media makes things possible — some possibilities are ugly, others are not. In my media platform, I try to honor what's possible when communities are in control — when leadership reflects the majority and when people are treated with dignity.

Welcome to Possibilities, a creative climate newsletter on the possibilities that lie where crisis meets community. I’m Yessenia Funes, and for Black History Month, I want to honor a few Black climate leaders.

As a reporter, I have some trusted folks I turn to when I'm covering issues around climate and environmental justice. These are individuals who consider the perspectives of many others when they share their own. I wanted to celebrate and name them. Maybe you'll plug into their work, too?

Here's a profile I wrote about her for Atmos in 2022. How do I describe her? She's a strategist, a mother, a person who centers care in her work. She's great on all things policy. She has a rich understanding of history and amazing visions for the future. Check out her website to learn more and follow her work.

He's probably best known for his former role in the Environmental Protection Agency. He stepped down when Donald Trump entered the White House, but his environmental advocacy has only grown from there. These days, he's at the National Wildlife Federation, but Santiago Ali also advises on presidential campaigns and travels across the country to meet frontline communities in person. He's someone you'll want to hear from. Learn more on his website here.

She is the mastermind behind the Green New Deal framework. It's tough to get her on the phone, but boy, when I do, it's pure magic. She truly approaches her climate and environmental work through an intersectional lens, understanding that housing and healthcare are all connected to climate justice. And police abolition, too: We talked about that years ago in this Q&A for Atmos.

Mary taught me that we should write from our emotions — that emotions should guide the work we do. She also taught me that climate change is not the first apocalypse our people have faced. I really thank her for that understanding and practice. She's an essayist and author. She's also a fierce fighter for climate justice. I interviewed her for Atmos back in 2021. We need more folks like her in the movement. Here's her website. Order her books, too!

I began following Vic's activism when he was just a kid. He's a young man now and still doing the damn thing. He's best known for his role in the youth-led lawsuit against the U.S. government for a right to a healthy planet, but he's done much more than that. Last we spoke, he was interested in learning how to utilize storytelling to pursue his activism. He's someone to keep your eye on — his star is only just rising. Read this profile I wrote on him for Atmos.

This is the father of environmental justice. His sociology research kickstarted the academic understanding of environmental racism. He's still going strong with his research and organizing. He's doing a lot of work around petrochemicals in Texas and the Gulf South. I always have a great time interviewing Dr. Bullard. The movement is lucky to have him. Read this Q&A I wrote for Scientific American.

This list includes just a few folks I trust and love. Why don't y'all share some more folks in the comments? 🌀

Rest in Power

While we can't say for certain that climate change led to these specific weather events (we need attribution studies for that), we do know that the Earth's rising temperatures are already creating more disasters like these.

Wildfires in Chile have killed at least 131 people as of Tuesday.

A wild ass storm system over California has led to devastating floods and mudslides that have killed at least seven people across the state.

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