2022 Year In Review
2022 was a big year for Edge Effects. We surpassed one million page views on our website, a feat made possible by the fierce dedication of graduate student editors. With support from Wisconsin Humanities we produced a new podcast series—Ground Truths—highlighting environmental justice issues across the diverse communities and landscapes of Wisconsin. The series featured original reporting from Edge Effects editors across six episodes on topics ranging from frac sand mining in the Driftless area to lead contamination in Milwaukee and urban farming in Madison. Simultaneously, we published the Unpure Imagination series, which featured eight essays engaging with themes of toxicity, purity, pollution, and restoration.
Along with these themed series, we published a delightfully eclectic array of essays and podcast on environmental topics this year. Unsurprisingly, climate change loomed large; pieces on the issue covered why we need to pay more attention to evacuation infrastructure for climate adaptation, how attribution science can help deliver climate justice, and more. Reviews of a David Attenborough docuseries on the wonders of plants and a comedy-horror film about werewolves (and oil pipelines!) highlighted some of the environmental themes captivating filmmakers and audiences. Food and agriculture issues were also popular in the magazine this year, such as my conversation with Dr. Liz Carlisle about the connections between regenerative farming and social justice, or this Thanksgiving essay offering an environmental history of electricity in the U.S. poultry industry.
We also pushed the boundaries of multimedia work on Edge Effects in 2022. This included photo galleries exhibiting the peri-urban landscapes of Oaxaca, Mexico and artfully-designed memorials to dead animals. These contrasting pieces exemplify the diverse ways that visual media can spur perspective shifts, evoke particular emotions, and create meaning. Finally, just last week we launched an initiative we’re calling “Edge Effects Out Loud,” wherein we feature essays in both written and audio formats. For the first installment, ecologist Nathan Kiel takes the reader (or listener) to his field sites in Yellowstone National Park to glimpse what the future of this ecosystem might look like under climate change. We look forward to expanding the Out Loud initiative to new essays and old favorites in the new year—stay tuned.
With so much fantastic work to choose from, it’s difficult to compile a list of “greatest hits” from the 2022 Edge Effects catalogue. Our editors offer some of their favorites below—but consider these as just a starting point to explore our entire archive. We want to thank our wonderful authors, readers, and listeners, who have kept the magazine going strong for nearly a decade. If you have enjoyed Edge Effects this year, please subscribe to get email updates about new posts on the website, subscribe to our podcast wherever you listen, and stay with us for more great content in 2023!
–Ben Iuliano, Managing Editor
“Climate Influencers and the Politics of Attention” by Mark Ortiz
In case you missed it, climate star Greta Thunberg, disillusioned by the overwhelming presence of fossil fuel lobbyists, skipped last month’s COP27 in Sharm El Sheik, Egypt. Her absence made a splash—but what of the youth climate activists who still showed up?
Thunberg, whose name has become synonymous with youth climate activism, is representative of social and traditional media’s problematic rendering of transnational youth climate movements. In his thought-provoking essay, scholar-activist Mark Ortiz asks us to re-evaluate the politics of Thunberg’s celebrity and consider those whose protests and speeches don’t make mainstream headlines—or go viral.
Ortiz explores the cunning ways youth climate activists harness the power of social media to bring attention to their cause, and more importantly, the geographic unevenness of that attention and its benefits. This captivating essay resists the invisibilization of youth of color and offers incisive critiques about the racial and colonial politics of climate change. It’s worth stepping out of the endless digital stream to read and contemplate.
“On The Alchemy of Soil” by Tory Tepp
This poetic essay tells the story of one artist’s meandering journey around the U.S. to rural Wisconsin, where he finds community and inspiration in dirt. As a scientist preoccupied with how agricultural practices are co-constituted with ecology and culture, I was immediately intrigued when this essay was pitched to Edge Effects. I saw striking parallels between the ideas I was exploring in my academic research and the ideas Tory was exploring in his preferred medium: earth. When the time came to review the final draft before publication, I was captivated. Tory manages to deftly weave together the threads of his personal story with the agronomy of intermediate wheatgrass and a manifesto for community food systems. The resulting piece is at once an extended artist’s statement, reflective essay, and media gallery documenting the creation of the Sauk County ARK earthwork. It is both a joy to read and reminder to appreciate the multiple miracles in something as simple as soil.
“Beyond Gender Monocultures, Toward Trans Horizons” by Max López Toledano and Topaz Zega
Drive long enough nearly anywhere and monocultures will be hard to miss, spreading through fields to the horizon. Indeed, crop monocultures are increasingly questioned, as public opposition to them grows. But, beyond what the eye can easily perceive, many more forms of monoculture proliferate—including as close to home as in our own bodies. Connecting them to histories of colonization, repression, and exploitation, López Toledano and Zega’s piece takes to task the gender monocultures that have long reigned supreme in the Western world. Transness and nonbinary identities upturn norms, blur boundaries, and open possibilities. They are messy, complex, and uncontainable. As López Toledano and Zega say, “When there is contradiction, the whole system shakes.” So let’s shake the system.
“Blurring Barriers on Fire Island” by Amelia Carter
The Unpure Imagination Series that we launched this year is full of world-shifting gems. In particular, Amelia Carter’s dazzling essay brings her readers to the shore of Fire Island, where we bear witness to the entanglement of queer history, ecology, tourism, and oppression. Fire Island became a safe haven for “the elite yet endangered crowd” of both sunken forests and wealthy queer tourists. Their stories of struggle and resilience demonstrate how cultural place-making is enmeshed in environmental history and futures. She at once uses storytelling to identify the social-ecological forces that have shaped Fire Island’s unique history and present, as well as to make the case for preserving these stories in the face of an uncertain future. Not only is this piece very enjoyable to read, it’s also effective. Through the vivid imagery and brilliant metaphors that Carter uses to describe these barrier islands, she blurs nature-culture barriers with elegance.
“Get Playful With These Six Environmental Board Games” by Nate Carlin
Fun is not just a distraction from troubles, it is an important part of human connection and flourishing. Games can allow us to not only connect with each other, but also with nature and animals outside of our everyday life. I had the pleasure of playing Wingspan, the third game on this list, for the first time this year while I visited the Midwest Gaming Classic. Playing a new game with strangers was a great experience, and our combined love of birds centered our gameplay. While one would hope to find other birders out in the woods, it is a strange joy to find other bird lovers at a gaming convention. How can we make new connections with strangers, loved ones, and the rest of the natural world in these tense and trying times? Perhaps the answer lies, in part, in board games.
“Grappling with the Drying Riverbeds of the Agua Fria” by Rachel Howard
Against the backdrop of a news cycle filled with headlines about water-related disasters (e.g. floods in Pakistan and droughts in Europe and China), Rachel Howard invites us to turn to a less spectacular water event: the drying up of a river. Her essay looks at the changing ecologies around a drying riverbed and explores the difficulty of accepting the “death” of a river. What is striking to me is the sense of cruel optimism amidst disaster, as if the good life is always attainable and a good climate is still recoverable despite strong evidence to the contrary. What are some of the material, financial, and emotional baggage we have to deal with in order to flourish in a changing environment? This is the question the essay asks its readers to consider.
“For the Love of Frogs” by Heather Swan
This beautifully written piece on dart frogs by Heather Swan poignantly reminds humans that in order to fight many of the problems we face today—climate change, deforestation, and animal extinction, and beyond—we need to start listening to the needs of our fellow earthly residents. Swan follows the story of Ivan Lozano’s frog breeding center and animal rescue reserve in Colombia. Investigating the lives of frogs uncovers important links to other offenses like animal trafficking, mysterious disappearances of environmental activists, increasing logging, and government overreach. It also indicates a need for more and better care for the environment, especially in times of human social change. As a multispecies scholar myself, reading about Ivan and his frogs invoked intrigue, sorrow, anger, appreciation, and most importantly, hope. Keep listening.
“Who’s Afraid of Wisconsin Wolves?” by the Ground Truths Editors
A few years ago, I was driving through northern Wisconsin on an annual cross-country ski trip, and noticed lots of pickup trucks with metal dog crates filling the bed. In years of making this trip I’d never seen anything like it, and in my ignorance, I assumed I was seeing dogsled teams. Later, I learned I was in the middle of a controversial and historic wolf hunt in Wisconsin, when 218 wolves were harvested in just three days. A year after that, I listened to “Who’s Afraid of Wisconsin Wolves” and was plunged into the morass of the history and politics leading up to those hunting trucks I passed on my way to ski. This episode of the Ground Truths podcast series is required listening for anyone who cares about or is interested in the intersections of policy, predators, and ecosystems. Clare Sullivan and Marisa Lanker speak to stakeholders on all sides of the hunt to bring listeners a full picture of why wolves were overharvested in February 2021, and it’s impossible to come away from this episode without learning something new or hearing a novel perspective on this critical issue.
“Farms, Fertilizer, and the Fight for Clean Water” by the Ground Truths Editors
In Edge Effects’ 2022 podcast series, Ground Truths, we wanted to highlight environmental justice issues in our home state, Wisconsin. The episode, Farms, Fertilizers and the Fight for Clean Water, by Carly Griffith and Ben Iuliano, focuses on the industrial agricultural that is ubiquitous in Wisconsin’s landscapes. Nitrogen starts in many fields as a critical crop nutrient, but can also end up as a pollutant if it finds its way into the drinking water of rural communities. You’ll be moved and frustrated by the stories from residents as they navigate health scares and complex state regulatory systems. But the episode also leaves you with an appreciation of the power of permits and a sense of hope that community advocacy for balancing human health and agricultural productivity is starting to pay off.
“The Palate Politics of Eating Kangaroo” by Sophie Chao
For me, one of the big highlights of 2022 was publishing Unpure Imagination, a new special series about toxicity, purity, and pollution. The eight-part series kicked off with an essay by environmental anthropologist Sophie Chao on kangatarianism, the practice of eating kangaroo meat. For those of us who weren’t previously aware of this growing food movement, Chao’s piece is not only a good introduction to the debate surrounding the ethics of “eating roo” versus other forms of animal meat—it also interrogates the broader issues behind what she calls the “palate politics” of food and diet. “If eating sometimes involves killing,” she asks, “then can there be such a thing as a ‘pure’ diet for humans, or a ‘good death’ for the animals we consume?” What follows is a fascinating inquiry into dietary choices at the intersection of nutrition, climate, and multispecies entanglements. I will be thinking about this essay for a long time, and not just because it sent me down an internet rabbit hole looking for photos of kangaroo fillets (but that, too).
Featured image: 2022 written in snow, waiting to melt. Photo by Markéta Klimešová, 2021