review of the anthology The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2022

The most memorable entry in this is a piece of investigative journalism from the Tampa Bay Times. It recounts how workers at a factory in Tampa were "exposed to extreme amounts of lead" for decades. The factory's doctor seemingly chose to ignore evidence of lead poisoning in the employees under his care. The workers' families were affected too; I can hardly imagine the heartache of the father who learned his two children had been poisoned by the lead dust he tracked home from work.

A fascinating article by Lisa Song and James Temple digs into a California program that "allows forest owners across the country to earn credits for taking care of their land in ways that store or absorb more carbon, such as reducing logging or thinning out smaller trees and brush to allow for increased overall growth." They allege that companies have gamed the system to receive credits for simply maintaining the status quo in an area (rather than actually increasing the carbon it stores). Such credits enable polluters to make it look, on paper, like their emissions have been offset, when in reality they haven't been.

Unsurprisingly, many of the articles are about how humans are damaging our environment. Kendra Pierre-Louis highlights an underappreciated reason to fear sea level rise: it also causes groundwater to rise, which can cause all sorts of problems for a city's infrastructure. Sea walls don't protect against this. Julian Aguon surveys how various island nations are dealing with sea level rise; some are facing the need to relocate people before the end of the decade.

Sabrina Imbler calls attention to how the noise we generate interferes with aquatic life. It's easy for land-dwellers to underestimate the impact:

In the ocean, visual cues disappear after tens of yards, and chemical cues dissipate after hundreds of yards. But sound can travel thousands of miles and link animals across oceanic basins and in darkness.

Other highlights:

One section of the book is titled "Ways of Knowing". I associate this phrase with attempts to short-circuit disagreements - to demand that a belief should be treated as true based on who holds it or how much they cherish it, without needing to consider any counterpoints. Mostly, that's not what these articles are doing. A couple do veer into that territory at times, but I have to remind myself that the context is important: when Indigenous authors ask for Indigenous knowledge and ways of thinking to be taken more seriously, they're pushing back against an entrenched and baseless tendency to dismiss their viewpoints by default. That said, I think the article "Quantum Enlightenment" spreads significant misunderstandings of quantum mechanics.

Finally, I'm awarding the Weirdest And Most Disgusting Fact prize to an Atlantic article on anuses:

Scorpions jettison their posterior when attacked from behind, evading capture but tragically losing their ability to poop (and eventually dying with their abdomen full of excrement).