Extreme Heat, Melting Ice, And An Uncertain Future: 2016 In Climate

Silver lining: renewable energy is exploding.

In 2016–almost certain to be the hottest year on record for the planet–a heat wave melted roads in India and killed hundreds of people. Climate change claimed its first extinct mammal. Arctic sea ice shrunk to a new record low; the Great Barrier reef suffered the worst die-off of coral on record.


Massive “500-year” and “1,000-year” storms flooded Louisiana, Mississippi, West Virginia, and Maryland, while Hurricane Matthew–likely worsened by warm seas–killed more than 1,000 people in Haiti. The Great Smoky Mountains, usually foggy, caught on fire. 1,500,000 acres burned in Canada. The everyday effects of climate change are already very visible.

Global levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere passed 400 parts per million, likely the highest it’s been in 4.5 million years.

On the other hand, global CO2 emissions didn’t grow in 2016. China banned new coal mines and installed record numbers of wind and solar farms. Cities are beginning to study future impacts–such as which neighborhoods might end up underwater–and plan to adapt. (Madrid plans to cover itself in greenery to fight heat waves and storms.) More renewable capacity now exists around the world than coal. The Paris climate agreement, with the international goal to limit warming to two degrees Celsius, took effect.


But the Paris agreement–and much other progress–is also threatened by the incoming administration in the U.S. Trump, who says “nobody really knows” if climate change is real, has threatened to pull funding from the Paris deal. The new heads of NASA, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of the Interior and the Department of Energy all question climate change. 2017 will be another interesting year.

[Photo: Bernhard Lang/Getty Images]

1. Look How Much Of Your City Will Be Underwater By 2100
If you live anywhere near the coast, you might be the owner of some unexpected beachfront property.

[Photo: Matilde Gattoni]

2. A Terrifying Photo Collection Shows How Climate Change Is Destroying The Planet Right Now
If people sometimes talk about climate change as a problem of the future, it’s pretty clear it’s already here.


3. Madrid Is Covering Itself In Plants To Help Fight Rising Temperatures
Vacant lots, city squares, a former highway, and even regular city streets are going to be filled up with trees and plants—everywhere you look.

[Photo: Robert Marquardt/Getty Images]

4. There Is A Major Climate Issue Hiding In Your Closet: Fast Fashion
Disposable clothes, often made from oil, in factories powered by coal, and shipped around the world, mean that the apparel industry contributes 10% of global emissions.

[Photo: Flickr user Steve Nelson]

5. Burning Even Today’s Existing Fossil Fuel Reserves Would Blow The World’s Carbon Budget
The math is clear: if we want to keep global temperatures from a 2 degree Celsius rise, we can’t burn all of the fossil fuels that energy companies have already developed.


6. These “Climate Inaction Figures” Celebrate The Politicians Destroying The Planet
Now you can play with the small-minded leaders who won’t acknowledge science.

[Photo: Jared Erondu via Unsplash]

7. In 100 Years, $77 Billion Worth Of San Francisco Property Could Be Underwater
Rethinking a city for new coastlines that don’t exist yet.

8. These 4 Games Will Teach Kids How We Can Tackle Climate Change
The Games for Change finalists make playing games on your phone all day a lot more worthwhile.


9. CEOs And Mayors Are Now Our Only Hope For Saving The Climate
How businesses and cities can drive climate action if the federal government fails.

10. Trees Stop Climate Change–Can We Pay People To Stop Cutting Them Down?
New programs are offering the people who benefit most from cutting down trees to instead take a cash payment. And it seems to be a good investment.


About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley