If you want to better understand income inequality, you could read up on the Gini coefficient, or you could look at photos of how the super-rich live–versus the toothbrushes, sofas, and toys of people living on less than $2 a day.
The best photos of 2016 looked at everything from inequality to bike crashes in London, ultra-creative playgrounds, and an astronaut’s epic Instagram. Many focused on change: gorgeous satellite images of shrinking glaciers and lakes and growing sprawl, photos of the disappearing mom-and-pop stores of New York City, and the everyday results of climate change from people around the world.
1. These Photos Show The Beautiful, Disturbing World Of The 1%
These images chart the lifestyle of the wealthiest among us—and what that inequality is doing to the rest of the world.
2. These Photos Of An Abandoned Wildlife Park Show How Badly We Used To Treat Animals
Take a trip through the ruins of the decaying Catskill Game Farm.
3. These Moving Photos Show The Moments Before Cyclists Were Killed By Cars
Drivers make biking an inherently risky form of commuting. These photos show just how risky—and how deadly cars can be.
4. See These Photos Of Earth’s Most Beautiful Places—Before They Disappear
Climate change and over-tourism are destroying some of the world’s most rare and beautiful places.
5. These Breathtaking Aerial Photos Of Earth Show How Humans Have Changed The Planet
From massive mines in Africa to dizzying freeway interchanges, these images capture the strange beauty—and horror—of humanity’s footprint.
6. 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.
7. These Aerial Photos Explain Why Europe Has Such A Lower Carbon Footprint Than The U.S.
Looking at how cities are laid out explains a lot about our deeply wasteful lives.
8. These Photos Show New York’s Disappearing Mom-And-Pop Stores
Take one last glimpse of the city before everything is a CVS or a bank.
9. 20 Stunning Photos Of Earth From Astronaut Scott Kelly’s Year In Space
This is the best Instagram.
10. These Bleak Winter Photos Imagine A World Without Humans
A Polish photographer asks us to ponder our extinction through a series of eerie images.
11. What Photos Of Toys And Toilets Can Teach Us About Income Inequality
Income, not location, determines how people live.
12. These Photos Show Life In The Sinking Communities On Louisiana’s Coast
In the aptly named town of Venice, the waters are rapidly encroaching on people’s lives and livelihoods.
13. Get Jealous Of Kids Today With These Photos Of The World’s Most Creative Playgrounds
A new exhibit tracks the rise of playground design beyond monkey bars and slides, from a school that’s only a playground to adventure playgrounds with no equipment, just junk to play with.
14. These Photos Show The Past And Potential Future Of California’s Dependence On Water
Following the American River gives a view of how vital—and how vulnerable—the precious resource is.