In 2022, Associated Press photographers captured the signs of a planet in distress as climate change reshaped many lives.
This distress was seen in the scarred landscapes of places where the rains did not come. It has made itself felt in violent storms, engulfing floods, sweltering heat and wildfires that are no longer confined to a single season. It could be tasted in the modified crops or felt as a hunger pang when the crops have stopped growing. And taken together, millions of people were forced to pick up and move as many habitats became uninhabitable.
2022 will be a year remembered for the destruction wrought by global warming and, according to scientists, was the harbinger of even more extreme weather.
In June, two young men sat smoking in front of a boat that had previously been underwater. The waterline in parts of Nevada’s Lake Mead National Recreation Area had dropped so much that the boat was now standing upright in the mud. Such dramatic manifestations have been seen in a myriad of places.
In Germany, drought combined with a bark beetle infestation left vast swaths of spindly Harz forest trees, while in Kenya mothers struggled to feed their children and animals died from lack of water. ‘water. Along the Solimoes River in the Brazilian Amazon, houseboat dwellers found themselves living on mud instead of water, as parts dried up.
In eastern France, the normally lush sunflowers looked like they had been fried, their leaves wilted and their seeds blackened. Similar scars on the Earth’s surface have been seen in reef-like structures exposed by receding waters in Utah’s Great Salt Lake, the fissured bed of Lake Velence in Hungary, and the narrowed Yangtze River in the southwest China.
STORMS AND FLOODS
While the lack of rain has wreaked havoc in many places, in others too much precipitation has altered landscapes and swallowed up lives. Sometimes the same region, in a short time, goes from drought to flood – what scientists call a “whiplash effect”. This happened in parts of Yellowstone National Park last summer.
The country hardest hit by the floods was Pakistan, with a third of its territory submerged, millions displaced and at least 1,700 killed. But many countries have been hit hard by the storms.
In Cuba, a tropical cyclone in June caused so much flooding that rescuers roamed the streets of Havana in boats. A few months later, Hurricane Ian hit the island before continuing into Florida, leaving destruction and death in its wake.
Heavy flooding has also been seen in parts of Nigeria, India, Indonesia and many other places, while in part of Brazil a common consequence of flooding – landslides – has killed more of 200 people.
Certainly, there have been human attempts to better prepare for and cope with flooding. One example: Chinese authorities have continued to develop and expand “sponge cities,” which aim to use porous pavements and green spaces to absorb water and reduce flood damage.
HEAT AND FIRE
In recent years, wildfires have become commonplace across the western United States amid a 23-year drought and rising temperatures. Compared to last year, there were slightly fewer wildfires in 2022 in California – the regularly hardest-hit state – but many fires still gnawed through land and homes.
America was not alone. There have been significant fires in Portugal, Greece, Argentina and many other countries. Images like a living room engulfed in flames, an evacuated woman clinging to a police officer and a man using a branch to shield his home were visceral reminders of the fury the fires are unleashing.
Along with the fires were periodic episodes of extreme heat. A sweaty British soldier wearing a traditional bearskin hat outside Buckingham Palace captured a reality for many Britons as temperatures hit 104 degrees Fahrenheit (40.3 degrees Celsius), a new record for the country.
How people coped with sauna conditions depended on the location. In Madrid, a fountain on an urban beach brought relief to parents and children. In Hungary, three people cooled off in a filling pool. And in Los Angeles, a woman stuck her head in front of an open fire hydrant.
FOOD AT RISK
In October, Wilbur Kuzuzuk lured a spotted seal to the edge of the lagoon in Shishmaref, a town in western Alaska that is on the verge of extinction due to climate change.
The 600 residents of the village of Inupiat have stayed put despite growing risks to their way of life, including their food supply, as warming seas encroach on land and warmer temperatures harm habitats. But locals like Kuzuzuk know that Shishmaref’s days are likely numbered: Twice the town voted to move, though nothing was put in place.
Around the world, there were obvious threats to the food supply. In India, floods have damaged maize and other crops, leaving farmers with no choice but to try to salvage as much as possible. In Kenya and neighboring countries, drought has increased hunger and driven villagers to dig ever deeper in search of groundwater, a lifeline for many.
Other threats were subtle. In Canada, gannets had to travel farther and dive deeper into colder waters to hunt fish. And in Brazil, rising sea levels have brought more salt to the roots of acai palms, altering the taste — and marketability — of the beloved acai berry.
Certainly, there have been success stories. In part of the Brazilian Amazon, locals limiting the number of giant pirarucu fish that can be caught have led to an increase in the population.
Taken together, all of these issues have driven millions of people to migrate. Perhaps nowhere has this been clearer than in Somalia, where a severe drought has caused famine and forced thousands to flee. Many migrants ended up in makeshift camps, like Dollow’s, emaciated, young children in tow, desperate for food and water.
Much of the migration has occurred within borders. In India’s Ladakh region, a cold mountainous desert that borders China and Pakistan, dwindling pasture land, along with other effects of climate change, have continued to force many people to migrate from sparsely populated villages to the urban agglomerations.
In Indonesia, a great engine of migration was encroaching on the seas. In Central Java, houses not equipped with raised floors have been swallowed up, pushing those who cannot afford to seek other homes.
In Kenya, a woman named Winnie Keben told how she lost her leg in a crocodile attack. She blamed the attack, in part, on the fact that rising waters around Lake Baringo brought animals closer to humans. Many scientists attribute this to climate change.
Keben’s house was also swept away, sending his family to another village.
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