In 2022, AP photographers captured the pain of a changing planet
In 2022, Associated Press photographers captured signs of a planet in peril as climate change reshaped many lives.
That anguish was seen in the scarred landscapes in places where the rains did not arrive. It was felt in severe storms, land-sweeping floods, sweltering heat, and wildfires that are no longer confined to a single season. It could be tasted in altered crops or felt like hunger pangs when crops stopped growing. And collectively, millions of people were forced to scavenge and move as many habitats became uninhabitable.
2022 will be a year remembered for the destruction caused by global warming and, according to scientists, it was a harbinger of even more extreme weather.
In June, two young men sat smoking in front of a boat that had previously been under water. The waterline in parts of Nevada’s Lake Mead National Recreation Area had dropped so low that the boat was now sitting in the mud. Such dramatic demonstrations were seen in countless places.
In Germany, drought combined with a barking beetle infestation left large swaths of lanky Harz forest trees, while in Kenya mothers struggled to keep their young nourished and animals died due to lack of 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, normally lush sunflowers looked fried, with wilted leaves and blackened seeds. Similar scars on the Earth’s surface were seen in reef-like structures exposed by receding waters in Utah’s Great Salt Lake, Hungary’s fissured Lake Velence bed, and the shrunken Yangtze River in southwestern China.
STORMS AND FLOODS
While the lack of rain did damage in many places, in others excessive rainfall altered landscapes and swallowed lives. Sometimes the same region, in a short period of time, went from drought to deluge, what scientists call the “whiplash effect.” This happened in parts of Yellowstone National Park last summer.
The country most affected by the floods was Pakistan, with a third of its territory submerged, millions of people displaced and at least 1,700 dead. But many countries were hit hard by the storms.
In Cuba, a tropical cyclone in June caused so much flooding that rescuers moved through the streets of Havana in boats. Just a few months later, Hurricane Ian struck the island before continuing on to Florida, leaving destruction and death in its wake.
Heavy flooding was also seen in parts of Nigeria, India, Indonesia and many other places, while in one part of Brazil, a common side effect of flooding, landslides, killed more than 200 people.
No doubt there were human attempts to better prepare and deal with the floods. Case in point: Chinese authorities continued to develop and expand “sponge cities,” which aim to use porous pavement and green spaces to absorb water and reduce destruction from flooding.
HEAT AND FIRE
In recent years, wildfires have become common in the western US amid a 23-year drought and rising temperatures. Compared to last year, there were slightly fewer wildfires in 2022 in California, the usually hardest-hit state, but many fires still ripped through land and homes.
The United States was not alone. There were major fires in Portugal, Greece, Argentina and many other countries. Images such as a living room engulfed in flames, an evacuee woman clinging to a policeman and a man using a branch to protect the house from her were visceral reminders of the fury that fires unleash.
Along with the fires, there were periodic bouts of extreme heat. A sweaty British soldier, wearing a traditional bearskin hat outside Buckingham Palace, captured a reality for many Britons, as temperatures reached 104 degrees Fahrenheit (40.3 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 provided relief to parents and children. In Hungary, three people cooled off in a padding pool. And in Los Angeles, a woman stuck her head in front of an open fire hydrant.
FOOD IN DANGER
In October, Wilbur Kuzuzuk dragged a spotted seal to the edge of the lagoon in Shishmaref, a town in western Alaska that is on the verge of disappearing due to climate change.
The 600 residents of the Inupiat village have stayed despite increasing risks to their way of life, including their food supply, as warming seas encroach on land and rising temperatures damage habitats. But residents like Kuzuzuk know that Shishmaref’s days are probably numbered: The city voted twice to relocate, though nothing has been put into action.
Around the world there were clear threats to the food supply. In India, floods damaged maize and other crops, leaving farmers no choice but to try to salvage as much as possible. In Kenya and neighboring countries, drought has increased hunger and pushed villagers to dig ever deeper for groundwater, a lifeline for many.
Other threats were subtle. In Canada, northern gannet birds had to travel farther and dive deeper into cooler waters to hunt for fish. And in Brazil, rising sea levels brought more salt to the roots of acai palm trees, altering the flavor and marketability of the beloved acai berry.
No doubt, there were success stories. In one part of the Brazilian Amazon, locals placing limits on the number of giant pirarucu fish that can be caught has led to the population increasing.
Taken together, all these problems pushed millions of people to migrate. Perhaps nowhere was this clearer than in Somalia, where severe drought led to famine and caused thousands of people to flee. Many migrants ended up in makeshift camps, like one in Dollow, emaciated, with small children in tow, desperately searching for food and water.
Much of the migration occurred within the borders. In India’s Ladakh region, a cold mountainous desert bordering China and Pakistan, shrinking grazing land, coupled with other effects of climate change, continued to force many to migrate from sparsely populated villages to urban settlements.
In Indonesia, a big driver of migration was encroaching on the seas. In Central Java, houses without raised floors were swallowed up, forcing those without the means to seek alternative housing.
In Kenya, a woman named Winnie Keben told how she lost her leg to a crocodile attack. She blamed the attack, in part, on the fact that rising water levels around Lake Baringo have brought the animals closer to humans. Many scientists attribute it to climate change.
Keben’s home was also razed, sending his family to another village.
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