Since founding C3 three years ago I have created a Top Ten list at the end of each year to remind us of the significant climate and climate-impacting events of the year. This year was filled with extreme weather events as well as national and international commitments that hold potential for good news. Here is the list for 2022. Stay tuned next week for my list of my favorite books on the environment.
10. The Mighty “Dry” Mississippi
2022 saw some of the world’s mightiest rivers, including the Mighty Mississippi go down to historically low levels. The 400 mile Po River, which supplies water for 30% of Italy, dried to a record low due to a thinner snow pack in the Alps and the worst drought in Europe in 400 years. In the U.S., the Army Corps of Engineers had to build a 1500 foot underwater levee at the mouth of the Mississippi River to prevent salt water from pushing upstream from the Gulf of Mexico. This will become more common in the future as saltwater from sea levels rise and river levels lower. We are already paying for climate costs!
9. COP27 Results
COP27, the United National annual meeting on the climate crisis, which met this fall in Egypt was disappointing in my many respects. Clearing, the majority of nations are not on target to meet their gas emission reduction goals. However, the one good thing that came out of the conference was a formal commitment signed by 200 countries (including the U.S.) to pay some of the world’s poorest countries for climate mitigation efforts. This is only fair since these poor countries are the smallest contributors to our climate crisis, while absorbing the greatest impacts from extreme weather events, heat, drought and flooding.
8. Yellowstone Closes Down
Yellowstone National Park annually closes during the winter, but it suddenly closed down in June because it received 3 months of rain in 3 days. Combined with melting snow from nearby mountains, the park faced a crisis, having to rescue some visitors by helicopter. One college graduate from my church in Taylorsville had to forego camping in Yellowstone after she and a European friend drove all the way there from North Carolina. The Yellowstone River, whose previous high water mark was 11.5 feet set in 1918, crested at 13.88 feet this year.
7. Kentucky Rain
When Elvis Pressley released his hit song “Kentucky Rain” in 1970 he had no idea the floods of 2022 would wash away its memory. Only 1 percent of Kentucky property owners had flood insurance because few were in flood zones. They didn’t see the torrential rains transforming calm creeks in their back yards into raging rivers tearing down their homes. Many of those hardest hit by the floods were coal mining communities, already some of the poorest regions of the country.
6. London Bridge is Burning Down
When I visited London 15 years ago in June it was seasonally cool. This past summer temperatures reached 104 degrees Fahrenheit, as all of Western Europe was caught in the throes of a 1000 year heat wave. Are you noticing how these 1000 weather events are now happening year after year? East London had major fire damage as heat and drought combined to ignite deadly blazes destroying upper echelon properties.
5. Hurricane Ian
Hurricane Ian was only a tropical storm when it left Cuba, but it built to a category 4 hurricane in a matter of days when it devastated the southwest coast of Florida in September. More than 100 people were killed by record-breaking storm surges in the Fort Myers area. When all the damage is finally assessed, it will probably be the costliest hurricane in U.S. history. It is another indicator that we are already paying for climate change.
4. Go East Young Man, Go East
The wild, wild West was once a mythological gateway to adventure and prosperity. Young men were encouraged to go West to seek their fortune. With climate change, the fortunes are drying up along with the Colorado River, a waterway which serves 40 million people in 7 states and Mexico and is now draining at an alarming rate. The country’s largest reservoir—Lake Mead—sits at record low levels, revealing dead bodies and WW2 vessels emerging in dried up basins. It’s only going to get worse, so the East needs to prepare for an influx of climate immigrants.
3. Historic Climate Agreement Signed into Law
All climate news wasn’t bad news. After cajoling Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia to vote yes, President Biden signed into law a sweeping climate bill that could cut emissions in the U.S. by 40 percent by 2030. It could be the most significant environmental act passed in the U.S. since the President Nixon signed the Clean Air Act in 1970, which a bipartisan Senate passed unanimously. Yes, that is no misprint. The environment used to be a scientific issue and not a political one.
2. Floods in Pakistan
Pakistan is the 5th most populous country in the world and geographically the size of Texas and Oklahoma combined. So it was an epic event when 1/3 of the country was flooded due to melting glaciers in the north and record monsoon rains in the rest of the country. The floods claimed the lives of more than 1400 people. Pakistan is responsible for only 1% of global CO2 gas emissions, but is the 8th most vulnerable to the climate crisis.
1. Nuclear Fusion Victory
Though it received less press than many other climate events, my number one event for 2022 is the history-making accomplishment of scientists completing a decades-long effort to create nuclear fusion, the combining of two light atoms to make another atom, thereby producing clean energy. For the first time, US scientists produced more energy from fusion than the laser energy they used to power the experiment. A so-called “net energy gain” is a major milestone to source clean, limitless energy from nuclear fusion. If you’re wondering, nuclear fusion is different from nuclear fision—the reaction that happens when an atom is split in two. The latter is what creates nuclear bombs. The former may help save the planet.