23 December 2016

A baker’s dozen of our best 2016 climate stories

Dan Drollette Jr

Dan Drollette Jr

Dan Drollette, Jr. is a science writer/editor and foreign correspondent who has filed stories from every continent except Antarctica. His stories have appeared in Scientific American,...


2016 was a lot like 2015, only more so: It was an even hotter year for average global temperatures. The rate of melting of sea ice increased. And climate change deniers seemed to come out in greater force than ever before, resulting in the election of a president who says he thinks climate change is “a hoax.”

But 2016 also saw careful, studied analyses of what entities are contributing what amount of carbon to the atmosphere; where denialism is coming from; what the real underlying concerns are—and what can be done. There were also signs of hope, in the form of what other countries are successfully doing to combat global warming.

In looking back at the year’s stories, one other fact stood out: Our authors are quite an international lot, hailing from Australia, India, Switzerland, China, Germany, the United Kingdom, Sweden, and the United States, to name just a few of the home countries.

Here are 13 stories from the past year worth that are worth re-reading, because they showed us something we didn’t know, looked at the issues in new ways, or told of startling new research.

Kite power—latest in green technology? by Dominic Notter

The answer to replacing fossil fuels may be to go fly a kite. Literally. So says this scientist, reporting from high in the Swiss Alps.

Taking stock: Steven Chu, former secretary of the Energy Department, on fracking, renewables, nuclear weapons, and his work, post-Nobel Prize by Dan Drollette

In this hour-long, one-on-one interview held in a medieval village in Germany during a conference of Nobel Laureate physicists, the former US Secretary of Energy talks about his latest research; the reasoning behind the decisions he made in office; what policymakers need to do to encourage investment in renewables; what frustrations he had in trying to promote energy efficiency; and how to make progress in the current, anti-regulatory political environment.

The climate change generation gap by Dana Nuccitelli   

One specific demographic strongly correlates to climate science denial: age. But money, gender, ethnicity, and status also come into play. A climate scientist—who also writes for the UK paper The Guardian—explains what may be going on.

How to decarbonize? Look to Sweden. by Raymond T. Pierrehumbert

Bringing global warming to a halt sounds nearly impossible, until you look at Sweden. Through a combination of government infrastructure policies and free-market incentives, Sweden has managed to successfully decarbonize, cutting its per capita emissions by a third since the 1970s, while doubling its per capita income and providing a wide range of social benefits. This has all been accomplished within a vigorous capitalistic framework that in many ways better embodies free-market principles than the US economy. Written by an American physics professor at Oxford University who has lived in Sweden, on and off, for decades.

Kashmir, climate change, and nuclear war by Zia Mian

A new source of conflict between Pakistan and India has emerged—centered, once again, on Kashmir. It is a struggle over access to, and control over, the water in the rivers that start as snow and glacial meltwater in the Himalayas.

A changing climate for coral reefs by Janice Lough

Coral bleaching has been in the news. But how is it different from coral death, what are the long-term prospects for the world's reefs, and why should we care? An Australian scientist working on the Great Barrier Reef explains.

Distinguishing fact from falsehood in a post-truth world by John Cook

During the latter weeks of the 2016 US election, fake news was shared more on Facebook than real news, says this Aussie immigrant to the United States. What tools can help us tell the two apart?

Thanksgiving advice: How to deal with climate change denying Uncle Pete by Richard C.J. Somerville

“Why is Uncle Pete so stubborn and so resistant to overwhelming scientific evidence on climate change?” That’s a very good question, and here is the answer.

Limiting carbon pollution—not carbon polluters by Wang Haibin

Reducing carbon dioxide emissions per capita is much more important than limiting overall human population, argues this strategy analyst at the China Energy Fund Committee, a former assistant professor at Tsinghua University’s School of Public Policy and Management.

Just 90 companies are accountable for more than 60 percent of greenhouse gases by Dan Drollette

There’s a tendency to think that when it comes to climate change, we’re all equally at fault—and if everyone is to blame, then no one is to blame. But now it’s possible to identify the contributions of individual companies to greenhouse gas emissions. And what Norwegian-born researcher Richard Heede found is revealing: A handful of companies have pumped most of the carbon into our atmosphere.

Germany’s Energiewende: The intermittency problem remains by Christine Sturm

We often hear about Germany’s audacious "energy turn-around," or Energiewende, in which it moved from fossil fuels to renewables. But how has it really worked in practice? Written from the viewpoint of someone who has worked for more than two decades for one of Germany’s largest utilities, this story probes into what lessons the United States can learn from observing the German experience.

"We’d have to finish one new facility every working day for the next 70 years"—Why carbon capture is no panacea by Andy Skuce

Carbon capture and storage, or CCS, has been touted as a way to reduce atmospheric CO2. Recently, researchers in Iceland seemed to make a breakthrough, turning this gas into stone, using what is essentially soda water. But how realistic is it to build CCS facilities on a scale large enough to combat climate change, this geoscience researcher in British Columbia asks.

The psychological impact of climate change by John Mecklin

You’d be crabby, too, if you had to live in a warming ocean.