The nine best climate stories of the year

By Jessica McKenzie | December 30, 2021

we'll die of climate change sign Image courtesy Markus Spiske/Pexels

Were the lies the oil industry perpetuated about climate change criminal? What would happen if a hurricane hit the Houston ship channel? What is a “bird wreck” and what does it have to do with global warming? What risk does the climate crisis pose to national security? How does fusion fit into the decarbonization landscape this century? How does it feel to have wildfires burning out of control in your backyard?

These are just a few of the questions Bulletin staffers and contributors sought to answer this year in stories that were in turn instructive, enraging, and moving. They might present a clarion call to action or offer a way to proceed; they may even offer a glimmer of optimism. Regardless of their tone and content, they are all worth revisiting.

Gathering storm: The industrial infrastructure catastrophe looming over America’s Gulf coast

By Tristan Baurick

One million gallons of crude oil spilled into the flooded streets of Chalmette, LA, when surging water from Hurricane Katrina shifted a storage tank at the Murphy refinery more than 30 feet. (EPA)

This Bulletin/MIT analysis revealed that almost 4,900 sites that handle toxic chemicals sit in flood-prone areas of Texas and Louisiana. A major hurricane in the wrong place would create an environmental catastrophe. The government’s current plan to protect Gulf Coast infrastructure—the $29 billion Ike Dike—will not stand up to major storms, experts say, and industry isn’t taking enough steps to guard against accidents either.

Big Oil’s lies about climate change—a climate scientist’s take

By Adam Sobel

The fossil fuel industry lied about carbon dioxide and its effects on climate change. But is “crime” the right adjective to use to describe the activities of Big Oil? In this essay, climate scientist Adam Sobel argues the moral case to do so is clear.

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Big advertising to ditch Big Oil?

By Dan Drollette

In the world of advertising, a new campaign takes place—against advertising. “Clean Creatives” seeks to get individuals in the ad industry to stop abetting misinformation campaigns, and even stop taking business from the fossil fuel companies entirely.

From Greenville to Greece, it’s code red

By Dawn Stover

With fires raging across the West, the United Nations has issued a “code red” for the climate. There is still much that can be done to protect ecosystems and human communities from a hellish future.

firefighter with wild fire in Australia
Clay Stephens, a firefighter from Idaho, assists with a wildfire (what Aussies call a “bushfire”) near the Tambo Complex Fire in the Australian state of Victoria. Image courtesy BLM-Idaho.

Dying from the heat

By Peter Gleick

As a climate scientist and a hydrologist, Peter Gleick perhaps should have known better than to do physical labor in extreme heat. But heat is the deadliest of natural disasters for a reason—it can sneak up on you.

First came global warming. Then hurricanes. Then more migratory bird deaths?

By John Morales

Severe weather exacerbated by climate change is taking a toll on bird species during their epic annual migrations over the Gulf of Mexico or up the East Coast. Storms either kill them outright or send them way off course, such as when dead White-tailed Tropicbirds, native to Bermuda, were found in New Hampshire after Hurricane Irene. Researchers term such mass deaths “bird wrecks.”

“Harrowing” intelligence report still downplays threat of climate change to national security

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By Jessica McKenzie

Carrying whatever possessions they can, women arrive in a steady trickle at a camp for Internally Displaced People (IDPs) established next to a base of the African Union Mission for Somalia (AMISOM) near Jowhar. Heavy rains in Somalia, coupled with recent clashes between clans, has resulted in over four thousand IDPs seeking shelter at the base.
Thousands displaced by floods and conflict near Jowhar, Somalia, 2013. (Photo by UN Photo/Tobin Jones)

A first-of-its-kind report by 18 US intelligence agencies explains how the climate crisis could increase geopolitical tensions around the globe. But will government heed the warning? (A similar report from over a decade ago was kept classified because the United States didn’t want representatives from countries identified as especially vulnerable to climate change to start calling and asking for resources to help with mitigation and adaptation earlier than they would otherwise.)

Fusion’s role in fighting climate change

By Robert J. Goldston and Jacob A. Schwartz

While it may be unlikely that fusion will contribute in a major way to President Biden’s goal of decarbonizing US electrical energy production by 2035, between 2035 and 2100, the worldwide demand for energy is expected to climb fourfold. Low-carbon energy sources such as fusion will need to be used on a growing scale to meet this demand without causing more global warming.

Why Bill Gates and John Kerry are wrong about climate change

By John Carey

Despite what Bill Gates has to say—let alone climate czar John Kerry, who should have known better—we don’t have to rely on a miracle coming out of nowhere to deal with climate change. We already have all the technologies we need, here and now—and these tools will only get a lot better and cheaper, if recent history is any guide.


As the coronavirus crisis shows, we need science now more than ever.

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