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Snapshots, Hotshots and Moonshots: Images of Climate Change in … – InsideClimate News

Climate change and an environment in peril were visible in many of 2022’s defining moments: record-smashing heat waves in Europe and South Asia, droughts pushing the fragile global food system to its limit and energy and food markets shaken by war in Ukraine. 

Climate change also left its fingerprints on stories that didn’t make the front page, like low income neighborhoods recovering months after wildfires swept through and rising health problems in environmental justice communities. 

The impacts of global warming this year were perhaps most visual in Pakistan, where a deadly, months-long spring heat wave was followed by a devastating monsoon season with floods unlike any seen in the last 100 years. Pakistan’s delegation served as a leader in the push to get a commitment to loss and damage funding in the COP27 international climate talks in November. Money from wealthy countries that have disproportionately caused climate change will be dedicated to finance energy transitions in poorer countries that are enduring the worst impacts of a warming planet. 

Activists protest demanding climate action and loss and damage funding on the seventh day of the COP27 UN Climate Change Conference in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt on Nov. 12, 2022. Credit: Dominika Zarzycka/NurPhoto via Getty Images
Activists protest demanding climate action and loss and damage funding on the seventh day of the COP27 UN Climate Change Conference in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt on Nov. 12, 2022. Credit: Dominika Zarzycka/NurPhoto via Getty Images

This collection of photography is by no means exhaustive in representing climate change in the year that was, but it offers a sampling that shows a crisis bearing down, and a glimpse of where we go from here. 

War, Energy and Fossil Fuels

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February massively disrupted global food and energy markets, as Ukraine was a major breadbasket for the world and Russia was a vital source of energy for much of Europe. The war has been one of the factors driving inflation around the globe. In Europe, this has been strongly felt in high energy prices that have complicated countries’ commitments to transition to renewable energy. 

Protesters hold placards during a demonstration against rising energy prices outside Ofgem's headquarters in Canary Wharf on Aug. 26, 2022 in London, England. Credit: Rob Pinney/Getty Images
Protesters hold placards during a demonstration against rising energy prices outside Ofgem’s headquarters in Canary Wharf on Aug. 26, 2022 in London, England. Credit: Rob Pinney/Getty Images
Motorcyclists line up at a gas pump in the morning to try to get fuel at the only station that had not raised the price in Bukavu, Democratic Republic of Congo, on March 16, 2022. Congolese households, three-quarters of which live below the poverty line, are worried about the economic consequences of the war in Ukraine. In Bukavu, which has been plagued by violence from armed groups for more than 25 years, there is a strong fear that a devastating social crisis will add to the problems of insecurity. Credit: Guerchom Ndebo/AFP via Getty Images
Motorcyclists line up at a gas pump in the morning to try to get fuel at the only station that had not raised the price in Bukavu, Democratic Republic of Congo, on March 16, 2022. Congolese households, three-quarters of which live below the poverty line, are worried about the economic consequences of the war in Ukraine. In Bukavu, which has been plagued by violence from armed groups for more than 25 years, there is a strong fear that a devastating social crisis will add to the problems of insecurity. Credit: Guerchom Ndebo/AFP via Getty Images

Food and Famine 

Researchers have long warned of the negative impacts that climate change will have on the world’s staple crops. But a recent spike in hunger and famine are revealing the instability of a global food system that is ill prepared for shocks, whether from war, pandemics, severe storms or drought. 

Nowhere is this more clear than in the Horn of Africa, where nearly 26 million people are facing extreme hunger, with some areas already reaching catastrophic famine levels, according to the United Nations. Inside Climate News reporter Georgina Gustin and photographer Larry C. Price traveled to the drought-stricken region and encountered refugee camps where food and water was scarce, hundreds of animals that have succumbed to starvation and child malnutrition at record-high levels.  

LEFT: A mom with her infant inside a village hut at Yao Galbo in Turkana, Kenya. TOP RIGHT: Vultures consume the remains of a zebra that succumbed to the ongoing drought at Amboseli park. BOTTOM RIGHT: Patrick Katelo, executive director of the Kenyan NGO PACIDA, studies a camel that died the day before of starvation near Marsabit, Kenya. Credit: Larry C. Price

On the other side of the planet, farmers on the Hopi reservation in northeast Arizona have long grown their traditional heirloom corn with nothing but rainwater. But in the era of climate change and a decades-long megadrought in the region, some are choosing to artificially irrigate their crops. Their choice to forgo the traditional growing method helps ensure there is a successful crop of corn, which is used in Hopi weddings and ceremonies, as ICN contributor David Wallace reported and photographed this fall. 

Clark Tenakhongva, 65, places traditional Hopi corn in laundry baskets on the back of his pick-up truck while harvesting corn on his field between First Mesa and Second Mesa on the Hopi Reservation in Arizona, on Sept. 28, 2022. Tenakhongva uses the traditional method of “dry farming” to grow the corn where he does not irrigate his field. Credit: David Wallace
Clark Tenakhongva places laundry baskets of traditional Hopi corn in the back of his pickup truck while harvesting his field between First Mesa and Second Mesa on the Hopi Reservation in Arizona in September 2022. Tenakhongva uses the traditional method of “dry farming” to grow the corn without irrigating his field. Credit: David Wallace
Hopi farmer, Brandon Nasafotie, 32, center, laughs while conversing with relatives, clan relatives, and community members, helping sort freshly harvested beans on the Hopi Reservation on Oct. 19, 2022. Credit: David Wallace
Hopi farmer Brandon Nasafotie, 32, center, laughs while conversing with family, clan relatives and other community members, who are helping sort freshly harvested beans on the Hopi Reservation on Oct. 19, 2022. Credit: David Wallace

This year marked the third straight year the Chesapeake Bay saw a decline in blue crab populations. The iconic delicacy is now at a record-low, likely because of a sex imbalance in the population, increases in predation and changes in the environment, ICN reporter Aman Azhar reported in June. Chesapeake Bay is the source of more than one-third of the total blue crab supply in the United States, and the fishery is one of the bay’s most lucrative.

J.C. Hudgins shows a blue crab he caught in the Chesapeake Bay in Mathews, Virginia, on Friday, June 10, 2022. Credit: Kristen Zeis/Deep Indigo Collective for Inside Climate News

Where There’s an Unhealthy Environment, There Are Unhealthy People

Wedgewood, a historically Black neighborhood in Pensacola, Florida, was built beginning in the 1950s as an aspirational destination for Black people to live. Here, families were able to invest in their homes and pass them down to their children. Today, Wedgewood is home to seven solid waste facilities and four borrow pits—giant holes dug for sand and clay, later to be filled with garbage, some of it toxic.

LaFanette Soles-Woods spent her life fighting on behalf of the community, where the cancer rate and heart disease rate exceeds the state average. Her testimony helped convince authorities to put three borrow pit renewals on hold and conduct a health and environmental study of Wedgewood. She also suffered from a long list of illnesses—high blood pressure, diabetes, coronary artery disease, sleep apnea and breast cancer, among others. She died in 2021 of a heart attack at age 63. Although her neighbors and friends saw her as “the mother hen” and felt lost in her absence, her work lives on. This year, the county signed off on $450,000 for new environmental justice initiatives, ICN reporter Agya K. Aning reported in May.

Aserdean Soles and her daughter Salandrae Soles hold a photo of LaFanette Soles-Woods who recently passed away in Pensacola Florida. Credit: Michael Spooneybarger
Aserdean Soles and her daughter Salandrae Soles hold a photo of LaFanette Soles-Woods, who recently died in Pensacola, Florida. Credit: Michael Spooneybarger

Another predominantly Black neighborhood—Grays Ferry in Philadelphia—saw the closure of a nearby refinery in 2019. The closure was cheered as a major victory by those working at the intersection of equity, social justice and environmentalism. 

But despite the refinery’s closure and demolition, the site where it once stood is still emitting harmful chemicals as its new owners engage in tense negotiations with a coalition of residents and activists over a neighborhood investment and revitalization plan, which would help accelerate the approval process so that development projects at the former plant can move forward. Despite assurances by the site’s new owners, some neighbors are concerned about the possibility that future industrial work there could negatively impact the community, ICN’s Victoria St. Martin reported in July.

Debbie Robinson, a 58-year-old resident who has been active in efforts to improve conditions at the refinery site, has restrictive lung disease, kidney disease and asthma, and she’s needed an oxygen tank to breathe for the last six months, despite not being a smoker. She attributes her ailments to having spent most of the last two decades living barely a mile from the old refinery site.

Debbie Robinson administers her daily insulin injection, at her home in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on July 1, 2022. Credit: Caroline Gutman/Deep Indigo Collective for Inside Climate News
Debbie Robinson administers her daily insulin injection at her home in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on July 1, 2022. Credit: Caroline Gutman/Deep Indigo Collective for Inside Climate News

In ​​Yesinia Martinez’s backyard in Arvin, California, an ear-splitting rumble comes from an operational oil pumpjack. It’s always been there, the 21-year-old said, and so have her health problems: nosebleeds, stomach troubles, bouts of anemia, dry eyes, headaches, fatigue and memory problems that make it difficult to study for school. 

None of Martinez’s doctors ever connected her litany of ailments to the pumpjack in her backyard or the scores of wells in and around town that help make Arvin’s air among the nation’s worst. But an air monitor atop her home detected unhealthy volatile organic compounds, ICN’s Liza Gross reported in August.

A pumpjack extracts crude oil just behind Yesinia Martinez's bedroom window. Martinez has had health problems, most linked to oil and gas extraction, since she was little. Credit: Liza Gross
A pumpjack extracts crude oil just behind Yesinia Martinez’s bedroom window. Martinez has had health problems, most linked to oil and gas extraction, since she was little. Credit: Liza Gross

Headline-making Activism

Some activists ramped up their actions as the time remaining to prevent the worst effects of climate change wanes. More than 1,000 scientists, who normally play the role of a neutral information providers, picked up the torch of activism with demonstrations in 25 countries in April in the wake of a dire report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.  

In the U.S., a handful of researchers were arrested for locking themselves to the gate of the White House and to the front door of the JPMorgan Chase bank in Los Angeles, as well as blocking traffic on the I-395 highway in Washington, D.C.

The events were part of a growing movement dubbed the “Scientist Rebellion,” a coalition of researchers around the world who seek to “expose the reality and severity of the climate and ecological emergency by engaging in non-violent civil disobedience,” ICN reporter Kristoffer Tigue reported in April. 

Police officers remove a climate change activist from the Scientist Rebellion group protesting in front of the Congress of Deputies in Madrid, Spain. Scientist Rebellion activists carried out a protest throwing red paint at the entrance of the Congress of Deputies, making a peaceful act of disobedience to denounce the inaction of governments to fight climate change. Credit: Marcos del Mazo/LightRocket via Getty Images
Police officers remove a climate change activist from the Scientist Rebellion group protesting in front of the Congress of Deputies in Madrid, Spain. Scientist Rebellion activists carried out a protest throwing red paint at the entrance of the Congress of Deputies, making a peaceful act of disobedience to denounce the inaction of governments to fight climate change. Credit: Marcos del Mazo/LightRocket via Getty Images

2022 may well be known for climate activists defacing art and gluing themselves to different surfaces. This happened during several publicity stunts by members of groups including Just Stop Oil and Last Generation. But as climate protesters adopt more radical tactics to highlight what they say is a world moving far too slowly to prevent catastrophic global warming in the coming decades, they’re being met with a slew of new anti-protest laws from policymakers who say the demonstrations are going too far, Tigue reported in November.

Climate activists from Last Generation pose by "The Sower,” an 1888 painting by Vincent Van Gogh, after they threw pea soup at it at Rome's Palazzo Bonaparte on Nov. 4, 2022. Climate activists from Last Generation said the attack carried out by four individuals was "a desperate and scientifically grounded cry that cannot be understood as mere vandalism.” The painting was exhibited behind glass and undamaged. Credit: Stringer/ANSA/AFP via Getty Images
Climate activists from Last Generation pose by “The Sower,” an 1888 painting by Vincent Van Gogh, after they threw pea soup at it at Rome’s Palazzo Bonaparte on Nov. 4, 2022. Climate activists from Last Generation said the attack carried out by four individuals was “a desperate and scientifically grounded cry that cannot be understood as mere vandalism.” The painting was exhibited behind glass and undamaged. Credit: Stringer/ANSA/AFP via Getty Images

From the Heart of the Amazon

Brazil’s vast rainforests, wetlands and savannahs are vital resources for buffering climate change. The Amazon rainforest holds 150 billion to 200 billion tons of carbon in its soils and vegetation—five times the amount that is emitted annually in greenhouse gases.

The country’s stewardship of such a vital planetary resource has been a source of concern and controversy. Deforestation surged to a 15-year high during the rule of President Jair Bolsonaro as he encouraged agricultural expansion. But Bolsonaro’s reign will be complete at the end of this year after Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva defeated the sitting president in a close contest. 

Lorenço Pereira Leite, a traditional fisherman, sows seedlings of Goiabinha plants around his fishing camp in the Pantanal wetlands of Brazil, an area that was hit by unusually destructive fires in 2020. Traditional fishermen use the Goiabinha fruit as bait. Credit: Pablo Albarenga

As Brazil’s landscape has been exploited, much has also been done to try to protect it. In the southeast, traditional communities in the Pantanal attempt to live sustainably, despite the wetland region suffering from catastrophic and potentially irrevocable fire damage. In the northwest, a group of lawyers and justice advocates scouted the region for evidence to support a legal movement based on the premise that nature has inherent legal rights to exist and regenerate, just as humans possess human rights by virtue of their existence.

Blanca Chancosa, juíza do Tribunal Internacional dos Direitos da Natureza e líder indígena equatoriana, examina parte da maior mina de minério de ferro do mundo, de propriedade da gigante brasileira de mineração Vale, em 23 de julho de 2022. Crédito: Katie Surma
Blanca Chancosa, a judge with the International Rights of Nature tribunal and an Ecuadorian Indigenous leader, looks into part of the world’s largest iron ore mine, which is owned by the Brazilian mining giant Vale on July 23, 2022. Credit: Katie Surma

The Rising Sea

This year’s hurricane season saw 14 named storms, eight of which became hurricanes. Hurricane Fiona struck Puerto Rico on Sept. 18, knocking out power to most of the island despite efforts made to make the electrical grid more resilient after 2017’s Hurricane Maria. But, Kristoffer Tigue reported that many Puerto Ricans who have installed solar panels did not lose power during the storm.  

A person cooks in the dark in a home in the Condado community of Santurce in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on Sept. 19, 2022, after Hurricane Fiona smashed into Puerto Rico, knocking out the island’s power. Credit: AFP via Getty Images
A person cooks in the dark in a home in the Condado community of Santurce in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on Sept. 19, 2022, after Hurricane Fiona smashed into Puerto Rico, knocking out the island’s power. Credit: AFP via Getty Images
A man walks down a flooded street in the Juana Matos neighborhood of Catano, Puerto Rico, on Sept. 19, 2022, after Hurricane Fiona. Credit: AFP via Getty Images
A man walks down a flooded street in the Juana Matos neighborhood of Catano, Puerto Rico, on Sept. 19, 2022, after Hurricane Fiona. Credit: AFP via Getty Images

Hurricane Ian struck the Gulf coast of Florida a few days later as a Category 4 storm and is tied for the fifth-biggest hurricane to make landfall in the U.S., according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The storm caused 131 deaths and will likely be one of the costliest hurricanes to ever hit Florida, NOAA reports. The devastation called into question whether Gov. Ron DeSantis’s approach to climate change—focusing on adaptation—is sufficient, ICN reporter James Bruggers and contributor Amy Green reported in October

In this aerial view, flooded homes are shown after Hurricane Ian moved through the Gulf Coast of Florida on Sept. 29, 2022 in Port Charlotte, Florida. The hurricane brought high winds, storm surges and rain to the area, causing severe damage. Credit: Win McNamee/Getty Images
In this aerial view, flooded homes are shown after Hurricane Ian moved through the Gulf Coast of Florida on Sept. 29, 2022 in Port Charlotte, Florida. The hurricane brought high winds, storm surges and rain to the area, causing severe damage. Credit: Win McNamee/Getty Images
A man inspects damage to a marina as boats are partially submerged in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian in Fort Myers, Florida, on Sept. 29, 2022. Hurricane Ian left much of coastal southwest Florida in darkness early on Thursday, bringing "catastrophic" flooding that left officials readying a huge emergency response to a storm of rare intensity. Credit: Giorgio Viera/AFP via Getty Images
A man inspects damage to a marina as boats are partially submerged in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian in Fort Myers, Florida, on Sept. 29, 2022. Hurricane Ian left much of coastal southwest Florida in darkness early on Thursday, bringing “catastrophic” flooding that left officials readying a huge emergency response to a storm of rare intensity. Credit: Giorgio Viera/AFP via Getty Images

The storm surge that comes from hurricanes like Fiona and Ian highlight how vulnerable coastal cities are to sea level rise. But in Manila Bay in the Philippines, not only is the sea rising—the land is sinking. The combination of groundwater pumping and mangrove deforestation have created a ticking time bomb for the bay—one of the most vulnerable to typhoon storm surges and tides on the planet. Until that bomb goes off, life goes on, as ICN contributor James Whitlow Delano reported and photographed this year. 

Hanging laundry out to dry during the daily high tide flood that afflicts Binuangan Island. Credit: James Whitlow Delano

A Punishing Summer

Pakistan was battered by climate change this year. The South Asian nation experienced a two-month-long heatwave in the spring that caused at least 90 deaths and sent temperatures as high as 120 degrees Fahrenheit in some cities, including Jacobabad. The landlocked city saw temperatures exceeding 100 degrees for 51 days straight, pushing the limits of human livability, ICN reporter Zoha Tunio reported in May. The heat wave was made 30 times more likely by climate change, World Weather Attribution found. 

It wasn’t just heat. The hot spring was followed by the worst monsoon season in a century, Tunio reported. Pakistan and neighboring countries saw hundreds of lives lost and incalculable damage to property and livelihoods. Pakistan also experienced an unusually high number of wildfires this year. 

A man draws water for the children to cool themselves under a hand pump on a hot summer day in Jaffarabad district of Balochistan on May 9, 2022. Credit: Fida Hussain/AFP via Getty Images
A man draws water for the children to cool themselves under a hand pump on a hot summer day in Jaffarabad district of Balochistan on May 9, 2022. Credit: Fida Hussain/AFP via Getty Images
People wade across a flooded street after heavy monsoon rainfall in Karachi on July 25, 2022. Credit: Asif Hassan/AFP via Getty Images
People wade across a flooded street after heavy monsoon rainfall in Karachi on July 25, 2022. Credit: Asif Hassan/AFP via Getty Images

Europe also suffered from heat waves this summer. Pinhão, Portugal reached 116.6 degrees Fahrenheit. The United Kingdom recorded its hottest temperature ever—104.5 degrees Fahrenheit in Coningsby in July. Attribution scientists found that the heat wave was made 10 times more likely by climate change. In many parts of Europe, the heat was followed by wildfires. 

Two women dip their heads into the fountain to cool off in Trafalgar Square on July 19, 2022 in London, United Kingdom. Credit: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images
Two women dip their heads into the fountain to cool off in Trafalgar Square on July 19, 2022 in London, United Kingdom. Credit: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images
A resident tries to put out a fire with a tree branch as he sees the forest lands surrounding his home burning on July 13, 2022 in Albergaria a Velha, Portugal. Wildfires swept across the central part of the country amid temperatures exceeding 104 degrees Fahrenheit. Credit: Octavio Passos/Getty Images
A resident tries to put out a fire with a tree branch as he sees the forest lands surrounding his home burning on July 13, 2022 in Albergaria a Velha, Portugal. Wildfires swept across the central part of the country amid temperatures exceeding 104 degrees Fahrenheit. Credit: Octavio Passos/Getty Images
In this aerial image, the Iznájar reservoir, the largest in Andalusia, which is currently below 20 percent of its capacity on Sept. 1, 2022 in Iznájar, Spain. Credit: Carlos Gil/Getty Images
In this aerial image, the Iznájar reservoir, the largest in Andalusia, which is currently below 20 percent of its capacity on Sept. 1, 2022 in Iznájar, Spain. Credit: Carlos Gil/Getty Images

Lake Mead, the reservoir formed by Hoover Dam that supplies water to Arizona, California, Nevada and Mexico, is at a record-low level. A decades-long drought in the West has dried the reservoir to a fraction of the size it was in 2000. The now-exposed lake bottom has unveiled a number of surprises this year that were previously hidden by the water, including a World War II-era boat, ash deposits from past volcanic eruptions and at least six human bodies.  

A formerly sunken boat is stuck nearly upright in a dry section of lakebed at Lake Mead on June 23, 2022 in Nevada. Credit: Mario Tama/Getty Images
A formerly sunken boat is stuck nearly upright in a dry section of lakebed at Lake Mead on June 23, 2022 in Nevada. Credit: Mario Tama/Getty Images

Out of the Ashes 

2022 won’t go down as a top year for wildfires in the United States, like many years of the past decade. But the story doesn’t end when the fire burns out. From the suburbs of Boulder, Colorado, to a historic Black neighborhood at the foot of Mount Shasta, to the mobile home parks of northern California, recovery is just beginning. 

Reina Pomeroy, 37, had lived in her house for just 20 weeks before it burned to the ground. “This was supposed to be our forever home,” said Pomeroy, who moved in the summer of 2021 to Louisville from California with her husband David and their 8- and 2-year-old sons. Credit: Melissa Bailey
Lorraine Capolungo near the site of her mobile home in the Creekside Mobile Home Park, which burned in the Cache Fire in Clearlake, California. Credit: Michael Kodas
Lorraine Capolungo near the site of her mobile home in the Creekside Mobile Home Park, which burned in the Cache Fire in Clearlake, California. Credit: Michael Kodas
Torched cars sit amid the cinders and ash that remain from the Lincoln Heights neighborhood below the Roseburg Forest Products lumber mill and Mount Shasta in Weed, California. The Mill Fire destoyed the historic Black neighborhood in early September. Credit: Michael Kodas
Torched cars sit amid the cinders and ash that remain from the Lincoln Heights neighborhood below the Roseburg Forest Products lumber mill and Mount Shasta in Weed, California. The Mill Fire destroyed the historic Black neighborhood in early September. Credit: Michael Kodas

Fires have also had long-term consequences on the wider ecosystem. Nearly one-fifth of California’s iconic sequoia trees have been lost to fires since 2020, ICN contributor Twilight Greenaway reported in September. This July, the Washburn Fire burned through part of Yosemite’s iconic Mariposa Grove. Photos of giant sequoias steeped in smoke and surrounded by automated sprinklers to shelter them from the flames shocked viewers around the globe. To prevent further damage, a coalition of groups have been conducting prescribed burns to reduce the amount of woody fuel that could drive megafires in the forest.

A scar created by numerous previous wildfires is viewed on a mature live giant sequoia tree on Aug. 22, 2022 in Sequoia National Park, California. Historically, giant sequoia trees have coexisted with wildfire for thousands of years as thick bark normally insulates the inner wood from heat. The massive trees can live for over 3,000 years and average between 180 to 250 feet in height. Credit: Mario Tama/Getty Images
A scar created by numerous previous wildfires is viewed on a mature live giant sequoia tree on Aug. 22, 2022 in Sequoia National Park, California. Historically, giant sequoia trees have coexisted with wildfire for thousands of years as thick bark normally insulates the inner wood from heat. The massive trees can live for over 3,000 years and average between 180 to 250 feet in height. Credit: Mario Tama/Getty Images

The Road to Solutions

Plastics present enormous environmental problems at both ends of their life cycle. They are made of fossil fuels, with substantial climate-warming emissions associated with their production. And plastic waste is clogging the oceans and increasingly found everywhere from the poles, to the summit of Mount Everest to human blood.

Plastic was never designed to be recycled—most plastics end up in landfills and incinerators, or as litter around cities, across landscapes and in waterways. A San Francisco-based company is vying to change that by taking the lead in a yet-to-be-proven new industry—chemical recycling of plastic back into the material’s building blocks. But its factory in Indiana is struggling to get off the ground. Plus, environmental organizations and their powerful allies in Congress are fighting against chemical recycling in particular, because they see it as perpetuating climate-damaging fossil fuels, ICN’s James Bruggers reported in September.

Jay Schabel, president of the plastics division at Brightmark, stands amid what he described as 900 tons of waste plastic at the company's new plant in northeast Indiana at the end of July. The plant is designed to turn plastic waste into diesel fuel, naphtha and wax. Credit: James Bruggers
Jay Schabel, president of the plastics division at Brightmark, stands amid what he described as 900 tons of waste plastic at the company’s new plant in northeast Indiana at the end of July. The plant is designed to turn plastic waste into diesel fuel, naphtha and wax. Credit: James Bruggers

Rural, agricultural regions of the U.S. have some of the best land available for solar energy generation in the country. But local opposition to solar projects has been a huge barrier to getting projects approved. Instead of cheering a boost to the tax base and to farmers’ incomes, the critics see an invader that will make the place they love unrecognizable, and they see supporters of solar, even if they are friends and neighbors, as adversaries, ICN’s Dan Gearino reported this year in his Solar Opposites series. 

But one rural community north of the Twin Cities in Minnesota is offering a test case for the concerns raised by these critics. In Chisago County, solar has been around long enough that the ramifications are a reality rather than speculation, and it’s clear that the worst fears of the most adamant critics have not come to pass. 

Signs opposing the solar project are plentiful all around Williamsport, Ohio. Credit: Eric Albrecht

The ecosystem of California’s Mono Lake—a haven for birds marred by decades of water diversions to Los Angeles—probably would have collapsed sometime in the early 2000s under the combined pressure of diversions and global warming. But in 1994, the lake became a centerpiece in an ambitious restoration project that includes streams feeding the lake.

Mono Lake’s persistence suggests that helping nature heal itself can be more effective than drastic technological and engineering interventions, ICN’s Bob Berwyn reported in October. Rather than sweeping policy remedies, quick fixes and one-time pushes for action, the lake’s recovery resulted from decades of sustained efforts. Los Angeles has cut diversions from the basin by 80 percent, leaving enough water for the streams and lake to start healing. Yellow warblers flit through new riverside forests of cottonwoods and willows, some of which can grow eight feet a year, given enough moisture. There’s a new understory of grass and brush filling spaces between the vanilla-scented Jeffrey pines that survived the man-made drought. Mono Lake is a “hopeful example,” experts say, for others trying to mend Earth’s shredded biosphere.

Sunset over Mono Lake. Credit: Paul Reiffer
The sun sets over Mono Lake. Credit: Paul Reiffer

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