50 Powerful Photos That Prove the Earth Still Needs Our Help
From the coronavirus to the threat of extinction for certain species, the earth’s rapidly changing climate presents many human-exacerbated challenges.
A planet in crisis
The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has made it clear that nations of the world should be hard at work to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, halt deforestation and development, and ramp up efforts to save species and habitats if we want to have a future on Earth. But as we approach the 50th anniversary of Earth Month this April, we’re far from where we need to be. The effects of climate change on all of us—especially the most vulnerable people, animals, and plants—are becoming ever more apparent. If you’re spurred to action, try making these 20 tiny everyday changes to help the environment.
Smog in Beijing
Wenjie Dong/Getty Images
In Beijing, a city with more than 20 million residents, coal-fired factories and an uptick in the number of vehicles driving through the city have led to an enormous uptick in pollution and heavy-smog days like the photo above. China is the largest burner of coal in the world, according to Popular Science. This, in turn, can lead to hassles like canceled flights and road closures due to low visibility, as well as significant health crises. China had 366,000 premature deaths from coal pollution alone in 2013. This is what 14 iconic skylines around the world would look like without air pollution.
Wildfires in California
David McNew/Getty Images
Increasingly erratic weather, partially fueled by climate change, has led to drought in some places. In California, the usual season for wildfires has recently led to increasingly destructive fires that no longer seem to have a season, according to CalMatters, which reports that 14 of the most devastating fires in the state have occurred since 2007. Not only has this been devastating for wildlife and dangerous for the state’s human residents, but it has also put an undue burden on firefighters, who sometimes had to work around the clock, for weeks on end, to contain blazes. The Santa Ana winds, with gusts up to 80 miles per hour, spread the Maria Fire quickly when it broke out in Somis in November. Here are 13 things you didn’t know about wildfires.
Brook Mitchell/Getty Images
Throughout the summer and fall of 2019, our newsfeeds were filled with images of the unprecedented bushfires engulfing Australia and of the heartbreak of burned koalas and kangaroos as flames destroyed their habitats. States of emergency were declared across New South Wales, Victoria, and the Capital region, and 42 million acres burned. Among the casualties, 80 percent of the Blue Mountains Heritage Site was destroyed, according to the Center for Disaster Philanthropy. Here, panicked horses run from the February fires in Canberra. The implications of the Australian bushfires are grim for people around the world.
Colorado River drought
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
The Colorado River begins in Wyoming and snakes 1,450 miles down through Colorado, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, California, and down into Mexico, providing drinking water to 40 million people as it goes, as well as irrigating six million farmland acres, according to Seametrics. Needless to say, it’s an enormously important waterway for humans and broader ecosystems—and it’s extremely vulnerable to both drought and decreased snowpack at its source. As a result, in March 2015, during a severe drought in parts of the Western United States, the 246,000-square-mile Colorado River Basin drained, leaving one of its reservoirs, Lake Powell, at 45 percent capacity.
Drought and our crops
Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images
The food we grow to eat relies on water, and when there isn’t enough of it—and increasingly, there isn’t—crop failures ensue. Not only that, but what little water there is can be extra polluted by industrial and agricultural chemicals, with less rain to dilute them, leading to more toxic land and water for people, animals, and plants of all kinds, reports the North Carolina Climate Office. Crop failures have been happening across the globe, threatening our food supply. The corn crop in Texas succumbed to the heat and too little water (pictured here) in 2013 in Texas. Since 2014, “the number of undernourished people in the world has been increasing because of inadequate access to food,” according to NASA’s Earth Observatory.
This can also be incredibly stressful for farmers, who die by suicide at nearly twice the rate of the general population. Here’s how one therapist is trying to change that statistic.
Even when crops don’t fail outright, they can be stunted and leave very little left to sell or consume. It’s been an ongoing story, from wheat and corn in Australia (seen here, with the crop most susceptible to climate variability) to wine grapes in Spain and the United States. Not surprisingly, small farmers in developing countries suffer the most acutely from stunted and ruined crops, according to European Scientist, because they “do not have adequate coping mechanisms and lack the infrastructure and resources to manage large fluctuation in crop yields.” Parts of Africa and Brazil are, particularly, at risk.
undefined undefined/Getty Images
Climate change is full of surprises! And one of them is certainly hail—which has a devastating effect on crops, killing seedlings outright if it’s early in the growing season, or damaging the leaves of more mature plants and affecting their ability to photosynthesize. Annual hailstorm damage to farms and gardens will increase between 25 and 50 percent by 2050, according to a 2010 study published in the journal Resource and Energy Economics. Indoor farming is even more susceptible to damage; the researchers found that damage to greenhouses would be even more impactful than damage to outdoor agriculture. Check out these 42 tips on how to survive just about anything.
Flooding and our food system
There’s more than one way to ruin a crop, and flooding is another major concern. May 2018 through May 2019 were the wettest 12 months on record in the United States, and, as Vox reports, record flooding due to severe rainfall in the Southeast and Midwest in summer 2019 led to delays in planting corn and soy crops. In fact, 19.4 million acres went unplanted that year. As if that weren’t devastating enough, those crops that did make it (late) into the ground were at an increased risk of freezing, as well as flooding from “historic” fall rainfall that hit Minnesota and North Dakota. Check out these unbelievable natural disasters you never knew happened in the United States.
Jennifer Watson/Getty Images
Nothing conjures up images of biblically proportioned disasters like swarms of locusts. Thought they were a thing of the past? You thought wrong. Currently, East Africa is experiencing a plague of desert locusts almost too massive to imagine, fueled by an unusually wet year in 2019, thanks to an uptick in cyclone activity, reports NPR. The usual efforts to curtail the swarms—estimated at 192 billion insects—have been dampened by a lack of resources and regional conflicts. At the time of publication, Kenya has seen the worst locust damage to agriculture in 70 years, making the region that is “already vulnerable to food shortages” ripe for “catastrophe.”