Early in the new year of 2023, it is instructive to review the major climate events of 2022. Of the abundant climate stories of the year, here are the 10 most important.
Global climate impacts. The year 2022 saw 29 billion-dollar weather disasters: 14 thunderstorms/tornadoes, five droughts, three tropical cyclones, one European windstorm and six floods. In Europe, heat waves claimed 16,000 lives. Drought desiccated the Horn of Africa, threatening famine for 21 million in Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia. One-third of Pakistan was submerged in floodwaters, and 75% of its livestock perished. And to erase any doubt that climate breakdown is happening now, a report announced that a shocking 90% of U.S. counties had experienced a weather-related disaster in the previous 10 years.
Waco climate impacts. Waco experienced an intense heat wave, near-record drought, water restrictions and agricultural damage in 2022, features of a warming planet. Waco endured 68 days of 100-degrees temperatures, second only in number to the year 2011. The county has been in drought for over a year, with the most intense drought level (exceptional, D4) this summer and persistently severe (D2) throughout the county now. In fact, the drought is considered of similar severity to the worst droughts in Texas history, those of the 1950s and 2011. With heat and drought, Lake Waco was seven feet below normal, and the city enacted Stage 2 water use restrictions in July. On Dec. 22 Lake Waco was still only 57% full, and Stage 2 restrictions persist. Agricultural damage included extensive loss of the cotton crop, corn and wheat injury, and inadequate water and grass for cattle ranching. Although weather extremes similar to 2022 have occurred before, climate science is clear that anthropogenic climate change makes them more frequent and more severe. Although there is fear of the term “climate change” for local citizens and some media, ignoring climate breakdown will not diminish it.
People are also reading…
IPCC AR6. Although the visible impacts of the climate crisis are overwhelming, the periodic Assessment Reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change are eagerly anticipated. In 2022, the AR6 on mitigation (ipcc.ch/report/sixth-assessment), a review of the entire world literature, was released. This massive reference details emission cutting strategies in categories of energy, agriculture and land use, buildings, transport and industry. The report warned that the world is on a trajectory for a dangerous 2.4 degrees Celsius of warming by 2100, and “unless there are immediate and deep emission reductions across all sectors, 1.5 degrees C is beyond reach.” This report contained the strongest warning to date from the IPCC.
COP27. The annual U.N. climate summit brought together some 35,000 heads of state, negotiators, scientists, activists and industrial representatives from 190 countries in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt. After 30 years of struggle and suffering, the world’s developing nations received a commitment from wealthy nations to create a fund to compensate them for the “loss and damage” they have suffered as a result of the wealthy nations’ greenhouse gas emissions. Unfortunately, on the core task of creating new strategies to slash the globe’s greenhouse gas emissions, no significant progress was made.
Kigali Amendment. In October, the U.S. Senate ratified, and President Biden signed, the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol. The U.S. joined 137 countries in the phase-out of hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) refrigerants, which are very potent greenhouse gases (GHG). By replacing HFCs with non-GHG refrigerants, the planet will save a vital 0.5 C of warming by 2100. Individuals and businesses should now demand non-GHG refrigerants in HVAC systems and refrigeration devices.
Inflation Reduction Act. The IRA commits $369 billion to combat the climate crisis, the largest climate action bill in U.S. history. The major climate provisions are incentives for U.S. supply chains for wind, solar, carbon capture, green hydrogen and sustainable aviation fuels; plus tax credits for efficient buildings, electric vehicle purchases, heat pumps, EV charging, solar installation and energy research. Permitting reform will speed development of renewable energy projects, but unfortunately fossil fuel infrastructure as well. The bill is projected to decrease U.S. carbon emissions 40% by 2030, nearing the 45% IPCC target — a momentous climate victory when completed.
COP15. As the climate crisis threatens biodiversity, so too the loss of biodiversity worsens the climate crisis. And vertebrate animal populations have declined a shocking 69% over the last 50 years, according to the World Wildlife Fund. To combat this biodiversity crisis, 195 nations assembled in Montreal for the COP15 Biodiversity Conference. Successfully, members signed 23 targets to safeguard the natural world, mandatory within one decade. The most important target is to pristinely maintain at least 30% of the planet’s land and waters by 2030, a policy termed “30 by 30.”
War in Ukraine. Because of the supply interruption of fossil gas from Russia, the war has increased the use of coal. However, the long-term impact of the war on the transition to clean, renewable energy is controversial. Dr. Fatih Birol, executive director of the highly respected International Energy Agency, recently stated: “Today’s crisis is a reminder of the unsustainability of our reliance on fossil fuels and can be a key turning point to move faster towards a cleaner, more affordable and more secure energy system.”
The city of Waco and climate action. At the July 19 city council meeting, council members Josh Borderud, Andrea Barefield and Kelly Palmer, and Mayor Dillon Meek, stated their concerns about anthropogenic climate change and pledged to lower the city’s carbon footprint. Beginning in January 2022, the new electricity contract for municipal buildings was for 100% renewable energy, solar panels were installed on the new 25th Street fire station and a half dozen electric vehicles were purchased. But it became obvious the council did not really consider climate an emergency, as it was not a priority in council business. Opportunities for electric transportation were consistently ignored, building standards remained unchanged and solar installation was halted. And then Palmer, the one sincere friend of climate action, resigned from the council — dashing hope for robust action.
Electrify everything. Buildings — commercial and residential — produce 30-40% of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. Thus, in 2022 “electrify everything” became a mantra for decreasing the climate warming derived from these structures. Individuals, businesses, churches and governments can contribute by installing photovoltaic systems with batteries, EV chargers, electric stoves, heat pumps, utility-responsive thermostats, heat pump water heaters and electric clothes driers. These actions will also improve indoor air quality and human health.
In October, the peer-reviewed “World Scientists’ Warning of a Climate Emergency 2022” noted that “We are now at ‘code red’ on planet Earth … Rather than lose hope, we must immediately pursue massive-scale climate change mitigation and adaptation. This is the only way we can limit the near-term damage, preserve nature, avoid untold human suffering, and give future generations the opportunities they deserve.”
Alan D. Northcutt is a retired Waco physician and director of the grassroots climate action and education group Waco Friends of the Climate.
Catch the latest in Opinion
Get opinion pieces, letters and editorials sent directly to your inbox weekly!