Humans burned a lot of fossil fuels in 2013. Some of it spilled, some of it choked, and all of it helped trap more heat in the atmosphere. None of that was pretty. But there was also progress made in slowing the growth of fossil fuels and transitioning the economy to one powered by clean energy.
Here are the stories that best visually illustrated the impacts of climate change and fossil fuel extraction.
Piles Of Petcoke
Early this summer, Detroit residents noticed mysterious piles of black stuff along Detroit’s waterfront. In July, clouds of dust were blown off the piles and into the air, causing alarm in Detroit and Windsor, Canada across the water, where residents took video. Nearby community members to complain of respiratory problems.
The black stuff was petroleum coke, an especially dirty byproduct of tar sands processing, and it was owned by Koch Carbon, controlled by the infamous Charles and David Koch. In August, Detroit Mayor Dave Bing ordered the removal of the piles, reportedly moving them to Ohio. But that wouldn’t be the end of 2013’s pet coke problems.
In October, pet coke started piling up along Chicago’s Calumet River, causing alarm in the city. Chicago’s pile was similarly owned by Charles and David Koch. And that pile is still there. Pet coke isn’t only environmentally hazardous to store. It is also one of the dirtiest available fossil fuels to burn, typically used as a cheap substitute for coal.
Habitat for Humanity Built a House That Might Not Need to Buy Electricity
CREDIT: (Credit: Habitat for Humanity)
CREDIT: (Credit: Habitat for Humanity)
Washington, D.C.’s first super energy-efficient “passive house” is also a Habitat for Humanity project. So not only is the Empowerhouse a cost-effective home for a D.C. family, but it’s serving as a model for future efficient construction.
The Empowerhouse was built on the principle of extreme energy efficiency. With extra-thick walls and triple-glazed windows, it uses up to 90 percent less heating and cooling energy compared to an ordinary house. And the solar panels on the roof will often be able to provide whatever power is needed.
A Colorado Town’s Fracking Ban Wins By 20 Votes
CREDIT: ASSOCIATED PRESS
CREDIT: ASSOCIATED PRESS
Though Broomfield’s vote is awaiting a district court hearing to determine whether there were voting irregularities, the latest recount had the town’s five-year moratorium on fracking winning by 20 votes. That would put Broomfield in line with three other Colorado towns that either banned or put moratoria on fracking in the November elections: Fort Collins, Boulder, and Lafayette.
But those fracking bans are in danger, as well. The Colorado Oil and Gas Association is doing its best to repeal all except Boulder’s ban in court.
Demonstrators Fight Back Against Anti-Climate Policies in Canada and Australia
Both Canada and Australia have taken turns towards climate-killing policies in recent years. Foreign Policy called Canada “a rogue, reckless petrostate” in July, pointing to the oil and gas that makes up a quarter of its export revenue. Canada’s been pushing Keystone XL relentlessly, suppressing climate science, along with abandoning climate protections, and censoring artists who don’t agree.
Meanwhile in Australia, Tony Abbott’s newly-elected Liberal National Coalition has followed through on its anti-climate campaign promises like cutting the country’s climate commission, just as the country marks its hottest year ever recorded.
That’s why November’s large protests were so heartening. Thousands of demonstrators in Canada in 130 locations opposed tar sands and pipeline development, and 60,000 Australians called on Abbott to keep the country’s carbon tax.
Drunken Forests In The Arctic
To see evidence of warming in the Arctic, look to the trees. Alaska has been warming twice as fast as the lower 48 states, and it’s having dramatic effects on the permafrost — the layer of soil that is typically permanently frozen several feet down. But as it melts, it sinks, changing the angle of the ground over time, resulting in some weird-looking trees. And that’s not to mention the tribal villages that are quickly losing ground due to sinking, and the massive amounts of greenhouse gases that scientists predict will be released as the permafrost melts.
Major Thailand Oil Spill Covers Beaches In Oil
CREDIT: European Pressphoto Agency
An offshore pipeline leak off the coast near Rayong, Thailand spilled about 13,000 gallons of crude oil into the Gulf of Thailand in July, coating about 1,900 feet of sandy beaches, causing evacuation of tourists, and creating difficulties for the residents of Koh samet. Four months after the spill and cleanup, tourists are still avoiding the popular beach destination, despite expensive public relation campaigns trying to get them back.
Shanghai Was Blanketed With Smog
CREDIT: LENINERS ON FLICKR
For seven days in December, children and elderly residents of Shanghai were told to stay inside, as pollution reached levels where 24 hours of exposure would be hazardous to one’s health. Officials ordered vehicles off the road, and hundreds of flights and sporting events were cancelled.
This finished an already-bad year for pollution in China. An 8-year-old girl was diagnosed with lung cancer in November as a result of air pollution, the youngest ever to have lung cancer in China.
And extreme pollution has blanketed much of northeastern China in recent months, shutting down the major city of Harbin in October. China is launching measures to combat pollution in response to these high-profile events, but it at the same time it’s importing more coal than any country in history.
Super Typhoon Haiyan’s Landfall
CREDIT: AP Photo/NOAA
Super Typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippines in November, killing more than 5,200 people and bringing an expected $5.8 billion in reconstruction costs. It was the deadliest storm ever to strike the Philippines, the fourth-strongest typhoon in recorded history, and the strongest typhoon ever to make landfall. The aftermath has turned into a crisis of evacuation from storm-ravaged areas, as tens of thousands streamed into the capital, Manila.
Climate change may have contributed to the storm’s effects, as rising sea levels make storm surges more destructive, and warmer-than-usual ocean surface temperatures amplify storms’ intensity.