2021 was yet another year that felt like five. It began with a presidential transition, riots at the Capitol and a blackout in Texas. Before summer had even begun, drought, heat and fires had already torn across the West. The Biden administration faced a number of challenges to its climate agenda at home. And then came the United Nations international climate conference in Glasgow in the fall.
Feel like a blur? Here’s a recap of the year in our coverage.
Climate Change Is Here
In February, Texas went dark. Huge winter storms plunged large parts of the central and southern United States into an energy crisis.
Despite inaccurate claims from Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas, we explained: No, the reason for the blackouts was not frozen wind turbines. The main problem was frigid temperatures that stalled natural gas production, which is responsible for the majority of Texas’ power supply.
Fast forward to early June, when it wasn’t technically summer yet, but the American Southwest was already baking and drying up.
By Somini Sengupta
By Blacki Migliozzi and Hiroko Tabuchi
In the oceans, climate change is leading to big shifts. The warming atmosphere is causing an arm of the powerful Gulf Stream to weaken, some scientists fear, which could have major climate ramifications from the Eastern United States to the Sahel in Africa. And in the Antarctic, wilder winds are altering currents, the sea is releasing carbon dioxide and ice is melting from below.
By Moises Velasquez-Manoff and Jeremy White
By Henry Fountain and Jeremy White
The effects of climate change are not equally felt. Nor is the blame equally shared. We reported on some of America’s biggest, and maybe most surprising, methane emitters. And we took a look at the countries with the most greenhouse gas emissions in history.
By Nadja Popovich and Brad Plumer
We covered how disaster aid often favors white people. And how Native Americans, forced into the most undesirable areas of America by white settlers and the government, are now on land that’s becoming uninhabitable.
By Christopher Flavelle and Kalen Goodluck
We investigated how the E.P.A. approved toxic chemicals for fracking a decade ago. And investigated an unforeseen consequence of luxury auto sales:
By Manuela Andreoni, Hiroko Tabuchi and Albert Sun
The Thorny Way Forward
A big report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in August summed things up.
By Brad Plumer and Henry Fountain
Knowledge about sustainable living has existed for centuries, and is often overlooked. Native people, often among the most effective stewards of nature, have often been disregarded, or worse.
By Somini Sengupta, Catrin Einhorn and Manuela Andreoni
We know that the way forward requires a transition to renewable energy, but the transition is not always straightforward.
By Dionne Searcey
Transportation is one of the most critical sectors to clean up. Some cities are setting an example for how to electrify public transit.
Electric cars will be key in reducing emissions, but when will they be here?
Whenever that is, they won’t be here without cobalt. And with more than two-thirds of the world’s cobalt production coming from the Democratic Republic of Congo, the country is taking center stage. The quest for Congo’s cobalt is caught in an international cycle of exploitation, greed and gamesmanship.
Understand the Lastest News on Climate Change
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The climate consequences of losing Build Back Better. Without the legislation’s climate provisions, the United States appears very unlikely to hit President Biden’s targets for greenhouse gas reductions.
By Dionne Searcey, Michael Forsythe and Eric Lipton
We also took a look at some drawbacks of America’s highways — how they’ve divided many Black communities, increased car dependence and led to wildlife deaths — and some solutions to those problems.
By Nadja Popovich, Josh Williams and Denise Lu
And here’s how one Indiana city has experimented with roundabouts to reduce emissions and save lives:
By Cara Buckley
Domestically, with a new administration, a big infrastructure bill and the perennial debate over how to address climate change, it was a busy year in politics.
While the Trump administration often dismissed science, the Biden administration attempted to restock the government with scientists, but it wasn’t easy:
By Coral Davenport, Lisa Friedman and Christopher Flavelle
Biden tightened pollution rules in a push to phase out gas cars, but worsening fires in California showed the limits of his power. Hitting climate targets will require a lot. Pretty much everything will need to change.
And change will require bipartisanship. As we reported this year, many Republicans in Congress no longer deny that Earth is heating because of fossil fuel emissions. In fact, some find the failure to grapple with climate change to be a “political liability” for the party. But they also say abandoning oil, gas and coal will harm the economy.
At the same time, Democrats can’t completely agree among themselves.
By Coral Davenport
Ultimately, even as paid family leave and other priorities were taken out of Biden’s plan, the largest piece of his spending bill became a $555 billion plan to fight climate change.
Internationally, two big conferences took place this year. One you may have heard of. Another, maybe not:
By Catrin Einhorn
After two weeks of lofty speeches and bitter negotiations among nearly 200 nations, the question of whether the world will make significant progress to slow global warming still comes down to the actions of a handful of powerful nations. And those nations remain at odds over how best to address climate change.
By Somini Sengupta
Now that you’re caught up on the news, it’s never too late to freshen up your climate science knowledge — whether you’re a kid, or a kid at heart.
By Julia Rosen