Climate Change
Nature

Climate disasters defined 2022. These were some of the biggest.

Where do we go from here?
By Teodosia Dobriyanova  on 
split-screen image depicts a flood in Australia, the aftermath of Hurricane Ian in Florida, and a wildfire in Greece
Credit: Mashable composite: Getty Images

2022, you flew by. Join Mashable as we look back at everything that's delighted, amazed, or just confused us in 2022.


This was supposed to be the year of climate action. Such was the promise world leaders made during COP26 at the end of 2021. As we’re still waiting to see the majority of those words turned into action, it’s safe to say that 2022 ends as the year that obliterated existing climate records at a scale that even climate scientists did not forecast.

The climate-related damage in the Global South is disproportionately greater than that in the Global North. Yet, the heat waves, droughts, and storms some of the world’s richest nations experienced this year shows that no place on Earth is immune to the consequences of the climate crisis. As global greenhouse gas emissions hit an all-time high in 2022 with no signs of slowing down, this list of the year’s climate disasters Mashable reported on paints a very clear picture of a planet in crisis.

Heat waves

The summer of 2022 broke heat records all across the globe, but Europe’s persistent heat waves surpassed even climate scientists’s predictions.  As one of the continent’s most shocking heat records, the UK recorded its hottest temperature ever on July 19 when temperatures reached 40.2 degrees Celsius (104.4 degrees Fahrenheit). If this doesn’t feel like much, consider that this is double the average UK temperature for July (around 21 degrees Celsius). 

It wasn’t just that day — a prolonged period of heat brought drought to the country to the point where the government imposed a hosepipe ban to limit water waste.

Following these towering temperatures, we spoke to Len Shaffrey, professor of climate science at the University of Reading, who talked us through Europe’s record-breaking heatwave, as well as its subsequent wildfires in London, Kent, and as far north as Sheffield, and explained why the continent has been warming faster than the global average.

Droughts

Unprecedented heat across the globe brought with it devastating drought in 2022, with extremely dry conditions experienced across most of Europe, the west of China, parts of sub-Saharan Africa and the U.S. Higher temperatures don't cause every drought, but they can make droughts profoundly worse: It's now easier to fall into drought, and harder to climb out. 

Emptying rivers, lakes, and water reservoirs revealed forgotten relics, such as Buddhist statues in China, dinosaur footprints in the U.S., and ominous hunger stones in the Czech Republic:

For half a decade, extreme droughts have been worsening in the Horn of Africa. In 2022, around 20 million people were affected by drought in the vast region spanning between Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia. In October, we spoke to Jackson Mutia, a UNICEF WASH (water, sanitation, and hygiene) adviser in Turkana County, Kenya, about how sand dams have been used to trap and store drinkable water to help those affected by droughts. It’s a simple technology and a modest solution that pales in comparison to the scope of the crisis. But as a small-scale solution, sand dams can save lives. Watch the video to see how the technology works.

Floods and storms

This summer, a severe monsoon season and melting glaciers caused by climate change brought unfathomable amounts of water to Pakistan, leaving behind utter destruction. The devastating floods swept away buildings and even entire villages, ruined an estimated 4 million acres of crops and other infrastructure, and killed more than 1,100 people. The weather impacted at least 33 million residents.

Other countries like Australia, South Sudan, and South Africa also suffered severe floods in 2022, while historic hurricanes raged in North America.  

In the United States, Hurricane Ian is now considered the deadliest hurricane to hit Florida since 1935. It affected an estimated 3 million people, cost the country $67 billion in damage, and added to the ever-growing scientific evidence that the climate crisis’ impacts the scale and intensity of storms. Mashable science editor Mark Kaufman explored exactly how in this article.

Ice sheet melting

Coastal nations and fragile ecosystems are on the frontlines of the climate crisis, as sea levels rise largely due to humanity's relentless melting of giant ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica.

A study published in September by a team helmed by geological oceanographer Alastair G. C. Graham gave evidence that Antarctica's Thwaites Glacier, infamously nicknamed the Doomsday Glacier, has been melting faster than previously thought. In this comprehensive piece, Mashable editor Mike Pearl explains the science and implications of a faster melt, while emphasising the need to move away from the glacier’s unhelpful nickname —  what we currently need is not doom, but action.

That is not to say we shouldn’t be alarmed by the melting of ice sheets; we have seen their very real impact this year. During a heartbreaking COP27 speech in November, Tuvalu’s foreign minister Simon Kofe announced that the small Pacific island, which predictions suggest will disappear within the next century, will be digitally mapped and recreated in the metaverse. This digital ‘solution’ will help preserve a version of the island, which locals could ‘visit’ even after their homeland is lost to sea level rise.

The melting ice sheet is itself a disappearing land for some. In Antarctica, emperor penguin populations have been declining as the animals’ breeding ground continues to shrink. In May, we spoke to one of the scientists who have infiltrated a clunky robot within a group of emperor penguins, in an attempt to study their behaviour and adaptability to climate change. 

Where do we go from here?

The Earth is in crisis and we’re already losing a lot. Eco-anxiety and mourning are an integral stage in the process of recognising the scale of damage human activity inflicts on the planet.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed and lost, you’re not alone. But eco-anxiety can be a great catalyst for action, as Mashable's senior features writer Rebecca Ruiz points out in three surprising ways to cope with climate change  — a piece we can’t recommend enough. With sufficient recognition and support, climate anxiety can be transformed into climate action. Not all of us have the access or ability to attend protests and demonstrations, but we all have our unique sets of skills that we can contribute. If you don’t know where to start, we recommend reading All We Can Save: Truth, Courage and Solutions for the Climate Crisis — a comprehensive anthology of climate essays, poems and illustrations by women on the forefront of the climate crisis, edited by Ayana Elizabeth Johnson and Katharine K. Wilkinson. From taking lessons from the past, to inspiring stories of climate action and communal support, like in the essay "Community is Our Best Chance" by Christine E. Nieves Rodriguez, the book equips the reader with all the tools to better understand the crisis we’re in,  and find their own unique role in the climate movement.

And lastly, yes, we all leave a footprint on the planet, but don’t forget who the real villain is (spoiler alert: it’s not you that time you forgot to bring your reusable bag at the grocery store).

More in Nature

Picture of Teodosia

Teodosia Dobriyanova

Video Producer

Teodosia is a video producer at Mashable UK, focussing on stories about climate resilience, sustainability and social good.


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