3.4°C Newtok, Alaska
Photos and reporting by Bonnie Jo Mount
Thawing permafrost, sinking tundra, erosion and constant river flooding have combined to shift the very ground under buildings and paths. Years ago, as the Ninglick River crept closer, the village voted to relocate to higher ground. In October, Aaliyah Kasaiuli and the rest of her family were among the first to go, the continent’s newest pioneers.
Newtok has been melting for years, and its nearly 400 villagers watched as the warming accelerated the loss of sea ice. The thawing terrain and river flooding threatened pipelines, homes and a network of wooden boardwalks in a village with no roads. Its people are proud of their traditions of thriving amid harsh conditions, of catching and preserving the food they need. One false step and Maryann Carl, 13, would have lost the water she tugged home, or sank past her ankles, or both.
The muck and mess are everywhere, creating impromptu playgrounds and sinkholes for toys.
From the air, Newtok appears to be one of the most desolate places on Earth, a huddle of homes surrounded by sea and wetlands, accessible only by small plane or boat. On the land, its remote landscape is beautiful, and its sense of community is strong. The people here descend from those who roamed this region for a few thousand years, hunting and fishing and making camp when winter came. The school was built in 1958, and with it came permanence.
But only briefly. Accelerated erosion has brought the Ninglick River to within 100 feet of the school. The permafrost collapse is destabilizing the planet. Outside Newtok, and in other native villages, it has disturbed gravesites.
Workers came in June to take down the home where the Kasaiulis had lived for decades; it was in danger of collapsing on them. “I cried before I left,” said Monica Kasayuli, 70, seen above with her hands cupping her chin. “So, so many memories. It took a long, long time to get the house paid off.” They all moved into a relative’s home, until the relocation, decades in the making, finally began in October.
Families are moving in stages to Mertarvik, about nine miles upriver. Jasmine Alexie and her folks were among the first, and while they waited, she hung out with Latesha Tom and Latesha’s phone.
How do you move a whole village? Pauly Andy is part of a fleet of ATV drivers who carried people’s belongings down to the river’s shore, to wait for the next boat across.
On the other side: Brightly painted new houses, with sanitation systems to replace the industrial buckets people now use as toilets, and modern kitchens.
So far, the project has cost about $30 million, much of that funded by Congress, and no one is quite sure where to get the rest.
“I’m sad to leave this community. But it’s going to be dry, and it’s going to be safe.”—Albertina Charles
The new settlement has a water treatment plant and a diesel power system, a dock and a landing strip, along with the 21 homes. But it’s going to take several more years, and millions of more dollars, to build enough housing and infrastructure to move everyone. From their dilapidated homes in Newtok, where the power comes and goes, villagers see the lights twinkling in Mertarvik — and hunker down for the next few Yukon Delta winters.
2.1°C Doha, Qatar
Photos and reporting by Salwan Georges
Temperatures are soaring in this tiny nation surrounded on three sides by the warming Persian Gulf. And construction is booming, powered by rising liquefied gas exports, preparations for the 2022 World Cup and millions of foreign workers. They outnumber native Qataris 10 to 1, and in July, they were the ones laboring in scorching heat that reached 120 degrees Fahrenheit and never dipped below the low 90s.
The work can be deadly, but the money is far better than in Nepal, Pakistan, Bangladesh and India.
On their days off, the migrant workers roamed the Doha Corniche, the city’s waterfront promenade, the man-made bay on one side, the gleaming futuristic skyline on the other. On the mural: The emir of Qatar, Tamim Bin Hamad al-Thani.
His successful bid for the World Cup helped spur $200 billion in new infrastructure, including stadiums with air-conditioning vents under each seat.
Executing such engineering marvels requires hard labor under high heat. The most experienced wrapped their faces against the burning sun.
Over the past decade, one medical research study found, about 200 Nepali workers have died of heat-related heart attacks.
Those dire statistics led the government to mandate that workers take breaks from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., when the heat is most suffocating. In Msheireb, a neighborhood praised as a model for the future, many workers retreated to the chill of the brand-new mosque, designed to use photovoltaic panels and solar hot water heaters.
“It was hard to forget the look on their faces — a mixture of exhaustion and dehydration.”—Photographer Salwan Georges
On Fridays, the laborers’ one day off, they put on their best clothes and returned to the Corniche, where docked boats blared music and hosted dancing.
They shared foods from their own countries, smoked and sipped tea. In the background of the selfies that the migrants took was the rising new city center some of them helped build.
“At least it has air-conditioning.”—Bangladeshi worker Ram Das
Das, 27, sleeps in a room with five other men, in a dormitory with cooling. A barber by trade, he earns about $410 a month as a delivery driver and sends 20 percent home.
The affluence of Qataris, living in the richest country in the world per capita, has allowed them to hire others to step into the heat for them. At the waterfront, people waited in their air-conditioned cars while migrant workers ran into the sun to take orders, waited and hurried the food back.
Respite comes with the traditional cleansing before prayers. Or with a moment to sit down on a construction bucket, high in the Msheireb, where 6,400 solar panels will generate energy for luxurious living in the desert and pillars will blow cool air into a courtyard filled with water fountains.
3.2°C On the Kolyma River, Siberia
Photos and reporting by Michael Robinson Chavez
In one of the coldest inhabited regions of the planet, the warming is coming the fastest, washing away a way of life. The great thaw of Russia’s permafrost zone has drowned farming, melted rivers used as frozen highways and sent towns tumbling into new wetlands.
Siberians are migrating, heeding an old Sakha prophecy that portends disaster: “They will survive until the day when the Arctic Ocean melts.” Many young people leave the villages of the Yakutia and say they aren’t coming back.
The village of Nelemnoye, verdant and pleasant in July, was cut off for three months in 2017 when the lakes and streams didn’t fully freeze. The government sent a helicopter to take people grocery shopping.
The town of Zyryanka lost its school when the Kolyma River swept it away. The earth sinks, and the economy plummets, investment sputters, the Internet goes dark — climate change has created a new downward spiral. Olga Sukhova, 16, looked out a bus window on her way to the town, the largest on this part of the river.
It was disco night at the cultural center in Zyryanka. Something for teenagers to do in a place with only 2,000 people. The sun started to set about 10 p.m., and the kids drifted in.
Slavic music blared from massive speakers. The girls giggled. The boys checked their phones. Many said they were leaving Zyryanka for universities in Moscow or cities in south Siberia. There was nothing here for them anymore.
In the Yakutia, the largest region of Russia and 6,000 miles from Moscow, Slavs are a minority. This is indigenous land, peopled by the Yakuts and descendants of Yukaghir.
They survived communism and forced collective farming, then capitalism and government cutbacks. But there is no waiting out climate change.
The water has turned capricious. There is too much of it, and it has permanently remade a landscape where stories were once scratched onto birch bark.
“What they have relied on for generations — fishing, hunting, farming — are all being transformed.”—Photographer Michael Robinson Chavez
In a town reliant on waterways for transport, the largest employer is a riverboat company.
The company hosted a celebration in July in the central square, overlooked by a statue of Lenin.
The teenagers put on their school uniforms and red lipstick and performed traditional dances. Everyone sang and ate and laughed, and the daylight stretched toward midnight in the Arctic.
1.1°C Cairns, Australia
Bonnie Jo Mount
This city of 150,000 is a gateway to the Great Barrier Reef, the world’s largest collection of coral, dying off at an alarming rate because of severe bleaching driven by hotter seas. On Sept. 20, Cairns students took to the streets as part of the Global Climate Strike, the massive youth-led demonstration that day in more than 150 countries.
Among the Australian movement’s demands of the government: No new oil, gas and coal projects; complete renewable energy generation by 2030 and funding for transition and job creation for fossil-fuel workers and communities.
Many were protesting the development of a large coal mine in the state of Queensland, which conservationists argue threatens local vulnerable species and could further damage the already endangered reef, which stretches for 1,600 miles off the coast.
The Carmichael mine, to be developed by the energy conglomerate owned by Indian billionaire Gautam Adani, has the support of Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who has expressed skepticism about the severity of human-caused global warming. Last summer was the country’s hottest on record.
“We’re in the thick of a climate crisis right now in Australia, but especially in Cairns we feel that pretty strongly,” high school senior and protest organizer Piper Lily O’Connell told the Cairns Post, noting the reef “is on our doorstep and dying.”
“These are pretty scary things and as a teenager … we’re the ones that are going to be impacted by this.”
2.2°C Itasca County, Minnesota
Photos by Salwan Georges
“A little piece of heaven,” John Rajala calls this spot along the bank of Circle Lake. Around him, unfolding in every direction, are towering trees — red pine and white pine, spruce, balsam, paper birch, basswood, red oak, red maple, tamarack.
They are part of the 20,000 acres he helps to manage as part of his family’s century-old lumber business, in the northwoods of the state.
A majestic setting, concealing what Rajala knows is a fierce and never-ending competition. “There is a war going on out there now,” he said in September. “Every one of these species has adapted to have its own survival strategy and regeneration strategy.” Forests perpetually evolve and change. But this rural corner of Minnesota, near the headwaters of the Mississippi, has warmed more than twice the global average, and that is shifting the boundary between northern boreal forest, defined by spruce, pines and other conifers, and temperate forest interspersed with maple, oak and other hardwoods.
In an industry that relies on cutting down trees, Rajala’s business in Deer River stands out for how many he chooses to leave alone. The approach is part of what he calls his “500-year” plan to keep his family’s forests sustainable in the face of climate change.
He keeps an eye on potential climate “winners and losers,” increasing the harvest of species such as paper birch, expected to suffer in a warming world, while leaving some on north-facing slopes that are cooler and hold more moisture.
He has also been busy encouraging the growth of ever more white pine and red oak, species that are expected to fare well in the warmer, drier future many experts predict for these parts.
Some trees he could cut down — reaping tens of thousands of dollars in profits — he is choosing to leave untouched. Those legacy trees, he said, can help the forest to regenerate and can also help to sequester significant amounts of carbon from the atmosphere.
He’s betting certain customers will care about the conservation of the forests. “We’re going to market our products with an extreme long-term vision. We’re going to find out whether or not there are people out there who will pay a slight premium, and will take a little effort to research where their wood comes from.”
1.8°C Namibe, Angola
Reporting and photos by Carolyn Van Houten
One of the worst droughts in decades is endangering more than 2 million people in southern Angola’s provinces. This year, the rainy season never came, and by May, crops and livestock were decimated.
In Cunene province, the number of people facing food insecurity had tripled by March, relief organizations estimated.
Southern Africa has received normal rainfall in just one of the past five growing seasons, which particularly hits the small-scale farmers.
This year’s drought has eclipsed one in 2016, which had been the worst in 25 years. The extremes are coming more frequently.
“For Africa, climate change is not a remote prospect,” United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said in August. “It is a crisis now.”
1.6°C Maldonado, Uruguay
Reporting and photos by Carolyn Van Houten
In the last decade, this small country wedged between Brazil and Argentina has become a model for how to adapt to a warming world.
Worried about its energy security, the government began moving away from fossil fuels and slashed its carbon footprint. Nearly 95 percent of the country is powered by renewable energy, and wind power generated is the highest per capita in the world.
Turbines are everywhere, on more than 40 farms in a nation about the size of Washington state.
In many areas, cattle farmers lease grazing rights to land around the wind farms, creating the striking image of a revered clean-energy initiative alongside cattle, one of the most environmentally draining food sources.
“I feel inner peace with the land. The people are responsible for the contamination.”—Diego Jaume, cattle herder
Formerly a professional soccer player in Europe, Jaume came home to raise his children in a quieter and greener environment. He runs his herd on fallow land and feeds them only organic grain, which he says produces healthier beef, Uruguay’s major export. “I’m very worried for the future generations. They will not have food.”
2.4°C Mesa County, Colorado
Photographs and reporting by Carolyn Van Houten
The first generation of Bernal farmers set out across the mountains for western Colorado in 1925, drawn by the new man-made canal that sent water coursing across the valley. Over the decades, the family grew sugar beets, barley, tomatoes and corn — and became one of the largest water-rights holders in the valley around Grand Junction.
Now, Joe Bernal, the fourth generation, is trying his hand at hemp, what he called the new “gold rush,” as the Colorado River is dwindling. The unmistakable rise in regional temperatures from pre-industrial-age levels has meant many years with less snow in the Rockies and on the mesa to melt and feed the streams. That has brought more drought and less yield.
In late October, Bernal brought in the hemp with the help of his family and a neighbor.
Grown to be processed into CBD oil, the crop can bring revenue per acre that dwarfs that for hay or corn. But it has to be harvested by hand.
“Having grown up on a farm myself, I really appreciated learning about and talking through how they were attempting to harvest this new crop.”—Photographer Carolyn Van Houten
The crew pulled each plant from the ground, hacked the root balls off, then tossed the plants into a trailer.
The more nimble Bernals climbed into the trailers and stomped on the hemp, so that the fibrous plants would dry more efficiently in peanut dryers.
“We are using more water, but also producing more food,” Joe Bernal said. “A lot of people think of the river and streams, but don’t think of them as an ingredient in food.”
He pointed out a family photograph hanging on the wall of his late parents’ house in Loma, everyone arranged on and around the John Deere combine, with the snow-capped Book Cliffs mountains in the distance.
They broke for lunch, and Joe sat down and said grace with his nephew, Michael Baleztena, and Michael’s son Joaquin, who is 13. “I really enjoy farming with my nephews and my son,” he said. “My parents wanted to leave a legacy.” Rights to the water redirected into canals, depicted in the location map on the family refrigerator, are part of that legacy.
Baleztena’s house and land is adjacent, so his dog came by to supervise the train of hemp coming in from the field.
In addition to farming, Baleztena is a professional horse trainer and team-roper.
He’s the fifth generation of a family that pioneered this land nearly a century ago — and now finds itself on the edge of a new frontier.
Additional reporting by Steven Mufson in Qatar, Anton Troianovski in Siberia, Brady Dennis in Minnesota and Ann Gerhart in Washington. Editing by Ann Gerhart and Vince Rinehart. Design and development by Madison Walls. Photo editing by Chloe Coleman, Karly Domb Sadof and Olivier Laurent. Graphics editing by Tim Meko. Temperature data analysis by John Muyskens.