Photos show a climate change crisis unfolding—and hope for the future

Melting ice, wildfires, heat waves, floods: These images show life in a warming world, and solutions to address it.

A huge ice cone, called a conical ice stupa, towers over a man in the north Indian territory of Ladakh. As snow dwindles and glaciers recede, these stupas are being constructed to store water in frozen form. This 110-foot structure (33.5 meters), located near the village of Shara Phuktsey, won an ice stupa competition. It holds nearly two million gallons of water that will help irrigate fields in four villages.
Photograph by Ciril Jazbec, National Geographic

As the UN’s global climate change conference—COP26—approaches, ever-more-extreme weather has shown us climate change is here. Yet COVID-19 and the actions taken to control it have also shown us that cooperation can prompt dramatic global change.

Sometimes, all it takes is one photo to spark that action. Sometimes, it's a collection of vignettes that show us what is at stake, and more importantly, inspire ideas of what we can do about it. In short, pictures can change the world. And as our world comes to terms with the reality of climate change, never has that been more needed.

Some of these images offer an instant visual punch to the gut: a dying coral outcrop on the Great Barrier Reef, for instance, juxtaposed with an older photo of how vibrant coral can be. Some of the images inspire in their ability to show that change is not only possible, it is happening—and that we have the ingenuity and the skill to make a real difference. 

But amidst these odds, there is hope. Nature is resilient, and given the chance, it can recover, if we have the courage to make it happen.

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