Orange skies, flash floods, and offshore wind drama: Here are WHYY News’ top climate stories of 2023

Climate change took a big toll on the Philly region this year, featuring everything from wildfire smoke to serious flash floods. And yet, climate solutions abound.

haze at the George Washington Bridge from Fort Lee, N.J.

A man talks on his phone as he looks through the haze at the George Washington Bridge from Fort Lee, N.J., Wednesday, June 7, 2023. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

This story is part of the WHYY News Climate Desk, bringing you news and solutions for our changing region.

From the Poconos to the Jersey Shore to the mouth of the Delaware Bay, what do you want to know about climate change? What would you like us to cover? Get in touch.

Climate change took a big toll on the Philadelphia region this year.

In addition to the ongoing impacts of sea level rise along the New Jersey and Delaware coastlines and the urban heat island effect in neighborhoods of Camden, Philadelphia, and Wilmington, wildfire smoke from Canada brought hazardous air pollutants, flash floods along suburban roadways turned deadly, and a September heat wave shut down schools.

It’s clear we are all living with the consequences of burning too many fossil fuels.

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But we also found a lot of good stories to tell since launching the WHYY News Climate Desk in April. People are working to create solutions and hold polluters accountable, and artists are using performance to spread the word and give us hope.

We collected our most impactful, and most popular stories of the year since we launched on Earth Day 2023.

1. Can capitalism save the planet from a climate crisis?

Solutions abound, and some who have made fortunes want to use those proceeds to fix a warming planet. But if capitalism got us here, can capitalism save the climate? Here’s a look at how venture capitalists want to influence solutions and use the private market to decarbonize.

2. How climate activists are working to shift trillions of dollars away from fossil fuels and into renewables

On the flip side, activists have started to expand their strategies to target the financial industry. In this piece, we learn about how some are working to hold accountable those who manage investments.

3. This Philly drag show tackles climate change — on ice

Drag queens on ice have a message to spread as well. These Bearded Ladies want to leave audiences feeling “energized and curious” about climate solutions.

An ice skater and performer clutches the side of the ice skating rink on a sunny day.
John Jarboe takes the lead as Homo Sapien in the Bearded Ladies’ climate change themed drag show on ice at the RiverRink. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

4. A changing climate is contributing to longer wildfire seasons in New Jersey, experts say

Wildfires don’t just destroy forests out West. New Jersey has its own wildfire season and its forests neighbor some of the most densely populated areas of the country. Also it turns out, the season is growing longer. One of our most popular stories this year explains.

5. Canadian wildfires douse the Philly region in orange haze

Speaking of wildfires, 2023 showed us how climate impacts thousands of miles away can affect our health right here in the Delaware Valley. Massive fires in Canada stunned us all as they rained down a hazardous orange haze on our region.

6. ‘They’re gonna get you’: Southbridge residents seek relief from decades-old mosquito problem

Climate change could worsen pesky mosquito infestations, but one Wilmington neighborhood suffers more than others. Residents are working with scientists to solve the problem.

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7. ‘Why is there no air?’: An inside look at Philly’s early school dismissals amid extreme heat

Early September brought a massive heat wave that disrupted the first week of school. This piece uses data to reveal how many Philly public schools lack air conditioning needed to operate in a warming planet.

8. New Jersey official says recent spate of whale deaths is linked to climate change

Offshore wind grabbed headlines this year, as many opponents blamed it for an increase in beached whales that had been piling up on Jersey and Delaware shores for several years. Scientists, however, made it clear that the culprit was ship strikes and climate change itself.

9. Gov. Murphy slams Orsted for ditching offshore wind, company says it was just business

Perhaps the largest blow to offshore wind was not grassroots opponents, but inflation and supply chain issues, as wind giant Orsted pulled its projects out of New Jersey, angering its largest political booster, Gov. Phil Murphy.

People raise their hands and signs
The Philadelphia LNG Task Force’s third public meeting at Widener University brought in a full house. Chairs had to be brought in to accomodate people standing in the back of Lathem Hall. (Kenny Cooper/WHYY)

10. ‘We will not allow this environmental genocide’: Chester residents unite against Philly LNG task force

As wind faces economic headwinds, some fossil fuel advocates in Pennsylvania are looking to build an export terminal for liquified natural gas. But opposition in the city of Chester and among environmentalists is fierce, and it’s not clear if the economics are in place to support it.

11. To rein in climate change, Biden pledges $7 billion to regional ‘hydrogen hubs’

Offshore wind is not the only proposed alternative to oil and gas. In October, the Biden administration proposed seven hydrogen hubs across the country, with two in Pennsylvania.

12. Electric vehicle mandate takes effect in Delaware

And in President Biden’s home state, one of our most-read stories explains everything you need to know about Delaware’s electric vehicle mandate.

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