Heatmap’s Most-Read Stories of 2023
From the Inflation Reduction Act to our summer inferno to an anti-car paradise and everything in between.
I may be the new kid on the block (ICYMI I joined in November as Heatmap’s deputy editor), but if anything, I think that makes me even more qualified to talk about the most popular stories from our nine-ish months in existence — after all, for most of that time I was reading them, not working on them.
The list spans stories from the day we launched in March all the way to our coverage of COP28, which concluded just a few weeks ago. There are stories on the quest to build out renewable energy infrastructure, how to use the Inflation Reduction Act to save on your home renovation projects, and living through our summer of heat, but also stories on surfing and subways and Tokyo.
As happens with any such list, a vivid picture of you — our much-valued readers — emerges from between the lines. Climate change isn’t just the biggest story of our time, it’s also the biggest story of our lives. The curiosity you have is personal — not just about how governments are trying to solve this crisis, but also about how you can play a role; not just about electrons and molecules, but also about places and people.
If we didn’t love you already, we certainly would after seeing this list. Thanks so much for reading. We’ll see you in 2024.
1. How to Decarbonize Your Home With the Inflation Reduction Act, by Emily Pontecorvo
The IRA consists of dozens of subsidies to help individuals, households, and businesses adopt clean energy technologies. Many of these solutions will also help people save money on their energy bills, reduce pollution, and improve their resilience to disasters.
But understanding how much funding is available for what, and how to get it, can be pretty confusing. Many Americans are not even aware that these programs exist. If you haven’t heard much about how the IRA can help you decarbonize your life, this guide is for you. If you have heard about the available subsidies, but aren’t sure how much they are worth or where to begin, Emily will walk you through it. (And if you’re looking for information about the electric vehicle tax credit, my colleague at Heatmap Robinson Meyer has you covered with this buyer’s guide.)
2. Another Bad Day for the Renewables Industry, by Matthew Zeitlin
The ill tidings started early on a Friday morning with SolarEdge, a company that primarily sells inverters, which convert the electricity produced by a solar panel into the kind that can be used in homes.
In an unexpected announcement, SolarEdge’s chief executive Zvi Lando said that, in the third quarter, the company had “experienced substantial unexpected cancellations and pushouts of existing backlog from our European distributors.” Many of its core financial metrics, including revenue and operating income, would fall below the low end of the range it had projected earlier, SolarEdge warned. The company also said it expected “significantly lower revenues in the fourth quarter.” (SolarEdge is based in Israel but the company said that the Hamas-Israel war was not related to their financial troubles.)
Investors promptly panicked, selling off the stock and sending it down 27% in trading by the afternoon. The worry is that the problems SolarEdge identified are not unique to the company itself or even the inverter business, but to the solar industry as a whole.
3. How to Survive a Blackout in a Heat Wave, by Jeva Lange
But when it comes to climate-related disasters, one fear often rises above the rest: a blackout during a heat wave. According to new research published this spring, a two-day citywide blackout in Phoenix during a heat wave could lead to half the population — some 789,600 people — requiring emergency medical attention in a metropolitan area with just 3,000 available beds. As many as 12,800 people could die, the equivalent of more than nine Hurricane Katrinas.
So if the power goes out during a heat wave, what do you do?
4. Arizona Is Keeping Its Air Conditioners On. But There’s a Problem., by Matthew Zeitlin
The region’s major utilities — Arizona Public Service, Tucson Electric Company, and the Salt River Project — have all said they’re confident that the lights, and especially the air conditioning, will stay on, even as both temperatures and electricity usage break records. This is in stark contrast to a nearby state, Texas, where record heat has sparked anxiety about reliability and voluntary calls for conserving energy use.
Whether Arizona can transition to a less carbon-intensive grid while maintaining its famed reliability is a test not just for its residents, but also for Arizona’s stubborn rejection of energy deregulation.
5. Charleston Warily Eyes The Rising Seas. Just Don’t Say Climate Change., by Neel Dhanesha
In the last few years, climate change has made its impact known in violent, eye-grabbing ways. Heat waves and drought slowly roll across the planet; hurricanes and floods and wildfires bring sudden devastation to communities that were once safe. But there are also slower, more insidious impacts that we can easily forget about in the wake of those disasters, including the most classic impact of them all: sea-level rise.
The East Coast is particularly vulnerable to rising seas, and in her new book Charleston: Race, Water, and the Coming Storm (Pegasus Books, April 4, 2023), Susan Crawford, a writer and professor at Harvard Law School, explores how the historic city, the largest in South Carolina, is preparing — or failing to prepare — for what’s to come. Flooding has become increasingly commonplace in Charleston, Crawford writes, and the city’s racial history has meant that low-income communities of color are bearing the worst of the impact, with little hope for relief.
“It’s Confederate Disneyland,” Crawford told Neel in an interview about the book, “and it’s about to be SeaWorld.”
6. The World Finally Agrees to Cut Emissions the Easy Way, by Emily Pontecorvo
On Methane Day at COP28 in Dubai, and there was a slew of new commitments to wrangle the highly potent, short-lived greenhouse gas. This is not the first time many of these groups have pledged to address methane, which leaks into the atmosphere from oil and gas infrastructure, coal mines, landfills, and farms. But taken together, today’s actions bring more ambition, transparency, and accountability to the task.
During a press briefing on Friday morning, U.S. Climate Envoy John Kerry told reporters that reducing methane emissions is the “easiest, quickest, cheapest, simplest” way to fight climate change. But for an issue that’s so easy to address, the scourge on methane has sucked up a lot of oxygen in the climate conversation over the past five years.
7. The Heat Tracker, by Neel Dhanesha, Will Kubzanksy, and Annie Xia
Neel has spent a lot of time thinking about how to cover heat waves. Each is unique — suffering of any kind is always unique, even if the broad strokes are not — yet the things one can say about them are, for the most part, largely the same. Records will break, power grids will strain, and people will be hurt: This is the reality of climate change.
So this year, we tried an experiment: We documented particularly notable heat waves around the world as they happened, but rather than devote separate stories to them, each heat wave got a short entry within this larger page. We called out especially vivid details or statistics and include links to local outlets that can provide more information to anyone looking for it. The goal here was to create a record of the very real impact of climate change today.
8. How Tokyo Became an Anti-Car Paradise, by Daniel Knowles
For cities that want to reduce the number of cars, bike lanes are a good place to start. They are cheap, usually city-level authorities can introduce them, and they do not require you to raise taxes on people who own cars. What if you want to do something more radical though? What would a city that genuinely wanted to get the car out of its citizens’ lives in a much bigger way do? A city that wanted to make it possible for most people to live decent lives and be able to get around without needing a car, even without needing to get on a bicycle?
There is only one city on Earth Daniel has ever visited that has truly managed this. But it happens to be the biggest city on the planet: Tokyo, the capital of Japan.
9. Where Did All the Surfable Waves Go?, by Lisa Martine Jenkins
Dr. Cliff Kapono sometimes still surfs the way his Indigenous Hawaiian ancestors did 1,000 years ago, on a traditional wooden board and all. But the professional surfer and molecular biologist fears his descendants might not have the same privilege. The reason is the looming scarcity of surfable waves.
While climate change could be a boon for big-wave surfers, as some have highlighted, the beloved recreational side of the sport is endangered by the shifting climate. Dramatic changes are already locked in, with rising waters swallowing surf breaks and wary communities erecting sea walls that alter the shape of the coastline. But this tension — between the masses losing access to cherished resources and the few who benefit even as they lament — is not exclusive to surfers; it’s one that bedevils almost anything related to climate adaptation.
10. I Hope This Soggy Postcard From New York City Finds You Well, by Jeva Lange
As a metropolis that runs on the fumes of pure defiance and chaos magic even during the best of times, New York was understandably struggling to stay afloat after a month’s worth of rain fell within a few hours one Friday morning in Septemnber. Subway staircases transformed into white-water obstacles more befitting of Action Park than America’s most populous city, while trash cans embarked from their curbside moorings, destined for unknown shores. Cars — half-submerged and looking curiously hippopotamine — nosed their way through the city’s new waterways. The Central Park sea lion exhibit overflowed with, well, sea lions. A manhole outside Joe’s Pizza in the East Village caught fire, the result of short-circuiting electrical cables. In Brooklyn, inexplicably, a whirlpool appeared.