If you have an ACS member number, please enter it here so we can link this account to your membership. (optional)

ACS values your privacy. By submitting your information, you are gaining access to C&EN and subscribing to our weekly newsletter. We use the information you provide to make your reading experience better, and we will never sell your data to third party members.


Climate Change

Adapting to climate change: How chemistry will help us thrive

Learn how chemists are developing new technologies to protect food and water supplies, save critical ecosystems, and safeguard cities from natural disasters in the face of climate change

by Katherine Bourzac
February 10, 2020 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 98, Issue 6

Credit: Brian Stauffer


This is what climate change looks like: Growing numbers of people struggling to find abundant clean water or to grow their crops in the face of higher temperatures, volatile weather patterns, and degrading soils. Wildfires raging through the Australian bush, killing an estimated half a billion animals, and more on the way. Floodwaters from extreme storms infiltrating coastal industrial plants and combusting vats of chemicals, putting workers and other people at risk.

Climate change is happening, and scientists have warned the world to brace for more intense heat waves, longer fire seasons, more frequent extreme storms, and an acidifying and warming ocean, among other consequences. It is increasingly urgent to act now, they say, not only to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that drive climate change but also to fortify ourselves against a changing Earth. We must take aggressive, rapid steps to mitigate climate change and prevent conditions from worsening, experts say. But some of the damage is now unavoidable.

To protect human lives, critical infrastructure, crucial ecosystems, and the economy, the world must adapt to climate change. The nonprofit Global Commission on Adaptation is calling for scientists and governments to meet “a moral responsibility to respond in a way that improves lives and livelihoods for all.” The effects of climate change will hit hardest in developing countries and small island nations. And these challenges coincide with a predicted surge in population growth.

With adaptation, there is also opportunity. As the commission writes in a 2019 report, adaptation can deliver “additional social and environmental benefits” that bring with them economic and environmental justice. Climate change is frightening, but there are solutions, and chemists will play a critical role in helping the world thrive.

In this issue, you’ll learn how scientists are tackling some of the biggest problems caused by climate change and turning them into opportunities, including feeding the world by improving access to high-quality proteins and greener pesticides, protecting our coral reefs with high-tech breeding methods, and steeling our cities against natural disasters with innovative materials science. We’ll also delve into how the chemical industry is learning from past disasters to safeguard its infrastructure and look at the policy changes and educational strategies we need to ensure climate resilience.

This is what adaptation to climate change looks like. Read along, and let us know how you’re contributing by writing us at We may share your story in an upcoming issue of C&EN.



This article has been sent to the following recipient:

Chemistry matters. Join us to get the news you need.