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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 | 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.



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Andy Kadir-Buxton (February 13, 2020 2:35 AM)
A Level Playing Field for the Environment
A question was once put to UK youth, how much money would you have to be paid to push the planet over the tipping point? The answer was: “Knowing politicians, 50 quid (£) and a prostitute.”

Upton Sinclair said: “ It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.” Boris Johnson, for example, had £50,000 put into his campaign for Conservative Party leadership by a climate denier, and has a fracker on his team, the fossil fuel industry gave his party £1 million into his General Election fund. (I would like to see it donated to Extinction Rebellion.) Boris now says that he does not “get” the climate crisis.

Leonardo DiCaprio's “Before the Flood” documentary outs US politicians for taking fossil fuel money, John Cornyn was bunged $2,979,856 for example, while Mitch McConnell got $1,914,220. Enough US politicians have been bought in the US to block all environmental policy. All are from the Republican Party.

Politicians in the UK boast how dirty politics is, while not giving us the figures. When Prime Minister David Cameron, of “Piggate” fame, boasted how many Conservative MPs were multi-millionaires, the Labour Party asked how many of them were even millionaires before they entered the House, we got no response.

In order to prevent the prostitution of our politicians I would like to see their income strictly monitored, both during and after they have left office, with them only getting what the electorate pays them in salary, all else being donated to a designated charity. The person best for a job is not the one that wants the highest salary, but the one that most wants to do the job. We can put in another level of security by insisting that all politicians take the same infallible personality test as the US Democratic Party to ensure that those who serve us are not self-serving.

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