In 2023, Over 11,000 Gone Too Soon

Climate change is already killing people. This year proved especially deadly.

In 2023, Over 11,000 Gone Too Soon
Photograph by NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI

LISTENING: to my boyfriend play Call of Duty
FEELING: hopeful for the new year
SEEING: my tired kitty nap next to me

Whether or not we want to accept it, time is always moving. That clock is always ticking. Seconds slip by. We make memories. We age. We die.

Somewhere along that timeline, I'd like to imagine we also get our shit together. We stop relying on fossil fuels. We make clean energy affordable and accessible. We create jobs that pay a living wage. We find creative ways to adapt and live with the climate change already baked in. We innovate our way to drawing down carbon. We regenerate forests. We restore mangroves.

Will we do that? I'm not sure. I suppose another possible timeline is one where we don't get our shit together. We keep burning fossil fuels. We gamble on carbon removal technologies rather than the clean energy technologies we know work. We continue to value billionaires more than workers. We abandon the most vulnerable and hope they can save themselves. We keep cutting down forests. We keep destroying wetlands and mangroves.

I want to be clear, though. "We" does not mean you and me.

Welcome to Possibilities, a creative climate newsletter on the possibilities that lie where crisis meets community. I’m Yessenia Funes, and I want to dream of a timeline where time is valued and so are lives.

Look, our hands aren't clean, either — I put gas in my car and still eat more beef than I should — but the villainous "we" is one that largely includes governments, multinational corporations, the industrial sector, and fossil fuel polluters. Regular folks like us have a few special powers. We can vote, and we can shop. Our vote and our dollar say a lot about what we value, but we can't save the world without the help from people at the top. We need them on board, too.

Their inaction and lack of urgency are already costing lives. This year, at least 11,835 people died between June and December due to climate-related disasters or incidents.

This number is only from June when Possibilities began publishing. It doesn't cover any deaths from January to May. I don't doubt some happened then, too. Every week, I take a look at the news and how many people have died for my Rest in Power section. It's important to me that we confront the weight of this death now and not later. Most weeks, there are floods. Some weeks there are freak accidents on oil rigs or a record-breaking wildfire like what we saw in Lahaina in August. In the rare weeks, there is silence. And I can only pray that that's actually the case—not that I simply missed something.

I published 31 editions so far this year, including this one, and I could find deaths attributable to the climate crisis nearly every week. The week of Sept. 14 was the most deadly: That was when the Libya floods and the Morroco earthquake unleashed terror onto their communities. Over 9,000 people alone were killed during those catastrophes.

The climate crisis is here now — 2023 gave us clarity on how brutal it can be. This year showed us how the numbers skew in different parts of the world.

I wonder where their souls went. I wonder if they are able to rest despite the devastating way their lives were lost. I think about their families and their communities. How do you recover after that? How do you move on? How do you stand up and dream of a tomorrow? Then, I remember: how we always have.

After all, time is always moving. Generations ago, my ancestors survived despite the apocalypse wrought by colonizing forces and a civil war. Time goes on. It lives on through me and current generations. And perhaps it exists after life here, on a plane beyond this world.

As Kimmerer writes in "Braiding Sweetgrass":

Time is not a river running inexorably to the sea, but the sea itself—its tides that appear and disappear, the fog that rises to become rain in a different river. All things that were will come again.

Oh, how I hope that is true. How I hope that the people we've lost this year will someday be reunited again with their loved ones. That the Earth will be stable again. That people will be free again. That all things that were will come again. 🌀

Rest in Power

While we can't say for certain that climate change led to these specific weather events (we need attribution studies for that), we do know that the Earth's rising temperatures are already creating more disasters like these.

In Australia, at least 10 people were killed over the Christmas holiday. The deceased include a 9-year-old girl. Heartbreaking.

On Christmas Eve, floods killed six people in a coastal South African province. Ten people are still missing.

A bad storm last week in Maine killed four people, including Ciara Cooper, a 20-year-old woman.

Currently Reading

I'm on vacation, in lazy-girl mode. I haven't been reading anything except Sarah J. Mass's "Crescent City" series, which I'm caught up on; the latest volume of "Saga," an amazing graphic novel I adore; and the last couple of chapters in Robin Wall Kimmerer's "Braiding Sweetgrass" (hence the quote above).


009. CRECER by Yessenia Funes using mixed media, 2023.

Here's an oldie I shared earlier this year — available for all subscribers to see. As we prepare for a new year, let's all embrace a little ✨growth.✨

What are you reading and seeing? Share in a comment.

See you next week. xx

- Yessenia