20/12/2018 10:45 GMT | Updated 20/12/2018 10:45 GMT

7 Striking Photos That Sum Up Our Turbulent World In 2018

From a fearless 15-year-old standing up to world leaders on climate change to the tragedy of California’s wildfires, these images are a snapshot of the last year.

This year has seen terrifying warnings about the impacts of climate change, ever starker evidence of the plastics crisis, cities pushed to the brink by drought and floods, and the continued concentration of wealth in the hands of a few.

It has also given us hope in the form of people standing up for what they believe in and pushing for long-lasting, systemic change. Here, we round up seven striking images that sum up our world in 2018.

1. The Teen Who Gave Us Hope 

HANNA FRANZEN via Getty Images
Greta Thunberg holds a placard reading "school strike for the climate" during a protest outside the Swedish parliament on Nov. 30, 2018.

“I am doing this because you adults are shitting on my future.” This was the message printed on 15-year-old Greta Thunberg’s leaflets, which she handed out as she sat in protest outside parliament in central Stockholm over the summer. The Swedish teenager was striking from school in order to raise awareness about climate change, inspiring tens of thousands of other students to stage similar protests around the world.

Now, Thunberg spends every Friday on strike – or every Friday when she’s not attending international conferences. In December, Thunberg spoke at the U.N. climate change summit, telling world leaders: “You are not mature enough to tell it like is. Even that burden you leave to us children. But I don’t care about being popular. I care about climate justice and the living planet.”

2. The Deadliest Wildfire In California’s History

Firefighters work to keep flames from spreading through the Shadowbrook apartment complex as a wildfire burns through Paradise, California, in November.

November’s California wildfires were the deadliest and most destructive in the history of the most populous U.S. state. More than 80 people lost their lives, and many remain unaccounted for.

While President Donald Trump tried to pin the blame for the fires on forest mismanagement and a water shortage, California fire officials swiftly dismissed his claims. “It is our changing climate that is leading to more severe and destructive fires,” Scott McLean, deputy chief of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, told HuffPost

3. The Legacy Of A Corporate Scandal 

Jassen Todorov
Recalled Volkswagen and Audi cars parked in California’s Mojave Desert.

In this award-winning picture, Jassen Todorov captured some of the thousands of recalled cars sitting idle in California’s Mojave Desert in the wake of the Volkswagen emissions scandal. 

In 2015, Volkswagen was exposed for using software to deliberately falsify emissions tests to make its diesel cars appear less polluting. 

Following the scandal, millions of cars were recalled, chief executive Martin Winterkorn resigned and was subsequently charged with conspiracy and fraud, a senior executive was sentenced to seven years in prison, and the company pleaded guilty to conspiracy and obstruction of justice, resulting in more than $4 billion in fines

“By capturing scenes like this one, I hope we will all become more conscious of and more caring toward our beautiful planet,” Todorov told National Geographic.

4. The Water Crisis That Rocked The World

Morgana Wingard via Getty Images
Cape Town residents queue to refill water bottles at Newlands Brewery Spring Water Point in Cape Town, South Africa, on Jan. 30.

At the start of 2018, Cape Town residents were warned they were likely to run out of water in coming months. “Day Zero” would see the taps run dry as the South African city grappled with severe drought and high water use.

Fortunately, the crisis was averted, at least until 2019. The problem, however, is far from over ― and not just for Cape Town.

Water crises around the world are getting more severe. Water expert Peter Gleick wrote in HuffPost: “As the Cape Town crisis worsens, new fault lines will open between the water haves and have-nots. How the city handles it will be instructive for the rest of the world, as we all approach our own Day Zero.”

5. The Unveiling Of The World’s Most Expensive Shoes

GIUSEPPE CACACE via Getty Images
A pair of shoes worth $17 million on display at Burj Al Arab, Dubai, on Sept. 26, 2018. The "Passion Diamond" shoes feature hundreds of diamonds.

These $17 million diamond-encrusted golden stilettos are believed to be the world’s most expensive shoes. The photo shows a prototype that went on display at the world’s only seven-star hotel in Dubai in September.  

The golden heels are just one example of ostentatious displays of riches that seem perverse in the context of a growing concentration of wealth in the hands of a few. As wages stagnate for the majority of American workers, and the country grapples with poverty, three billionaires ― Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett ― together hold as much wealth as the bottom half of the U.S. population


6. The Rebels Demanding Systems Change

Antonia Salter
Extinction Rebellion activists gather on Nov. 17 in London, blocking the traffic in protest to demand action on climate change from the British government.

Marches and petitions are one thing. But, in the face of runaway climate change, some say we need to do more to disrupt the system that got us into this mess.

Extinction Rebellion, a nonviolent direct action group originating in the U.K., has been organizing giant swarms in British cities like London and Manchester to hold up traffic and disrupt the U.K. economy. The aim is to put pressure on those in power to do more about climate change while increasing public awareness of the environmental crises. 

The movement is going global, including to the U.S., where the San Francisco Bay Area chapter is just getting off the ground. 

7. The Whale That Died Full Of Our Plastic Waste

LA ODE M. SALEH HANAN via Getty Images
A 31-foot sperm whale washed up in Wakatobi National Park in Sulawesi province, Indonesia, in November.

A dead sperm whale washed up in a national park in Indonesia in November. It had more than 1,000 pieces of plastic waste in its stomach, including drinking cups, bottles, bags and flip-flops. 

The whale is just the latest sign that we are choking the planet with plastic waste. At least 8 million tons of plastics end up in the oceans each year, and it’s hardly surprising that some of that comes back to haunt us. Plastics end up in the stomachs of birdssnagged to coral reefs and even in human poop

The world is waking up to the problem. Despite some policy advances, such as plastic bag bans, and design solutions like biodegradable materials, progress remains slow.

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