Imperiled landscapes

Since 2006, I have been photographing landscapes and communities that are being devastated by climate change. The project has grown out of my professional work over 25 years to advance worldwide solutions to reduce the carbon footprint of cities, including most recently LED municipal streetlighting.

I have not focussed on the mounting damage due to climate change. Many photographers are already doing that terrifying job very effectively. Rather, I'm interested in recording the natural beauty we can save—if we act in time. I also believe it is imperative to document what we might lose if solutions don’t pan out. We owe that to future generations. They should know what their forbears lost.

There isn’t any doubt. Climate change imperils our earth. Rising sea levels, recurring droughts and floods, and extreme weather endanger thousands of vulnerable communities, from Arctic Inuit hamlets to Pacific atoll nations. 

But make no mistake. My long practical experience tells me there is considerable hope. Robust technologies are widely available to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. For instance, if the world leapfrogged to LED lighting, 735 million tonnes of CO2 emissions could be avoided annually, the equivalent of removing 140 million cars from the road (source: US DOE). What is needed is greater political will informed by fervent public advocacy. The 2015 Paris Agreement is just the start. Photography, exhibits, and talks can help.

Recent climate science is frightening. March 2016 global temperatures measured by scientists smashed a 100-year record. The global average could rise four degrees by 2100. Due to the warming ocean, massive stretches of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef are bleaching and dying. Meanwhile, National Geographic reported, “Scientists Are Watching in Horror as Ice Collapses” in Antarctica. Six feet of global sea level rise by 2100 is not out of the question.

Already Arctic Inuit hamlets are sinking into melted permafrost. Along coastlines, hugely valuable wetlands are disappearing. Coral reefs composed of living polyps equivalent spatially to the size of New Hampshire have died. Urban watersheds are drying out, threatening city water supplies worldwide. Entire island nations and their peoples face eventual inundation.

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2015 was the hottest year since recordkeeping began in 1880. Source: NASA/Getty Images

2015 was the hottest year since recordkeeping began in 1880.
Source: NASA/Getty Images

Collapse of the Larsen B Ice Shelf in Antarctica.
Source: NASA

Coral reefs in the Federated States of Micronesia and the Republic of the Marshall Islands are threatened. Source: NOAA Coral Reef Watch