Background: The Photographic Documentation of Climate Change
Background to the project
Initial proposal and photography I am an environmental photographer who for 25 years has reported on natural history in many parts of the world. In the course of many of these assignments, scientists mentioned changes occurring over long time spans that might be due to global warming. Very few of these changes were being photographed ... thus the genesis of World View of Global Warming.
"There is compelling evidence from all over the world that our planet's weather and climate patterns are changing rapidly," began my initial proposal in Fall 1998. "Droughts, receding glaciers and ice caps, extreme storms, rises in ocean temperatures and sea levels, shifts in distribution of organisms and diseases - scientists tracking these events overwhelmingly believe that global climate change is a fact. Many think human activities are a significant contributing cause. But this is not the message getting to the general public, nor is our political, industrial and environmental superstructure dealing well with the reality.
"This project began in noticing that the details of scientific evidence for global warming, and the publicity and policy actions reported about it, were incongruent. This is a generally misunderstood and muted issue. It is a serious challenge to journalists, photographers, and public interest publications. Helping to correct this, to illustrate the changes and research and publicize our stake in and possible responsibility for global warming, are the goals of this project.
"Gary Braasch will photograph areas on all continents that illustrate documented results of climate change. He is also seeking to repeat historic photographs to show the changes. He will work with environmental groups, scientists and editors to educate the public, urging government and corporate sectors to more directly address the reality of climate change."
In December 1998, this proposal received backing secured from Blue Earth Alliance, and initial funding was secured from the Wiancko Family Fund. Early in 1999 I sought advice from Dr. Ray Bradley of University of Massachusetts (a co-author of the 1000 year temperature chart) and arctic climate change expert Dr. Bruce Peterson of the Marine Biological Lab in Woods Hole MA. I began seeking private grants and magazine assignments and other scientific contacts (see Advisors and References)
By the end of 1999, I had crossed both the Antarctic and Arctic Circles accompanying field researchers. The first photography specifically for this project took place on a Discover Magazine assignment to a National Science Foundation geologic research cruise to Antarctic Peninsula ice sheets and glaciers.
Through hundreds of scientific contacts generously given by many advisors, I have endeavored to focus on shrinking glaciers around the world, coral bleaching, insect and animal range changes, rising sea level, and other effects. As often as possible my photographs actually show changes (or comparisons with old photographs), and all focus on locations where scientists are studying change.
In 2004 and 2005 I completed the first stage of photography thanks to renewed grants from the Wiancko Family Trust and a book advance from University of California Press. This book is now due for publication in spring 2007 under the title Earth Under Fire: How Global Warming is Changing the World. It features not only reports from scientists on our changing world, but also an extended chapter on what is being done now to keep global warming under control. See the Actions page for more information on this.
World View of Global Warming will continue with return trips to document changes in landscapes over these 7 years, and increasing focus on the techniques and initiatives being used all over the world to cut fossil fuel emissions and usher in a new age of energy and a cooling planet. I am very dependent on continued private, institutional and publication funding for this ongoing documentation.
In the short time since I started this project, science has continued to build the evidence for ongoing rapid climate change, as shown by the 2001 Third Assessment by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
"Available observational evidence indicates that regional changes in climate, particularly increases in temperature, have already affected a diverse set of physical and biological systems in many parts of the world. Examples of observed changes include shrinkage of glaciers, thawing of permafrost, later freezing and earlier break-up of ice on rivers and lakes, lengthening of mid- to high latitude growing seasons, poleward and altitudinal shifts of plant and animal ranges, declines of some plant and animal populations, and earlier flowing of trees, emergence of insects and egg-laying in birds."1
Climate change and its effects will be one of the prime events of the 21st century. It is real, it is accelerating across the globe, and it will affect more people than does war. [chart of temperatures from NOAA .gif file] Unfortunately the scientifically documented evidence has been far from political debate, rarely written about, and only occasionally seen by the public President Bush’s refusal to continue with the Kyoto climate treaty has created more debate. The issue has come into sharper focus with the rescue of the treaty by 178 other nations in November 2001, and by continued scientific reports.
Through hundreds of scientific contacts generously given by many advisors, I have endeavored to focus on shrinking glaciers around the world, coral bleaching, insect and animal range changes, rising sea level, and other effects. As often as possible my photographs actually show changes (or comparisons with old photographs), and all focus on locations where scientists are studying change. I am very dependent on continued private, institutional and publication funding. In 2004 I will complete travel to representative climate change locations and move forward on a book to be published by University of California Press.
Read article by Gary Braasch about his journey to Antarctica, from E Magazine.
Summary for Policymakers, Climate Change 2001: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability, Report of Working Group II, IPCC, Geneva, February 2001 page 3.