Ecocities of Tomorrow: Gary Braasch, Environmental Photographer


"Environmental photography is a combination of nature and documentary work that focuses on the world as habitat and biosphere and source of everything. This most strongly includes humans, who as mammals are completely affected by the environment and as technological beings are changing it more and more."

Part artist, part whistleblower, Gary Braasch is a one-man, wandering IPCC with a camera. Since 2000, he has traveled around the world documenting the effects of climate change for his World View of Global Warming project. His book Earth Under Fire: How Global Warming is Changing the World was published in 2007, and his next book How We Know What We Know About Our Changing Climate: Scientists and Kids Explore Global Warming, a children's book written with Lynne Cherry, has just been published. This week he agreed to share some of his work and insights with us at TreeHugger. Above: "The 2900 megawatt John Amos power plant near Charleston West Virginia looms over a neighborhood in Poca, across the Kanawa River. The Amos plant is consistently on the list of dirtiest power plants, its coal burning (2003 figures) makes it 11th in CO2 releases and 12th in SO2. It also emits mercury. Pollution from the 600 coal power plants in the US contribute to up to 30,000 deaths yearly. What to do about CO2 emissions is a severe issue now that the US government has delayed the experimental "FutureGen" sequestering project. It makes efficiency and conservation of energy all the more important."

"Chicago 1995, when an urban heat wave killed more than 700 people. This - and scientific predictions on the effects of global warming - foreshadowed the overwhelming heat wave of August 2003, when more than 30,000 deaths occurred across Europe, and the Northern Hemisphere's heat wave of 2006. Heath officials agree with climatologists that cities will increasingly feel the effects of disease and heat made worse by global warming."

"The US spends about $700,000 a minute on imported oil, and most of it is refined in places like this, Carson, California, in metropolitan Los Angeles. This neighborhood, like many others around the nation, shows the fact that Americans are affected by much more than the price of gas. The reliance on larger gas-guzzler vehicles and proximity to polluting industries means that millions suffer from related economic, safety and health issues."

"As this low aerial view of the Miami metro area coastline makes quite obvious, the entire area is within a few meters of sea level and faces a severe challenge from rising sea levels and stronger storms. Florida has the highest percent population change in recent years, and almost everyone is moving near the coasts and waterways. How to defend this multi-billion dollar, multi-million person coastline while cutting emissions to hold future change in check is a massive challenge."

"The Thames River Barrier against high tides, built in 1982 and now used six or seven times a year to protect London from flooding. Coastal cities around the world will have to build barriers such as this one and the dikes of Holland to adapt to sea level rise and stronger storms."

"60,000 square foot PV solar array on roof of Moscone Center, San Francisco, which generates enough power for 1000 homes. This roof is one of the first and largest owned by a city, but many businesses like Google and Fed Ex now have even larger installations. There is no unsurmountable reason (beyond the angle of the sun in northern latitudes) why most flat roofs cannot be covered with solar panels, generating enough to meet most of the current US need for electricity. That does not count the open space over parking lots, which could also generate enough power to recharge the electric cars, buses and trucks parked inside."

"The Pearl District in Portland, Oregon, where I live, site of an urban renaissance with an eye toward reducing carbon emissions. This area has new public transportation, new parks, and apartment and office buildings with energy saving features - part of Portland's drive to bring its total emissions to 1990 levels."

"Waves flood over a road during high tide on Funafuti, Tuvalu, main island in the tiny atoll nation 1000km north of Fiji, which is beset by rising sea levels. Only 4 meters above sea level, high tides bring with them the threat of flooding."

"Love of Earth, despite the cliché, does describe the feelings I have for this miraculous planet and its wonders. So I am fortunate to be able to bring its beauty and complexity to others. And that love feels violated by wanton destruction and waste, of which there is far too much, especially in the way the developed nations operate. It is my hope that educating others about what science and native observers teach about the world will result in more of us living humanely and within the capacity of the planet."

"My message is this: It is time for everyone, from single parents and their kids to leaders of the largest corporations to cut their energy use and not wait for governments to force us. The effects of global warming are advancing faster than is commonly known, and some of the most magnificent landscapes and most interesting cultures are being affected right now. That includes Americans. Governments work too slowly, so heroes from every walk of life need to make a difference right now."

This post is part of an ongoing series examining current and future trends in ecological city building ahead of the 2008 Ecocity World Summit during Earth Day Week in San Francisco this April.

All images by Gary Braasch.

Tags: Biodiversity | Earth Day | Pollution | Preservation

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