This Photographer Has Amassed the World's Largest Collection of Climate Change Images
For the past 13 years, award-winning environmental photographer Ashley Cooper has traveled across seven continents, amassing the world's largest collection of climate change images.
His work can be viewed on Global Warming Images as well as his new 416-page photo book, Images From a Warming Planet, featuring 500 of his best images. A selection of photos is also on display at the Archive Gallery at the Heaton Cooper Studio in the UK. The exhibition will run until the end of the year.
"[Climate change is] quite simply, the greatest threat that humanity has ever faced," the UK-based artist told EcoWatch. "It has the potential to essentially wipe 80 percent of humans off the planet, and most of the biodiversity we depend on."
"I hope that the book will act as a wake up call to show folks the devastating impacts that climate change is already having at one degree of warming and motivate action so that we stand some chance of avoiding the worst excesses of climate change," he said.
In 2010, Cooper won the prestigious, world-wide Environmental Photographer of the Year award in the climate change category. His website, Global Warming Images, is sponsored by WWF International and he regularly works with the Met Office and United Nations Climate Change Program.
The self-taught photographer has captured climate change's impact on people, places and wildlife around the world, including the Middle East refugee crisis that has been exacerbated by drought, Canada's destructive tar sands in northern Alberta and a polar bear that starved to death due to sea ice melt on the Arctic island of Svalbard.
On a more positive note, Cooper has photographed renewable energy projects such as green buildings and environmental pioneers such as the founder of an ashram in India that's 100 percent powered by renewables.
"You have to remain optimistic otherwise there's no point continuing. This is an issue about which every one of us can do something to make a difference. We all have a carbon footprint; we are all responsible," Cooper said.
Environmentalist Jonathon Porritt, the co-founder of the sustainability nonprofit Forum for the Future, provided a forward for the photo book and describes Cooper's work as a call to action.
"Do not flick through this extraordinary photographic record as just another snapshot in time," he said. "Do not be tempted into any kind of passive voyeurism; do not allow the power of the images to come between you and the people whose changing lives they portray. See it more as a declaration of solidarity, and as the powerful call to action that it surely is."
Cooper, 54, currently resides in Ambleside with his wife Jill and Border Collie, Tag. The photographer graciously provided us with some samples of his work, which we included in the video above, and took the time to answer our questions via email.
What first motivated you to do it?
I first started reading about climate change around the turn of the century. I was already doing a lot of outdoor/environmental photography and I decided to organize a specific climate photo shoot to Alaska in 2004. I spent a month looking at permafrost melt, glacial retreat, forest fires and had a week on Shishmaref, a tiny island between Alaska and Siberia that was home to 600 Inuits. There homes were getting washed into the sea because the sea ice that used to form around their island around late September, even in 2004, wasn't forming till maybe Christmas time.
I saw for the first time something I have seen many times since: That those least responsible for climate change, are most impacted by it. I was blown away by the impacts that even in 2004, was blindingly obvious that the Arctic was changing very rapidly. Important to remember that in 2004, around 50 percent of people I talked to about my planned photo shoot, had never heard of climate change.
What is your photographic background?
I'm completely self taught. My hobby changed into my profession. Initially, I just started using a camera to document the stuff I loved doing in the outdoors, climbing, caving, cycling, walking, etc. About 20 years ago, I started selling images to outdoor magazines and it all went from there.
Any particularly interesting stories from your travels?
I nearly fell down a snow bridged crevasse on the Greenland ice sheet. I was arrested by the Chinese Army, when I unknowingly pointed my long lens at a Chinese army barracks that has a load of solar panels on the roof. I was marched inside and spent two hours being interrogated, and was made to delete all the files on my camera. As soon as I got back to my hotel, I put the card through a recovery package and pulled them all back up again.
In the Canadian tar sands I was told by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police that If I so much as took one step off the highway they would arrest me for trespassing and lock me up for three months. I was tailed everywhere by police and security guards.
I was tailed for seven hours around London by four Metropolitan Police officers while documenting the protest against the third Heathrow runway. On my last photo shoot to Bolivia I was on my car hire when I had a head-on collision with an ambulance. I was on a section of road, where for reasons best known to the Bolivians, they decided on this one stretch you should change from driving on the right to the left, except they couldn't be bothered to put up any signs to tell you. After being recovered by the police, I was locked away in a hotel by my hire car company who constantly threatened me with arrest and jail, all while they tried to defraud my credit card of $50,000 USD for a car that even new was only $25,000 and was fully insured. I won't be using Europcar again. They did successfully take £7,000 off my card, which it took me 6 months to get my card company to agree that it was fraud.
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'These Aren't Wildfires'<p>Sam Ricketts, who led climate policy and strategy for Governor Jay Inslee's 2020 presidential campaign, tweeted on September 11 that "These aren't wildfires. These are #climatefires, driven by fossil fuel pollution."</p><p>"The rate and the strength and the devastation wrought by these disasters are fueled by climate change," Ricketts told DW of fires that have burnt well over 5 million acres across California, Oregon, Washington State, and into neighboring Idaho. </p><p>In a two-day period in early September, Ricketts notes that more of Washington State burned than in almost any entire fire season until now, apart from 2015. </p><p>California, meanwhile, was a tinderbox after its hottest summer on record, with temperatures in Death Valley reaching nearly 130 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the U.S. National Weather Service. It has been reported as the hottest temperature ever measured on Earth.</p>
<div id="29ad9" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8346fe7350e1371d400097cd48bf45a2"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1306969603180879872" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Drought-parched wetlands in South America have been burning for weeks. https://t.co/pjAKdFcKPg #Pantanal https://t.co/ImN2C5vwcp</div> — NASA Earth (@NASA Earth)<a href="https://twitter.com/NASAEarth/statuses/1306969603180879872">1600440810.0</a></blockquote></div><p>As evidenced by Australia's apocalyptic Black Summer of 2019-2020, fires are burning bigger and for longer, with new records set year-on-year. Right now, Brazil's vast and highly biodiverse Pantanal wetlands are suffering from catastrophic fires.</p>
#climatefires Started in Australia<p>Governor Inslee this month invoked the phrase climate fires for arguably the first time in the U.S., according to Ricketts.</p><p>But the term was also used as fires burnt out of control in Australia in late 2019. In the face of a 2000km (more than 1,200 miles) fire front, and government officials and media who <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/trump-climate-change-denial-emissions-environment-germany-fake-heartland-seibt/a-52688933" target="_blank">played down the link to climate change</a>, Greens Party Senator Sarah Hanson-Young and a friend decided that reference to bushfires was inadequate. </p><p>"We both just said, we've got to start calling them climate fires, that's what they are," the Australian Senator told DW.</p><p>Hanson-Young says scientists have been warning for decades that these would be the effects of global heating. "We've been told these kinds of extreme weather events and destruction is what climate change would look like, and it's right here on our doorstep," she said from her home state of South Australia — where by early September fire warnings had already been issued.</p><p>"Calling them climate fires was making it absolutely crystal clear. It is essential that there's no ambiguity," she said </p><p>Having deliberately invoked the term, Hanson-Young soon started to push it on social media via a #climatefires hashtag. </p>
How to Talk About the Urgency of Global Heating<p>The need to use more explicit language when talking about extreme weather events linked to climate change is part of a broader push to express the urgency of global heating. In 2019, activist Greta Thunberg tweeted that the term "climate change" did not reflect the seriousness of the situation. </p><p>"Can we all now please stop saying 'climate change' and instead call it what it is: climate breakdown, climate crisis, climate emergency, ecological breakdown, ecological crisis and ecological emergency?" she wrote. </p><p>"Climate change has for a long time been talked about as something that is a danger in the future," said Hansen-Young. "But the consequences are already here. When people hear the word crisis, they understand that something has to happen, that action has to be taken."</p><p><span></span>Some terms are now used in public policy, with state and national governments, and indeed the EU Parliament, declaring an official climate emergency in the last year. </p>
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Climate Rhetoric Could Help Decide Election<p>The language of climate has begun to influence the U.S. presidential election campaign, with Democratic nominee Joe Biden labelling President Trump a "climate arsonist."</p><p>Biden is touting a robust climate plan that includes a 2050 zero emissions target and a return to the Paris Agreement. Though lacking the ambition of The New Green Deal, it has been front and center of his policy platform in recent days, at a time when five hurricanes are battering the U.S. Gulf Coast while smoke blanketing the West Coast spreads all the way to the East. </p><p>People are experiencing the climate crisis in a visceral way and almost universally relate to the language of an emergency, says Ricketts. "They know something is wrong."</p>
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