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.