Climate Change, Copenhagen and China | Special Post

Posted by on Dec 7, 2009 in News | No Comments

A sandstorm in China's central Ningxia Province. 2009

A sandstorm in China's central Ningxia Province. 2009

As many followers of my work and my blog will know, much of my work falls within the category of environmental photography. As talks begin in Copenhagen today, on the immediate future plans of our governments to tackling climate change, it seemed appropriate to write a special blog post on photographing climate issues in China. In between the text are some of my favourite images from my work on climate change here in China.

A lone chimney stack on the outskirts of Baoding, China's first carbon-positive city. 2009

A lone chimney stack on the outskirts of Baoding, China's first carbon-positive city. 2009

It seems that photographing climate issues have become quite a trendy topic recently. Magnum photographer Martin Parr recently described it as “as hip as it gets” in a recent blog post (via/ the excellent Duckrabbit, who do sterling work on Climate issues in Bangladesh, by the way). This is all unsurprising really. Climate change is the story of our generation and it’s a bandwagon that everyone should be jumping on. Our responsibility as photographers comes with truly understanding the issues we are photographing and being clear in the message that we are trying to convey with our pictures.

The blade of a wind turbine. 2009

The blade of a wind turbine. 2009

I like to think I have a slight advantage in covering climate issues as my educational background stems from that direction. My interest in the sciences stemmed from high school in northern rural England and was fuelled by a degree in Zoology. Whilst many of my course colleagues and friends went off into scientific research, teaching and working for science journals, I decided to follow my passion for photography. I naturally gravitated towards photographing environmental issues. Now, my bookshelves are lined with as many books about photography as about science.

A worker in a factory producing solar panels. 2009

A worker in a factory producing solar panels. 2009

Today, I find myself in China photographing from the front line of climate change. During my time in the country, I have photographed air pollution, desertification, environmental refugees, sandstorms, disappearing grasslands, wind power, solar manufacturing etc. all key instruments and factors in the myriad of ways China is involved with how our world is changing.

Air pollution hanging over Shanghai. 2008

Air pollution hanging over Shanghai. 2008

I really do hope that some kind of concrete and progressive agreements will be agreed upon this week which start to push us in the right direction, however I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t skeptical and a little pessimistic. What can I do? How can I make even a jot of difference? Well, it is up to me to try and get my work out there. ‘Out there’ in the sense of getting it in front of the eyes of people that matter. That includes you. I want you to see what I am seeing and witnessing here in China and present it in a way that is clear, reasoned and visually arresting. Why? Because we should all know what is happening to our planet. What happens here in China affects you, wherever you may be reading this from.

Tourists travelling on the Yangtze River near to the Three Gorges Dam. 2008

Tourists travelling on the Yangtze River near to the Three Gorges Dam. 2008

This week, my work on desertification will be shown in Copenhagen as part of the Earth Journalism Awards. I received an honorable mention for my work on “China’s Growing Sands” and I am delighted visitors to the summit will have a chance to view my images from my work on desertification. This will be my small contribution. As I have blogged about before however, I am increasingly pushing this work online and in print into as many different outlets as possible, trying to spread the word.

Human remains in the abandoned city of Yingpan in Xinjiang province. 2009

Human remains in the abandoned city of Yingpan in Xinjiang province. 2009

My single goal as a photographer is assist in the understanding between cultures and people. It’s a simple goal. I have no delusions that I think my photography ‘will change the world’ but I hope that it informs and increases awareness. I just want to understand the world better myself. I hope when others look at my images, they can understand it more with me. With a camera in my hand, I think I can do this and do my part. As one of my heroes, the late Magnum photographer Philip Jones Griffith’s, said, “You have to leave this world a better place.” Let’s hope our leaders do.

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