Climate change in everyday life | #doingyourbit | DW | 28.08.2015
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Climate change in everyday life

Photographer James Whitlow Delano runs Everyday Climate Change, a successful Instagram feed. It's the best way to reach people, he says. Today, the feed features the work of photographers from all over the world.

A young man in floods in Kiribati (Photo: Vlad Sokhin)

Kiribati - Peia Kararaua, 16, swims in the flooded area of Aberao village that is located in Tarawa atoll, Kiribati. Kiribati is one of the countries most affected by sea level rise. During high tide many villages become inundated making large parts of them uninhabitable.

Global Ideas: Everyday Climate Change is meanwhile a successful instagram feed, how did you come up with the idea?

#link: Whitlow Delano#: The idea hatched last fall. I wanted to explore new ways to reach people on the issue of climate change and was planning to do an #link: feed# employing the work of many photographers. Personally, I had already a large archive of 20+ years of environmental documentary photo work but I had found that a common thread running through the work was the issue of climate change.

Then in October, I was showing environmental work on Ecuador and on the side effects from contamination to the water, soil and air from petroleum exploration in Saint Brieuc, France. I met #link: DiCampo#, co-founder of #link:, which was the first “Everyday” feed and let to this grassroots movement on Instagram.

Peter is an inspiring person and completely normal person despite that huge buzz that his work has generated. I talked to him about my idea to start a climate change feed on Instagram and, after returning to Japan, I decided to float the idea of including this feed in this loose-knit family of “Everyday” feeds. Peter was very supportive and he even joined the feed as a member photographer.

A red sky in the US. Nina Berman

United States of America - Flaring from shale gas drilling operations turns the night sky orange at a farm in northeastern Pennsylvania, USA where the rush to exploit shale has turned farmland into gas fields. A 2011 report in "Climate Change" evaluated the greenhouse footprint of shale gas obtained by hydraulic fracturing and found that the methane emissions have a 20% greater greenhouse gas footprint than coal operations. These findings challenge industry arguments that fracking and shale gas are clean energy solutions.

Who are the people behind the project, who can participate?

I initially invited photographers to join the feed and #link: Gardi# suggested that the feed also be open to Instagram users how hashtag #everydayclimatechange. If the photos fit our criteria, we will post them.

I have met many very talented photographers this way. In fact, before founding this feed, I did not know #link: Gattoni# and saw her work on the feed. Her beautiful, high impact photographs caught my eye. I asked her to join the feed as a member photographer and she has quickly become an absolutely core to the project and a driving force forward on everything we do.

What's the professional background of the main photographers of Everyday Climate Change?

Most of the photographers are photojournalists. In my own case, I have lived in Tokyo for 22 years, and much of that time has been either in China or in the rainforests of Southeast Asia, where I am right now (Malaysia).

East Asia has experienced unprecedented growth but it has not come without paying a price. If I were to describe what I have seen, most people would simply not believe it like, clear skies in China turned grey and overcast by coal smoke, industrial scale clear-cutting of the Malaysia rainforest which is 110 million years old to make room for oil palm, sand deserts burying communities on grain of sand at a time until tons of sand covers structures in the Gobi Desert of China. This is just a tiny sample of what I have seen and all of it either is a result of a changing climate or human activity that is causing climate change. I have read widely about what I have seen to be certain that what the photographs assert is backed up by scientific research.

That last point is crucial. If Everyday Climate Change is to have any influence at all, viewers need to trust the texts that accompany the photographs. If a photograph does not represent human-induced climate change or the caption is not accurate, the photo will either be pulled down outright or the caption will be corrected. We also welcome our viewers to comment and challenge us.

What are you up to in the future?

Well, the next step is outreach because the discussion is just beginning. There is a lot of talk about the upcoming #link: talks but I want Everyday Climate Change to use that as a beginning, not an end. We have an ongoing exhibition at Palazzo Stelline in Milano, funded by #link: Eni Enrico Mattei (FEEM)# and the Institut Francais.

From September 10 – 20 Everyday Climate Change will #link: at Photoville# and I will give a panel discussion on the 19th of September at Photoville. Photoville is New York City’s largest annual photo event and admission is completely free.

dirty air and street in China (photo: James Whitlow Delano)

China - rucks piled high with coal wait to unload this highly polluting fossil fuel at a huge electric power plant, just south of Xingtai, rated the city with the most contaminated air in China. Xingtai, Hebei Province, China. The central government ordered the closure of 8,000 factories, mostly coal-powered like this electric power plant, last year in Hebei in an effort to clean the air in this province that traces a ring around Beijing. 7 of the 10 cities with the worst air pollution in China, according to a Greenpeace report last year, are in Hebei. Xingtai is rated the worst in China.

Are you traveling around the world full time for the instagram feed, or do you follow other projects as well?

I travel a lot and, as mentioned, I am in Malaysia now documenting a people, the Batek Negrito people, I have been documenting for over 20 years. The Batek look entirely African because they migrated from Africa to an African-like climate. They are part of the first migrations of humans out of Africa and, in fact, we, of European origins, East Asians and Native Americans are all more African because our ancestors left later than theirs and yet they still could fit in on the African continent. I love how it shows appearance is meaningless.

The Batek are in a desperate situation and face ethnic extinction as a people as massive oil palm plantation expansion (30km of non-stop plantations) has literally backed them up against a river (within 5 m of it). In front was a forest now clearcut for oil palm and beyond that is 30 km of plantations. Behind them is a national park where they are not permitted to hunt or gather. It is a human rights story and a climate change story. This kind of travel and exhibitions keep me on the road a large part of the year.

Do you see Everyday Climate Change as a life task?

I believe that media have failed to instill a sense of crisis about climate change. If there is no sense of crisis, I believe, ordinary, busy people will not act. My life task is to try to develop the skills to communicate this crisis. Climate change is already creating misery for hundreds of millions of people. The world will not end from this but I believe there will be many unnecessary deaths as a result of superstorms, long droughts, famine, ongoing mass migration like we see in the Mediterranean now (not entirely a climate change issue but certainly exacerbated by climate change), wars over water but there is a future for us and there are solutions. Part of the feed is to encourage photos of climate change solutions. So, the feed is intended to initiate a larger conversation about climate change.

How do you finance the project?

The beauty of Instagram is that you need no funding at all, beyond a smart phone and an internet connection. With outreach and exhibitions, that will not be the case and we are considering methods to generate funds for that, as in the current Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign to fund the Photoville exhibition and panel discussion.

We want to encourage our community to be active in the protection of nature and climate - Do you have a message for them?

I believe that we can have a positive effect on the climate change crisis by making careful purchasing decisions (buying from companies that source materials responsibly, avoiding food and cosmetic products palm oil from the most environmentally irresponsible corporations, using public transit or a bicycle when possible, by utilizing your vote, if you live in a democracy and by being mindful of greening your own community through educating yourself and your children (or parents), whichever the case may be. Perhaps Everyday Climate Change can be a source in that education process.

Thank you very much for the interview, James.

A melting iceberg (Photo: Ph. Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert)

Antartica - An iceberg floats in the Southern Ocean, off of Antarctica. A report published this week in Science journal states that the ice shelves around the edge of Antarctica are melting faster than previously thought. These ice shelves act as buttresses to the ice on land, and help slow the flow of glacial ice into the oceans. The West Antarctic Ice Sheet has been "long regarded as the more vulnerable part of the continent to climate change."

Two Xavante people (Photo: Rodrigo Baleia)

Brazil - Xavante people in Maraiwatsede Land. Local communities are very important to protecting the world’s last remaining forests. According to The Rights and Resources Initiative, indigenous peoples hold legal rights to one-eighth of the world’s forests, about 513 million hectares. The Maraiwatsede, here portrayed, got his land back last year, after decades of dispute with cattle ranchers and soya farmers. Local communities are helping to protect forests and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation.

Skyscrapers illustrated on a desert (Photo: Matilde Gattoni)

United Arab Emirates - Dubai is one the fastest-growing cities in the world and home to some of the world’s most ambitious engineering projects. Yet one has to wonder about the environmental and social price of such fast-paced development, and how sustainable it is over the long term. Given the importance of tourism to Dubai, the pressure to build ever-grander structures and attractions to lure in the tourists can only serve to act as a self-perpetuating spiral of unsustainability if allowed to go on unmanaged. Sand dunes are quickly being replaced by skyscrapers. How sustainable will it be to meet all the water needs of these new developments and what will the resulting energy needs contribute to the existing carbon footprint of Dubai? With sea water levels predicted to rise as climate change accelerates and with the islands only being 4m above sea-level, one can only wonder whether we are looking at a ticking time bomb. Over time, will rising sea levels encroach on the Dubai’s prime waterfront properties, turning them into underwater cities and lost investments?

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