Activism, Coal and Arizona

“Just seeing the future for us and knowing that they [our parents] wanted a better future for us, fern benallyI have the same feeling for, not myself, but the kids and for my relatives and that something better will be in the future for them, that keeps me going. Knowing that we have succeeded in one step and maybe we can continue on and see a better future for all of us.

[One of] the other things that keeps me going is knowing that one of my great aunts and my great uncles [had] respiratory problems. Their breath was taken away slowly inch by inch, feeling like they were being suffocated. When they died, thinking about them and thinking that how much better it would be for the rest of the people here. I don’t want them to die that way anymore, I want them to be able to breathe.” Fern Benally, Navajo Activist.

Shadia Fayne Wood from Project Survival Media and I just finished an assignment in Arizona, covering an incredible group of activists that are working hard to stop dirty energy on the Navajo Reservation and pushing the envelope on clean energy development. We are focusing on the closing of one of the coal mines in the area, the tactics that were used and what this means to the people affected by the closure.

The former coalmine is in the Benally’s backyard, land that has been the families for thousands of years. For the last 30 years, 24 hours a day, the large coal trucks would rumble by the house and the coal crusher would drown out nature. Now, thanks to incredible co-operation and dedication amongst groups like the Black Mesa Water Coalition, Grand Canyon Trust and the Sierra Club, the life of mine permit was revoked in January. Now, the Benally’s can hear the birds sing and watch the stars like their ancestors did long before Europeans came here.

There are still many examples of environmental racism here in Arizona and across our planet. But, it is important to celebrate victories and share the knowledge so that we can all move towards a sustainable future. More to come on this project in the future.

Canadian Geographic – A Canadian scientist in Norway

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Photography in the most recent Canadian Geographic includes a feature story on the Canadian student, Robert Way and the Cryosphere project in the mountains of Norway. While photographing this assignment, I was blown away by not only the winds, but also the consistent rainbows that illuminated the Norwegian landscape.

The Cryopshere project allows Canadian students to come to Norway and work on climate studies and geographic studies. The writer, Scott Messenger, and myself spent days following the team into the harsh landscape of Norway, where the glaciers are receding and the landscape is shifting. Norway is a phenomenal place and I would return there in a heartbeat to create more images.

Kiboko bag and Norway – a success?

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to take my new Kiboko camera bag from Gura Gear on an assignment for Canadian Geogarphic in Norway. For years I have been using a trusty, Lowepro Nature Trekker. However, it is now suffering from acute zipper disorder and since the Lowepro hospital doesn’t cover zipper disorder, I went looking for a new bag.

I came across the Kiboko bag and the weight of the bag convinced me that it was the bag that would fill my needs. I travel and I want a camera bag that balances weight, durability, weather proofing and ease of use. The Kiboko bag appeared to do this, it will easily hold two pro canon bodies with any lens and is surprisingly comfortable on my 200cm frame.

Where did it go wrong? As I unpacked the box, I found the neat little rain cover and an ‘oh oh’ escaped my lips. I had a bad feeling that the elastic band would not hold the cover in a strong storm. Sure enough, on a ridge in Norway, horizontal rain and gale force winds, ripped the cover from my pack. The image below is the moment my subjects are watching it float away on the winds….

Fortunately, I was able to retrieve the cover on the slope below before my gear was compromised, but the design is a serious issue if it won’t hold in a storm situation. I will be forced to create a leash for the cover to hold it to the pack. If Gura adopted an integrated rain-cover approach, the cover would be attached to the pack and won’t get lost or blown away, a real problem when you need to access your gear in the wind and the rain. Perhaps they will consider this in the next line…

Despite the near escape, I found the pack worked well in all situations and I look forward to my new travel companion for many trips to come.

Train Vs. Airplane, the moral economics of an Assignment

Airplane
0.19 tonnes of CO2
Train
0.02 tonnes of CO2
Ticket Cost = €160
Taxi to Airport = €100
Carbon Offset = €5
Cost to future generations = Unfathomable
Total = Huge
Ticket Cost = €320
Taxi to Station/Back = €20
Good feeling and
Respect from Girlfriend = Priceless
Total = Priceless

In less then one hour I will embark on a 24 hour train ride for my next assignment in Norway. I am off to Norway to work on a climate change story for Canadian Geographic. For the last couple of years I have been focusing on climate change and particularly the youth movements across the globe. Whether at the United Nations Conference or a grassroots events, I have been documenting the young change makers of today.

Needless to say, I move around a lot and I am acutely aware of my personal carbon footprint on the planet. So when the opportunity came up for an assignment where it wasn’t necessary to take a plane, I jumped at the possibility.

Why spend 24 hours getting to a destination when I could simply go to Schiphol airport and get on a plane for 2 hours?

It isn’t actually all that hard to explain, air travel has for long been cited as one of the main causes of carbon dioxide and one the major contributors (between 4 – 9%) of global warming. Not only that, but aircraft emissions are special. Because they are produced at cruising altitudes high up, the emissions are more harmful. In fact, the IPCC estimages that the impact of aircraft emissions is 2 – 4 times high then the direct effect of the CO2 alone. See the David Suzuki website for more information.

By taking the train to Norway, I am responsible for 10 – 25% of the CO2 that I would if I were to take the plane. This makes me happy, this makes my client happy, it makes future generations happy and most importantly it makes my girlfriend happy. (ED. Note, upon consultation, said girlfriend has declared that she is not more important then future generations.)

Oman for National Geographic Traveler – Photography Assignment

I am back from my assignment for the Netherlands version of National Geographic Traveler.

I must admit, the climate in the Netherlands is much more conducive to clear thinking. From the moment we stepped onto the tarmac in Oman, it was about heat and humidity. Please note, I have become accustomed to stepping out of airplanes and being greeted with a different climate, but stepping out of the plane in Muscat was like walking in to a brick wall of fire and water. It was +45 and humid. To survive in the Capital, Omanis travel between air conditioned atmospheres as quickly as possible. When one taxi driver was asked what they did before air conditioning and he simply responded, ‘It was bad’.

The interesting thing about Oman was the layer of modern paint applied over a multi-thousand year history. It has been modernized in 30 years and once you break through that layer of paint, it shows. However, I think that I will let Thijs Joosten, the writer and editor of NG Traveler tell us more when his article is published.

On another note, I have never been to such a harsh climate for photography gear. Even the Arctic was nicer. Oman has some serious heat and some serious humidity. Stepping outside during the day with your cameras, is like stepping into a swimming pool atmosphere, the lenses fog right up. And Oman has sand so fine a simple gust of wind blows it everywhere.

A tip for future travelers, don’t wear ‘flip flops’ in the desert, the sand that gets kicked up when you ‘flop’ is at a perfect angle to cover your camera on your shoulder.

On Assignment – Oman

I haven’t been posting for a bit because I was in Prince Edward Island taking a break. I just wanted to say that I am back in the game, at least I will be when I return from this trip in Oman. I am on assignment for National Geographic Traveler and will be back in the Netherlands on the 8th. Till then…..