A Letter to the Editor of Canadian Geographic

Update: September 12, 2013. When I wrote the letter below to Mr. Harris he provided me with a very comprehensive reply. I am posting that reply here so you can read what he had to say. I am prompted to do this as Warren Bell, (commenting below) has now written an open letter to Canadian Geographic about their surprising Energy Issue in June 2013, read it here. The response from Mr. Harris is below.

The October issue of Canadian Geographic is all about climate changenorway climate change . Wonderful I say, but…..

It has been tarnished by the Canadian Government message of ‘Climate Prosperity’. This really disappointed me. I have worked with Canadian Geographic in the past and I feel that they  have been compromised while promoting this piece of spin.

You can see the slogan and diagram in question here (on a tar sands funded website), or read Desmogblog for a bit more information on this. Below is my response and letter to the Editor of Canadian Geographic.

Eric Harris
Canadian Geographic
1155 Lola Street, Suite 200
Ottawa, Ont. K1K 4C1

Dear Mr. Harris,

As a Canadian photographer who focuses on climate change internationally and whose work has been featured in Canadian Geographic, I congratulate you on your dedication to climate change in the October 2010 issue. However, I was disappointed at the magazine’s choice to promote the industry and government-created slogan of ‘Climate Prosperity’.

The ‘Climate Prosperity’ project publicly states its aims as being to acknowledge the need to adapt to and mitigate climate change, and to profit from this mitigation. However, I believe this slogan is an intentionally manipulative exercise in spin from an industry and government who have no intention of curbing carbon emissions.

The term ‘prosperity’ communicates to the reader that climate change will be overwhelmingly positive for Canada, although your articles and the ‘climate prosperity’ diagram state otherwise. It incorrectly implies that we do not have to act ambitiously to mitigate climate change. And, it ignores the plight of millions around the world adversely affected by climate change.

I was saddened that Canadian Geographic, a respected, politically independent institution, and wonderful work partner, supported the government and oil industry in this instance. Having documented the progress of the UN climate conferences for the last three years leading up to the Copenhagen summit, I can tell you with certainty that our government’s climate policy is abysmal and the most regressive in the world. I believe strongly that this sort of greenwashing and politics does not belong in the pages of Canadian Geographic.

Mr. Harris, thank you for taking the time to read my concerns. I would welcome a response and I hope that we can continue to work together on environmental and climate issues in the future.

Robert van Waarden

Response from Mr. Harris

Hi Robert,

Many thanks for your letter. We’re past the deadline for it to appear in the next issue, but I will ensure that it is included with all the additional letters that we’ll post online. (The entire letters to the editor section consists of reactions to the theme of the October issue.)

Here’s my perspective of our partnership in this issue: the National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy, which was established by the Mulroney government in 1988 in response to the Bruntland Report, is (in principal, at least) an independent advisory council whose mandate is to advise government on policy pertaining to the environment and economy. Its board members, appointed for finite terms, come from a range of backgrounds — business, science, environmental advocacy — although, it’s true, they are political appointments. NRTEE’s mandate, though, is to objectively conduct and assess environmental science and develop non-partisan policy advice. Whether government accepts this advice is another matter.

Its “Climate Prosperity” program is one aspect of its much larger body of work; and I agree, it certainly could have chosen a less provocative title.

Ultimately, though, the goal with this project (or, at least, my interpretation of the goal) is to alert Canadians that (a) climate change (warming in some regions, cooling in others, more extreme weather, issues with water quality and quantity, etc.) is without doubt happening; (b) reduction and mitigation, of course, must be the priority (c) even if anthropogenic carbon outputs ceased today, it would take decades for the environment to remediate, and thus we should be prepared for conditions to change. In economic terms, most change will be for the worse; some for the better. Either way, we’d be smart to get ready to adapt, rather than ignore. And some may find prosperous opportunities in adapting.

The magazine’s editorial line-up was independently developed; NRTEE did not suggest, dictate or vet the magazine’s editorial content. (We did cite some of their sources/reports.) The component they did provide, which we reproduced, was the “Degrees of Change” diagram on the poster map. (It’s the result of NRTEE’s compilation and analysis of a couple of decades worth of climate science reports.) We felt this was of interest to our readership because it attempted to depict, for the first time, Canada-specific climate impacts in one assemblage. Whether the points on the diagram are understated or overstated has become a significant part of the debate/discussion triggered by the RCGS/NRTEE partnership.

I view this project as one in a continuum of climate change coverage by Canadian Geographic dating back to the 1980s. While this issue may have been overly Canada-centric, others (see CG October 2008, for example) have included a strong international perspective.

I don’t see that we are “supported the government and oil industry” with this issue. They are significant, omnipresent players, with the right to purchase ad pages to covey their messages, but they had no influence on editorial content. That was all our own doing!

Robert, I really appreciate your taking the time to write. Of all the letters we’ve received, yours is one of the most articulate ones. Which is what prompted me to provide such a lengthy reply.

Best regards,


Eric Harris
Canadian Geographic

Canadian Geographic – A Canadian scientist in Norway


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.

Irish Moss Photography – Canadian Geographic Photographer

My photography essay on the Irish Moss Industry on Prince Edward Island, Canada, appears this month in Canadian Geographic.

The story behind these photographs begins one blustery morning when the rain was pelting my tent whilst camping with family and friends. The dawn brought with it a slew of men and horses, crawling the North Cape beach and collecting the ‘blessing from the sea’. The photography that day was moody and dramatic as exhausted horses and jubilant men played in the stormy waves. The seawater dripped off their backs, no damper to the joy brought by the bounty the sea had bestowed upon them.

This led me to investigate further. I met Carl Doucette, a brick of a man who has spent over 50 years raking the moss off the sea bed. His arms are testament to the physical labour that has defined his life and his spirit is calming. Having spent so much time on the water, Carl’s is a man comfortable with his place in the world. We sat in his kitchen drinking coffee and tears filled his eyes as he recounted his story about the decline of his industry and his uncertain future.

Heading out on the water with Carl that afternoon will remain one of those memorable experiences as a photographer. The sun glinted off the waves and the moss raked from the sea quickly piled up in the boat. I tried my own hand at raking in the moss and was quickly reminded why Carl’s arms were small trees. It was an honour to spend time with Carl and I am indebted to his story and time for making this essay possible.

My thanks also goes out to the folks at Shea’s Irish Moss Plant in Anglo Tignish. They were kind enough to allow me to work with them for a few hours and photograph their dusty, cavernous operation. They bale the moss into packages that weigh over 120 lbs, (as eagerly demonstrated to me by Rodney, the strong man in the operation).

It was a pleasure to put this essay together. Now go out to your nearest newsstand (in Canada) and buy the issue to see the 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

0.19 tonnes of CO2
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.)