Photographer J. Henry Fair has covered important environmental stories for Discover, from pork farms to toxic fertilizer byproducts. In January, powerHouse Books will be releasing Fair’s book The Day After Tomorrow: Images of Our Earth in Crisis, which includes essays from James Hansen, Allen Hershkowitz, and Frances May. Fair writes:
“Tremendous research has gone into understanding what is seen in these images. Information was gathered from numerous sources: newspapers, websites, the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), EIA (Energy Information Agency), environmental groups, satellite images, and other sources within and outside of government. However, even these attempts at exposing the problem at hand can sometimes fall short. Due to exemptions granted to powerful industries, some of the most egregious industrial scars are “off the record.” The notorious Bevill Amendment to the RCRA (Resource Conservation and Recovery Act) is particularly damaging. For instance, the uranium content of phosphate fertilizer waste is well known, but due to RCRA exemptions, appears nowhere “on the record,” and thus the industry escapes the expense of proper handling. Also, one can only photograph what can be seen; often the most dangerous pollutants are invisible.”
Above is an image from the book showing a waste from a paper products factory in Baton Rouge, Louisiana—aerators have created a pattern in foam on the surface of the pool. This image was one that Fair made during his initial investigation of industrial regions around the Mississippi from the air. Fair often researches a topic extensively, and identifies locations using Google Earth before traveling and hiring a local pilot.
While palm oil biofuel production is a major source of income for Malaysia, clear-cutting the rain forest for the palm plantations also has dramatic ecological and social costs. Palm oil biofuel production growth is fuelling the rapid clearing of the most biodiverse tropical forest in the world, endangering species that need this habitat. In addition, forests contain large quantities of carbon which are released when they are burnt to make space for farming. Photographer Daniel Kukla started photographing the palm plantations in Borneo in October 2010:
“For me, the word ‘Borneo’ conjured up vivid dreams of lush impenetrable rain forests teeming with life. Upon my arrival to the island of Borneo I was confronted by the reality of this place where huge tracts of old growth rain forest have been cleared for oil palm plantations. After many long drives through the countryside seeing only palm plantations, I wanted to see the landscape might look like from a different vantage point. I took a small propeller plane around the southern part of Sabah to get this aerial shot. Despite the strange beauty to the verdant parallel lines and snaking dirt roads, I felt a sinking feeling while I was photographing. So much has already been lost and the plantations continue to eat away into the landscape.”
Established and highly productive stands of oil palm in Sabah, Malaysia, 2010.
The brown squiggles you see here are ice worms making their living on the surface of the Whitechuck Glacier in the Cascade Mountains of Washington State. These relatives of earthworms—seen here alongside a disintegrating balloon littering the ice—are found only on the glaciers of the North American west coast, where they graze on algae and bacteria. Unlike other animals, the worms have a metabolism that seems to increase at lower temperatures; they typically die above 50 degrees Fahrenheit, and their tissues begin to break down at about 70 degrees. Some glaciers house more than 250 worms per square foot of ice, but as glaciers in the region recede, the worms are expected to disappear along with them.
They can be hard to photograph, because they avoid light and mostly appear at night. Photographer Ethan Welty: “I’d found balloons snagged on high peaks in the Cascades before, but there was something particularly alarming about the one I found on Whitechuck Glacier, the juxtaposition of the tangly green appendages of the balloon with the delicate black filaments of the surrounding ice worms.”
Ethan Welty/Aurora Photos
This photograph, taken in Masoala National Park, Madagascar, shows a Malagasi worker illegally felling a rosewood tree in UNESCO protected forest. Despite the risky work, dangerous conditions, and tremendous price of rosewood overseas, each worker is paid the equivalent of about four dollars per day. The wood is extracted deep from within the national parks and is financed by powerful local traders. The ancient and densely grained Malagasy rosewood trees are sought after for musical instruments and furniture. Plunder of the remaining rainforest stands for rosewood and ebony is wreaking ecological devastation in this unique habitat, home to around 14,000 species of plants, 90 percent of which exist here alone.
Photographer Toby Smith reports that after 4 months of continued unchecked extraction the labourers had to trek deeper into the forest to find stock. Smith met the worker in this photo previously, and asked permission to document him cutting a tree. One day this same worker suddenly appeared and beckoned Smith to where he and his partner were clearing the surrounding vegetation in order to swing an axe to cut down the tree. After making this image, the word was out that Smith was interested in tree-cutting, so Smith and his guide had to race back down the valley from there, their cover blown. The Environmental Investigation Agency will be using the photos Smith made in Madagascar as part of a case to prosecute those responsible for creating the international market for the illegally harvested woods.
Courtesy Toby Smith/Environmental Investigation Agency
This photo shows a portion of a massive fish kill in the Bayou Chaland area of Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana, taken on September 10, 2010. Plaquemines is Louisiana’s southernmost parish, where the Mississippi River meets the Gulf of Mexico. Counted among the dead fish were pogie, redfish, shrimp, crabs, and freshwater eels. A statement issued by the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries released the day after the fish kill stated the fish died from low oxygen levels and was not caused by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
P.J. Hahn, the Director of the Coastal Zone Management Department, points out the the LDWF came to that conclusion without taking any water or fish samples of the area. P.J. Hahn: “We had three fish kills in eight days, all in areas that were heavily oiled during the Deep Horizon Oil spill. The first was in Chaland Pass, the second near Bay Joe Wise and the third was in Bay Robinson. All kills covered areas approximately two square miles in size. I collected water and fish samples and turned them over to our DA’s office. Early independent testing results show the fish have oil in their gills and liver. Now a more detailed testing will indicate the fingerprint of the oil to see if it matches the BP Deep Horizons oil.”
Courtesy P. J. Hahn/Coastal Zone Management Department
Recent gold prices at over $1,000.00 per ounce have fueled a modern gold rush that has sent hundreds to the hills and mountains of California to try their luck. This is not just a story of plucky individualists living on the edge, it is also a story of land use rights and the environment. The miners use lower-impact methods of panning and sluicing, but they are also using suction dredging in the quest for gold. Suction dredging sucks the river bottom up and through a sluice to isolate gold flakes; then the sediment is sent back into the river. Environmentalists point out that this is harmful to aquatic habitat and can stir up mercury pollution from historical mining. And the extraction is intensive: 10 or more such dredges can be found in a single mile of river. California passed a law in 2009 banning suction dredging to limit this practice.
New York based Photographer Sarina Finkelstein started her project Prospectors about modern-day gold miners in California last year. She recently returned to California to continue the project, documenting the impact of this recent legislation on the mining community. The centerpiece of Ironstone’s Heritage Museum in Murphys, California, is the largest crystalline gold leaf specimen in the world. Weighing forty-four pounds, this specimen of gold was discovered by the Sonora Mining Company on Christmas Day, in 1992, fifteen miles from its current home at Ironstone. Crystalline gold is one of the most rare and precious natural gold formations. Crystalline gold leaf consists of gold that has been deposited in layers between quartz, clay, maraposite, decomposed shale and pyrite. Sixty-three pounds before preparation, it spent almost a year in an acid bath washing away most of the surrounding matrix to ultimately reveal the forty-four pound specimen. The “Gold Pocket,” as it has come to be known, is 98 percent pure, making it a specimen of especially high quality and value.
Courtesy Sarina Finkelstein
Lucky for us, avid volcano lovers Stephen & Donna O’Meara are also dedicated photographers. You can see images made by the O’Mearas and other adventurous souls in the upcoming exhibit Extreme Exposures at the Annenberg Space for Photography in Los Angeles. Extreme Exposures will showcase photographers have made careers of capturing some of the earth’s most extreme environments. Extreme Exposure will be open for viewing October 23, 2010 through April 24, 2011 at the Annenberg Space for Photography in Los Angeles.
Stephen & Donna O’Meara explain the chaos in above photograph: “As the hot eruption cloud swirls, a vortex is created that spins off rare volcanic cyclones. As red rivers of lava pour into the Pacific Ocean from Hawaii’s Kilauea Volcano, huge explosions blast fragments of hot lava and cinder upwards 1,000 feet or more. These pieces of fragmented lava are called tephra –the booming tephra explosions create arcs of color during long exposures. During the daylight hours the hot lava looks black. As sun goes down it begins to glow red and a vast steam clouds form as it meets with ocean water.”
Courtesy Stephen & Donna O’Meara/Annenberg Space for Photography
Kilauea Volcano, Hawaii USA, 2008