Snapshots of a Warming World

Gary Braasch’s new book documents global warming around the world.

By Susan Cosier

Last night, within the dark, wooden walls of the Explorer’s Club in New York City, Gary Braasch, an award-winning photojournalist, presented images of melting icebergs, eroding shores, and hungry polar bears.

Scientists around the planet are collecting data on how the world is changing because of greenhouse gas emissions, but the direct consequences of global warming can be difficult to see or even imagine. Braasch took these photos, printed in his new book Earth Under Fire: How Global Warming is Changing the World, to demonstrate what global warming is doing to the ends of the earth—and everything in between.

“Now we’re not just talking about plants and animals and glaciers; we’re talking about human life,” he said to the audience.

Braasch, a friendly, gray-haired man with round glasses and a beard, has created numerous photo essays for articles on fragile ecosystems—including the Costa Rican rainforest and tide pools—for publications including Life and Smithsonian.

He began photographing the effects of climate change in the ‘90s. He took trips around the globe following researchers and documenting what he saw, all of which were largely paid for by private funds he raised himself. With his photos, he hopes to educate people and convince political leaders that the time to take action against global warming is now.

In Alaska, he captured images of valleys that were once covered in ice; in China, photos of children playing on parched, cracked mud; in Bangladesh, pictures of an entire community standing along eroding shores less than three feet above the water’s surface.

His photos also feature scientists whose reseach is included in the nearly 30,000 studies reviewed for the International Panel on Climate Change reports, 90 percent of which show results that correlate with rising temperatures.

But despite all the startling images, Braasch’s message is hopeful. He believes that there is a way to mitigate the effects of a warming planet and reduce our carbon emissions. Braasch argued that all new construction needs to be environmentally friendly, car companies shouldn’t make vehicles that aren’t hybrids, and there should be stronger leadership to ensure that we inflict less harm on the earth.

Braasch’s work on documenting a changing planet will not end with the book. He plans to return to many of the places he visited in making the project to capture how they will change as temperatures continue to climb. A children’s book is also in the works.

To conclude his presentation, Braasch put up an image from the end of World War II. It shows soldiers celebrating the end of the war and holding up a newspaper with “Peace” as the headline. While Braasch doesn’t necessarily think that the end of a war is the best way to think of global warming because “we’re not going to see a day where it just stops,” he believes there could be a future in which there’s no longer the threat of a hotter planet.

Then there will be cause for celebration, he said as he flipped to another photo. It was the same image of the World War II celebration, but in place of the “Peace” headline on the papers, it read “Cool.”