Vision of Climate Change

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There are certain photographs that become iconic. They engender an immediate connection with an event, tragic or triumphant. They put the event in human terms, often showing a family, as in Dorothea Lang’s iconic photograph of Florence Owens Thompson and her children.  The photo became the most famous image of the Great Depression in the United States.  It has become an iconic image of resilience in the face of adversity.

See here for a list of 27 photos that also fit the description. Perhaps the most famous compilation is Life Magazine’s 100 photographs that changed the world.

I started thinking about other events or phenomena that might engender an iconic image for  future generations. Climate change is just such a phenomena. We appear to be at the point, finally, where it is generally understood that a scientific consensus has been reached identifying human activity as the major cause of climate change.

There is an overwhelming level of scientific consensus on human-caused climate change. Over 95% of actively publishing climate scientists agree that the earth is warming and that human activity is the cause. In spite of this agreement, only about 50% the general public think that scientists have reached a consensus on human-caused climate change. Two sources of the discrepancy are the unbalanced portrayal of the situation in the media, and the Manufactured Doubt Industry.

James Lawrence Powell did a meta-study of almost 14,000 peer reviewed scientific papers written from 1991 to November 2012. His pie-chart says it all.

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Of course, there are still morons like Henry Paine of National Review who, as part of the “manufactured doubt” industry, intentionally confuse climate with weather, but when, in his inaugural address, President Obama called for America to lead the world’s response to the threat of climate change, it became clear that it is time to find an iconic image worthy of Dorothea Lang.

We, the people, still believe that our obligations as Americans are not just to ourselves, but to all posterity. We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations.

Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms. The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult. But American cannot resist this transition. We must lead it.

I am sure there are hundreds of photographs that could serve, but, for me,  the first image that came to mind was of the Holmes family huddled in the water as the Tasmanian wildfire raged around them.

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I feel that this picture has that same emotional impact as Lange’s photograph. It depicts a family, in this case a grandmother and her grandchildren, clinging to each other- resilience in the face of adversity.

What I find most amazing is that, unlike the posed Lang photograph, this picture was taken by the children’s grandfather in real time.

Here is how the UK’s Guardian newspaper described the photo.

These stunning pictures of five young children and their grandmother huddled together under a jetty in the Tasmanian town of Dunalley were captured by their grandfather Tim Holmes. The family was forced to stay in the water for several hours as homes around them were razed to the ground. The pictures, taken on 4 January have just been released

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