Climate change is arguably our world’s greatest threat in the 21st century. Global warming has led to rising sea levels, longer and more severe droughts, and increasingly unpredictable and dangerous weather patterns.
All of these events have contributed to mass migration and displacement of people across the globe. And yet, there is still no internationally recognized definition of a “climate refugee”. This lack of recognition would have been disheartening 20 years ago, but in 2017, which is already projected to top 2016 as the hottest year on record, it is terrifying.
In recognizing its lack of media coverage, environmental activists and journalists are experimented with an array of mediums to spotlight at-risk communities that may ultimately be forced from their homes. Photographers, in particular, have identified unique ways to expose the shocking results of a globally changing climate and garner public response.
One of these photographers, Josh Haner, took photographs for eight stories last year for The New York Times that explored the effects of climate change across five countries. Through a mix of drone footage, interactive media and still images, Haner was able to produce compelling visual content which illuminated the urgency of the issue. “Using a drone definitely created a sort of visual eye candy that we thought would make people want to explore articles that were covering complex themes through nuanced writing,” he said in an interview with The New York Times Lens Blog. “And we thought it would be a good way to pique the reader’s curiosity in order to scroll down and engage.”
Another photographer who has taken it upon himself to expose the effects of a warming planet is Ako Salemi. He embarked on this endeavor after noticing the rapid environmental changes in his home country, Iran, paired with national lack of global warming awareness. Last year, Salemi took his camera and embarked on a trip across the country to document drought, deforestation and barren salt flats where lakes once stood. The resulting images show hauntingly dry landscapes that Salemi says were once flourishing areas. Salemi hopes the project will draw attention to internally displaced people in the country because of changes in the ecosystem and loss of agriculture.
The World’s First Climate Refugees, Vlad Sokhi
Photographer Vlad Sokhin has recently turned to film in hopes of exposing the growing number of climate change refugees worldwide. Partnered with production company Seeker, Sokhin produced a video documenting Tuvalu, an island in the South Pacific Ocean where 15 percent of the population is already displaced due to rising levels, with that number expected to rise exponentially.
Like Haner and Salemi, Sokhin understands the power of visual imagery – particularly environmental crisis photography – to garner emotional empathy. Hopefully this type of work will lead to increased recognition of this imminent threat and, ultimately, collective work towards sustainable solutions.