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Meltdown

Meltdown

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Published by Viennalooi

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Published by: Viennalooi on Mar 23, 2010
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09/27/2010

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MELTDOWN
15
by
BILL M
C
KIBBEN
 photographs by
GARYBRAASCH
FOR A LONG TIME——THE FIRST FIFTEEN YEARS THAT WEKNEW
about global warming and did nothing—therewereno pictures.That was one of the reasons for inaction.Climate change was still “theoretical,thewordthat people in power use to dismiss anythingfor which pictures do not exist.It is the reason wedon’t see shots of coffins coming back from Iraq;it’sthe reason the only prison abuse we really knowabout was at Abu Ghraib.Without pictures,nouproar;not in a visual age.
But nowthe pictures have started to come,and they will not cease.Some showpeople:airlifted off the roofs of their houses in NewOrleans’Lower Ninth Ward in the mad wake of Katrina,staring attheir houses crumbling into the sea on the Alaskan coast,watchingtheir graveyards flood on South Seas islands.Some show the mas-sive power of nature,made more massive by our injection of chem-icals into the atmosphere:walls of flame crashing up SouthernCalifornia hillsides,enormous waves breaking over Mississippi sea-walls.Some arealmost clinical:the bathtub rings around dryingreservoirs as evaporation takes its course.And some have the stately,
PHOTOGRAPHERGARY BRAASCH
inside an icecave on the edgeof the Marr IcePiedmont, AnversIsland, Antarctica.The cave report-edly has sincedisappearedas the glacierretreated.
Meltdown
AGlobal Warming Travelogue
 
16
MAN VS. EARTHMELTDOWN
17
cold precision of the really big view:the satellite pictures,for instance,that show the steady melt of the sea ice above the ArcticOcean.(Theyarelikethe before-and-after pictures from somemakeover gone horribly wrong,the beautiful world disfigured bysome out-of-control plastic surgeon.)Ithink that these pictures—many of them taken by GaryBraasch,who has chronicled this crisis more relentlessly than anyoneelse with a camera—will someday be the iconic images of our decade,even more than the shots of the Twin Towers aflame,becausetheypresage the images wewill spend this centuryviewing—on our screens,and out our windows.They are the opening shots of a moviethat will keep playing,with horrible relentlessness,for all our time onearth.It’s possible we’ll have more terrorist attacks—but it is not pos-sible that theywill pose the same threat to our civilization and to our planet as the steady horror now unfolding in what we used to callthe natural world.This is what the earth looks like now.Some things,of course,don’t show up in pictures.To reallyunderstand what’s going on,you need a split screen.On one side,there would be Tuvaluans in their sinking shacks,Bangladeshis intheir flooding paddy fields,Inuits on their crumbling shores;on theother side,some Ford,GM and Toyota ads for monster SUVs.Whenwe say that this is a man-made crisis,we don’t mean all men.Wemean those of us,of both genders,who inhabit the rich world— Americans make up 4 percent of the population but produce 25percent of the world’s carbon dioxide.Even the Chinese,who havebegun to burn lots of coal,can’t compare—that country’s emissionsmatched ours in the past year,but there are four times as manypeople there.And we’vebeen doing it for a hundred years.Thisone’s on us. You would also need a picture that somehow sums up theforces that keep us from doing anything about climate change.Astack of forty billion one-dollar bills 10,856 miles high might do— that’s how much profit ExxonMobil made in 2006,more profitthan anyother corporation in the history of corporate profits.Ittakes but a small fraction of that haul to buy the political juice thatkeeps Congress from acting responsibly.
US SCIENTISTS
explore theface of the receding MarrGlacier,near Palmer Station,Anvers Island, Antarctica.
COAL YARD, INNERMONGOLIA.
China adds anewcoal-burning powerplant large enough to powerDallas or San Diego everyseven to ten days.
 
18
MAN VS. EARTHMELTDOWN
19
But there are other iconic images emerging too,and some of them are much happier.Take the wind turbine,now the universalsymbol for a future of green progress:those huge blades spinningslowly against the Danish countryside,the German hills,the NorthSea coast—maybe soon against the backdrop of Cape Cod or theridges ofVermont,if the opposition can be overcome (oppositionrooted at least in part in an old set of iconic images of “unspoiltnature”).The breeze made visible,in a giant white wheel slowlyturning from past to future.And better yet are the pictures that show people rallying to theplanet’sdefense—a kind of immune system finally starting to kick in,hopefully before the sickness is too far gone.I’ve been thinking a lotabout pictures like that,as I’ve made the transition from writer toactivist.In early 2007,six college kids and I decided to see if wecould launch a large-scale protest movement in the United States.Weset up a Web site,stepitup07.org,and started sending out e-mailsasking people if theywould organize protests twelve weeks hence.We had no budget and no organization,but we soon found a deepstratum of people across America haunted by global warming andeager to do something about it.Before many weeks had passed,theyhad organized 1,400 separate rallies in all fifty states,the biggest dayof grassroots environmental protest since the first Earth Day in 1970.We thought long and hard about how to make the most effec-tiveuse of those rallies.And our answer was:pictures.We askedevery organizer to upload a photo of their rally to our Web sitebeforethe big afternoon was out.And we encouraged them tothink in visual terms.By nightfall,we had a collage of images from across America.Therewas an underwater demonstration off KeyWest—scuba divershoisting signs in front of a coral reef that,like all its cousins aroundthe world,will be destroyed unless we can bring the heating of theseas under control.In lower Manhattan there were thousands of people in blue shirts holding hands and forming a “sea of people”to show where the tideline will fall across some of earth’s mostexpensive real estate once seas start to rise.On the glaciated peaksof the far West (which won’t be glaciated much longer,as Braasch’spictures here make clear),alpinists made multiday ascents and then
AMING EUUM VELIT,
simipit,coremodit, core molor-tis atue euisi eum nulluptatem aliquis ciduis nostoodo lendredolor.
Top:
HOUSESIN THE SHADOW
of the Amos coal-fired powerplant in Poca, West Virginia.
Bottom:
CHINA STEEL PLANT,
part of Shougang Group,amajor coal-burner.

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