Documenting Climate Change — Making Time and Distance Visible

Guest Post by Gary Braasch

In 2005, my interest in documenting climate change took me farther from my Oregon home than I had been for many years. With funds from a grant and a book advance from University of California Press, I was able to schedule trips to some of the most important but remote locations for global warming: China, Bangladesh, Baffin Island, and Tuvalu. These locations would prove to be crucial in my explanation and illustration of how climate change was affecting the world which became the book Earth Under Fire: How Global Warming is Changing the World.

In Tuvalu, a nation of nine islands just beyond the International Dateline in the South Pacific Ocean, the yearly highest tides, which they call King Tides, had been getting higher. More and more people on these tiny low-lying coral atolls were being flooded. I timed my trip in February 2005 for these high tides, and got images of water coming over roads and into people’s yards and gardens. At one house I encountered three kids, waiting out the floods on their sleeping porch (called a kaupapa).

2005 photograph of Tuvalu King tide floodingThis image not only became a chapter opener for Earth Under Fire, but it has been published hundreds of times ranging from national magazines and United Nations publications to textbooks and websites of small NGOs engaged in combating climate change. The photograph is for many a symbol of the reality of climate change effects right now on people in remote areas like Tuvalu, which is the one of the very smallest and least developed of all 190 UN members.

I had to leave Tuvalu right after making the image of the kids in 2005, and was not able to get much information about them. This year I was able to find funding to return to the region to revisit Tuvalu. The first thing I did was try to find that house and those kids — who now would be 6 years older. I was overjoyed — almost speechless — when I showed the 2005 photo to a woman sitting at the door of the house and she said, “Those are my kids, I’m the mother!”

2011 photograph of Tuvalu kids waiting in King tide floodThe kids are the boy Falevac and his sister Meere Safefa, now 17 and 9 respectively (the third kid, a young girl, is now in high school on another island of Tuvalu). As the tide rose again, I made a matching image of the brother and sister, now standing because the platform they had sat on has been torn down. A photo-essay on my website www.worldviewofglobalwarming.org has the story of the kids and the family. Other portfolios on the website update and expand the information about the tides and the fate of this small island nation which faces many other issues along with climate change.

Meere with her mother in 2011

Photography and text Copyright © 2005 – 2011 Gary Braasch. All rights reserved.

Gary Braasch is an Ansel Adams Award-winning photojournalist and a fellow of the International League of Conservation Photographers. He is the author of Earth under Fire: How Global Warming Is Changing the World (UC Press, March 2009).