The New York Times: Carbon’s Casualties—Josh Haner’s Journey into a Crisis Gripping Our Planet

Installation view of “Carbon’s Casualties” at HACC, 17 January – 20 February, 2020. Image courtesy of K11 Art Foundation.
Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone National Park. Image courtesy of Josh Haner/The New York Times.
Rising sea levels in Kiribati. Image courtesy of Josh Haner/The New York Times.
Polar Bears around the town of Kaktovik in Alaska. Image courtesy of Josh Haner/The New York Times.
Marine iguanas feeding on algae (CK) underwater near Cabo Douglas off Fernandina Island in the Galapagos Islands. Image courtesy of Josh Haner/The New York Times.
Portrait of Josh Haner.
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ART AND SUSTAINABILITY

Carbon’s Casualties cuts through the static of climate change discourse with a series of arresting imagery imbued with rich journalistic narrative. Photographed by The New York Times’ Pulitzer Prize winning Josh Haner, this eye-opening exhibition is on view at HACC, Hong Kong’s newest art space, through 16 February, 2020. 

TEXT: Carina Fischer
IMAGES: Courtesy of Josh Haner, The New York Times and K11 Art Foundation

Installation view of “Carbon’s Casualties” at HACC, 17 January – 20 February, 2020. Image courtesy of K11 Art Foundation.

 

Climate change is a contentious issue, with increasingly heated debates that have spread on a global scale. Many of us have grown numb to the repeated statistics and images heard and seen across the world, and in doing so fail to see the true impacts of a warming climate, the consequences that go beyond statistics. Presented by The New York Times in collaboration with K11 Art Foundation, Carbon’s Casualties seeks to enlighten and connect with the viewer through a series of visually stunning images that speak volumes about the stories behind the photo. Haner’s images convey the urgency and pressing nature of the climate crisis, highlighting the dire realities that far too many face.

In Haner’s journey chronicling the debilitating effects of climate change, it became clear that poorer countries feel the consequences of climate change significantly more than their richer counterparts. Yet, even though poorer regions experience more severe repercussions, the environmental crisis is felt by both developed and underdeveloped nations, humans and animals alike. Climate change does not discriminate. Priceless and invaluable national heritage sites such as Yellowstone National Park in the US may be irreparably changed in the years to come, regardless of how much funding is invested in a desperate attempt to reverse the effects of a warming planet. Refugees run not just from war and inequality, but from shifting landscapes and natural disasters induced by climate change in both first world and third world countries. Increased flooding and drought destroy habitats for land animals, whilst warming seas create spiralling negative effects for those residing below the surface.

 

Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone National Park. Image courtesy of Josh Haner/The New York Times.

 

Haner’s story began in 2015 in Greenland, where he first challenged the stereotypical nature of photography portraying climate change by taking viewers beyond the one-dimensional image of climate change such as a polar bear gripping on to a melting ice cap. Haner expressed, “When you can surprise viewers with some of these impacts of climate change that they’re not used to, that’s something that can help make people care about these stories.” In Greenland, Haner chose not to document the breaking ice sheet, dedicating time, resources and research to search for an alternative yet equally crucial story to tell. The resulting footage is testament to the team’s efforts. Haner and his team were able to see in real time the alarming rate at which the ice sheet was melting, with drone footage capturing the gushing rivers of meltwater streaming into the ocean. The remarkable nature of drone footage enables Haner to transmit a moving message to viewers. “It’s a way of sharing the emotions that I’m feeling in that moment with other people. It translates very well from what I’m feeling to what readers feel when they see it online. Yes, drone footage brings a lot of logistical challenges with it, but the footage that we can bring out of it can really make people care about these stories a little bit more.”

Aside from the huge quantities of meltwater leaving Greenland’s ice sheets, Haner and his team were drawn to the shifting landscapes on a vastly different but equally devastating scale in Tengger Desert, China. On the southern edge of the Gobi Desert, Tengger is expanding at an alarming rate, impacting critical regions and forcing a relocation of over 30,000 people. Climate change strips communities of their livelihoods and means of survival, leaving behind climate refugees or what China refers to as ‘ecological migrants.’ Haner chose to document the effects of encroaching desertification on Liu Jiali’s family in China. A seemingly carefree snapshot of a happy-go-lucky child skirting around sand dunes is surrounded by a striking desert expanse. In reality, officials have offered Liu and her family an annual subsidy to emigrate from their home, to sell off their herd of sheep, cows and camels and begin again, elsewhere. Taking in the image and the context of Jiali’s situation is sobering, and just one of many similar tales. China has had to relocate 329,000 people from climate change induced stressors: Miaomiao Lake in China is now the home of 7,000 Hui Muslims, forced to move off the ancestral homeland due to impacts of climate change, industrialisation and human activity.

Meanwhile in Kiribati, locals have taken matters into their own hands in attempts to abate the impacts caused by climate change. The Pacific island of Kiribati is repeatedly struck by powerful tidal surges, flooding what little of the island remains above sea level. Tabwena Kaokatekai, a local resident, plants mangrove trees along the shore of Buariki to slow the effects of coastal erosion. “It’s this altruism that we see,” Josh explains, “it’s not to necessarily protect herself, it’s to protect her children and her grandchildren. It’s something that I do wish more places would consider.”

 

Rising sea levels in Kiribati. Image courtesy of Josh Haner/The New York Times.

 

Warming temperatures have created ripple effects that can overturn ecosystems vulnerable to even the slightest of changes. The result leaves thousands of animals that are stranded, starving or both. These creatures do not become climate refugees, but merely another statistic of diversity lost—yet another one of carbon’s casualties. So how have animals adapted to their shrinking habitats and decreasing food sources? In Kaktovik, Alaska, polar bears slink into town and scavenge through human trash, fur blackened by time spent in sand and scrounging over carcasses and other remains of human’s fishing waste.

 

Polar Bears around the town of Kaktovik in Alaska. Image courtesy of Josh Haner/The New York Times.

 

Meanwhile, in the Galápagos, warming waters have decreased the population of sardines, algae and other smaller organisms that serve as food sources to much of the marine ecosystem. Scientists posit that marine iguanas have adapted to be able to reabsorb parts of their skeletal structure in order to decrease their size and energy required to sustain themselves. What absurd adaptations need to occur next in order for creatures to simply survive?

 

Marine iguanas feeding on algae (CK) underwater near Cabo Douglas off Fernandina Island in the Galapagos Islands. Image courtesy of Josh Haner/The New York Times.

 

In Carbon’s Casualties, viewers are able to understand what is at stake for the environment, animals and communities and their livelihoods. Instead of unfeeling environmental jargon and attempts of emotional blackmail to force the reader into action, Carbon’s Casualties achieves quite the opposite effect. Haner’s images rise above the noise of environmental propaganda, where raw, personal stories connect cause to consequence, captured through intimate still images that give the climate crisis a face and a name. Meanwhile, drone footage provides context of the climate emergency, while simultaneously spotlighting the magnitude of the problem at hand. The result is a series of works that expertly dissect the otherwise nebulous crisis that is climate change, whilst inspiring the viewer themselves to be a force for change—if not for themselves, then for the generations to come.

 

 

Carbon’s Casualties
17 January – 20 February, 2020
HACC, Hong Kong

 

 

About Josh Haner

Portrait of Josh Haner.

 

Josh Haner is a staff photographer and the senior editor for photo technology at The New York Times. He was awarded the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Feature Photography for his photo essay documenting the arduous recovery of Jeff Bauman, a survivor of the Boston Marathon bombings who lost both legs and painfully rebuilt his life. His photography and video journalism have been honoured with awards from World Press Photo, Pictures of the Year International and the National Press Photographers Association’s Best of Photojournalism. He has been published in numerous publications including National Geographic, The New Yorker, Newsweek, Time, and Rolling Stone.

 

 


 

Carina Fischer is a writer, photographer and content creator, curious about pushing the boundaries between art, photography and fashion. She is also passionate about environmental sustainability, ethics and inclusion, which she frequently incorporates into her work. See more of her work at www.carina-fischer.com.

 

 

 
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