Climate Emergency

September 20, 2021

BW photograph of a large sycamore tree knocked down by the remnants of Hurricane Ida.
Copyright 2021 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

Above is a photograph of a large sycamore tree that was knocked down by the remnants of Hurricane Ida as it moved through the area.

I distinctly remember reading Tim Flannery’s The Weather Makers when it was published…it was during my office hour before going in to lead a Sociology 101 class. I can remember looking up, gazing out the door, and thinking “Holy Crap” (although in my mind I actually used a different word). The content genuinely scared me. I also knew that I needed to embed more content about global warming, the term generally used then, into the curriculum.

Given the publication date of that book, I was a bit late in beginning to address this issue…well ahead of others, though. As the years passed, the info became more and more stark. Climate change became one of the more politically-charged issues to the detriment of all. Nathaniel Rich’s Losing Earth: A Recent History covers that. The first line of David Wallace-Wells The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming grabs one’s attention.

Over the ensuing decades, as the problem escalated, I did add more and more content with the goal of both raising awareness and encouraging action. As new data became available, that content would be adjusted. As I am a photographer and was familiar with James Balog’s previous work, his TED Talk and subsequent documentary Chasing Ice (and later still his The Human Element) were staples because the visuals are so compelling. The photos and videos of the retreating, collapsing, and calving glaciers never failed to gain attention-students often commented that those visuals did more to get their attention than did reading excerpts from IPCC reports. Many students did take note of the time difference between when those photos/videos were made and the day in which this topic was discussed-in some cases this was well over a decade. Long enough for much more damage to have been done…and it was.

Climate change has clearly been a focus of this blog. I have hoped that the links provided have in some way further informed readers. The need to amplify the manner by which this most existential of problems is addressed continues. I am also aware that many may not have wanted to read about these disasters…that it can serve to amp up the anxiety (this study provides a description) one might have about climate change. I am actually quite sensitive to that and also believe that this is a problem that must be faced head-on. (Greta Thunberg is one example.) As such, it creates a conflict in my life as well. That tree above is only a few miles from my house. Not too long ago, a small tornado removed the roofs of several buildings in the town in which I live. This summer there have been more severe weather warnings for my area than I can remember (that anecdote is not very scientific). None of these come anywhere near to the impact climate change has has on, say New Orleans or Paradise, CA, and I am not attempting to make any degree of equivalence there. I am saying, though, there is not an area immune to the impact of climate change.

That is the point.

One of the major sociological theories, symbolic interactionism, argues that language evolves as needed. Such is the case with this topic as well. We started with “global warming”, which morphed into “climate change” as it became apparent that as the overall planet warms, some areas became more hot and dry while others became more cool and wet. In fact, that was one of the arguments of climate-change deniers: “How can you have more snow if the planet is warming?” (Scientists are studying climate change’s impact on the jet stream.) Those impacted by climate change have also faced escalated dangers. Hurricanes spin-up faster and have become bigger and stronger as a result of elevated ocean temperatures-those without the extreme winds have still been able to deluge impacted areas with startling, record-setting, amounts of rain. The Gulf Coast is unable to fully clean-up from one major storm before another comes on it’s heels. California and the west are now in a seemingly perpetual fire season, and the fires are also bigger-the then record-setting fire covered in Mr. Balog’s The Human Element was eclipsed the very next year.

It rained in Greenland.

As such, the term “climate emergency” (here is the home page for Covering Climate Now, from which the previous link comes. Click the link and read the “About” section for more info.) is part of the lexicon. That we are at this point should not be surprising.

As an important aside, the need to evacuate or find alternate shelter during an active pandemic, let alone be hospitalized when hospitals are at capacity due to COVID adds yet another layer of complexity to peoples on the ground.

One of the ways to address the previously mentioned climate anxiety is to take productive steps to address climate change. The David Suzuki Foundation has compiled this useful list of actions one can take to address this emergency. One cannot overemphasize the importance of both individual action and the need for strong, global, political action. The first line of David Wallace-Wells The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming really does grab one’s attention.

Be safe and well.

Inevitable

September 16, 2021

BW photograph of a downed maple leaf.
Copyright 2021 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

Kirk Tuck is a photographer whose blog I have followed for quite some time. I have also read several of his photographic books and have appreciated his approach to lighting and gear.

BW photograph of a filled plastic water bottle left behind.
Copyright 2021 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

Mr. Tuck is very much a portrait photographer while I do as much as possible to avoid photographing people…although I do favour making intimate portraits of nature and trash. The photographic skills involved in both remain largely the same.

BW photograph of a downed leaf atop other tree debris after a storm.
Copyright 2021 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

Given that Mr. Tuck has been so successful with his chosen endeavours, and that he explores with vigor the breadth and depth of photographic equipment in the quest for finding the”optimal” gear to maximize his work, I took special note of his recent blog about the upcoming iPhone 13.

I began my photographic journey as a child looking at and reading Life magazine and National Geographic-two of the standout publications for photography…the former is long gone while the latter remains a standard of excellence. I wanted very much to be able to make photographs like that.

As most things are, it was nowhere near as easy as I thought it was going to be. Such hubris…

Anyway, I learned photography using fully manual controls (ISO, shutter speed, and aperture) and exposing slide film, which was notoriously unforgiving of exposure errors. It had to be “right” in camera or the photo was a discard. Practice and diligence certainly paid off as I was eventually able to make the photographs I wanted to make…all without being able to see the results until the film was processed.

Therefore, I became quite comfortable using dials and rings on film cameras to adjust my settings-I liked having full control of each component contributing to the final image-and those settings literally “clicked” into place. This continued as I transitioned into the digital era. I did eventually switch to using aperture priority (I selected the aperture to control the depth-of-field and the camera determined the shutter speed for a given ISO and ambient light) and moved from spot to matrix metering as it was a bit faster and experience taught me that I could rely on the technology…which became better and more sophisticated as tech always does.

I also aged…as one (usually) does. That meant carrying two bodies, three or four lenses, a tripod, and the other accoutrements as photographer’s do became much more of a burden. Unpleasant really. The newer mirrorless cameras initially reduced the size/weight equation, which is not so much the case now, but they are still smaller/lighter than equivalent DSLRs. For the past 4-5 years I have settled on Fuji bodies/lenses as I am very much a fan of the ACROS BW film emulation. There is also enough of a size/weight reduction (I do not use the big “pro” zooms for just that reason) to make it more comfortable, although I now often go out with just one body and one lens, especially if in the mountains. Small and light rules.

Which brings me to that new iPhone. I have a much older generation iPhone and have actually found it quite useful for quick snaps and video clips, especially for those I want to send to others. I can use the standard editing programs to (mostly) get what I want, assuming I want to change what the phone automatically creates. I never print iPhone images, so that is not a concern-the quality for web-work is just fine. And there is not a traditional camera/lens combo that can beat the size/weight advantage of an iPhone. I do chuckle, though, at the complaints that they are “too big to pocket”. Pick up a Nikon D5…

Again, given Mr. Tuck’s knowledge and experience, my interest is piqued as my images are now mostly used for this blog and the occasional PowerPoint presentation-two tasks which my current phone could handle, much less the much more sophisticated iPhone13. As previously stated, the iPhone wins the size/weight contest easily-even with a small gimbal. The expense is quite relative to what one is getting with the equivalent photo/video technology-plus you have a phone…quite useful for emergencies. If the final image is the arbiter, then such a device makes quite a bit of sense.

What is missing, though, are those dials and the ergonomics. I like the feel of cameras…I like turning the dials…I like holding it to my face-the rest of the world disappears to only that seen through the viewfinder. Those sensations are also the reason I use Fuji bodies…they provide the desired tactile experience. I am old-school in that sense. The iPhone absolutely cannot compete with that.

Still…

Be safe and well.

Service

September 15, 2021

BW photograph of a filled plastic water bottle left behind.
Copyright 2021 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

This past Saturday was the 20th anniversary of 9/11-much has been written about that infamous day, especially given the ending of the war in Afghanistan. This post will not be about that, although it is quite important to recognize all who served there in those two decades.

BW photograph of an aluminum can crushed and left behind.
Copyright 2021 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

No, this is about 9/11 being a National Day of Service-a time when one can give back to one’s community. I usually go to a favourite location and use some of the time to pick up trash. The photographs herein are samples of what was collected this year.

BW photograph of a crushed plastic bottle laying in the grass.
Copyright 2021 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.
BW photograph of a shredded plastic cup in a parking lot.
Copyright 2021 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.
BW photograph of an abandoned shoe in some leaves.
Copyright 2021 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

Ours is a throw-away culture, so it is not at all surprising to find plastic bottles and cups and aluminum cans among the debris people leave behind. (The bottle that leads this post was also mostly full of water…something to think about with regard to the number around the world without access to clean water.) That those items could be recycled is an option lost due to contamination. Each of those items could also have been replaced by a reusable container.

I do (still) get surprised when finding footwear, even though I have many, many, many examples of sandals, shoes, and boots that have been lost or abandoned. One would certainly know if one was barefoot…

BW photograph of a left behind plastic bag.
Copyright 2021 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

There truly is nothing “free” with respect to plastic pollution and pollution in general.

At the least, it is an eyesore.

The chemicals that leach into the environment present a far more serious problem.

Be safe and well.

Relentless

September 12, 2021

BW photograph of Morgan Run after Hurricane Ida looking downstream.
Copyright 2021 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

This part of the country, the Mid-Atlantic, has had a lot of rain lately: the remnants of Hurricane Ida came through and most recently from a series of thunderstorms.

BW photograph of Morgan Run rushing between rocks.
Copyright 2021 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

According to Webster’s New American Dictionary, “erode” means “to diminish or destroy by degrees” and “to gradually eat into or wear away”. The photo above was included as it shows the erosion pattern worn into the rocks over the decades as a result of this process. After big storms, the water picks up more sediment and essentially becomes a relentless form of liquid sandpaper. The texture is quite beautiful if one steps back from what is actually happening.

BW photograph of tree roots overhanging and eroded section of Morgan Run.
Copyright 2021 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

The banks of waterways wear as well both undercutting…

BW photograph of sycamore roots exposed due to erosion.
Copyright 2021 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

and further exposing tree roots, which leave weakened structures in their wake. Again, the patterns nature creates are intricate and quite pleasing. Beyond the aesthetic, though, the compromised root structures cannot hold against elevated winds and the further wear and tear of heavy precipitation.

I have been making photographs of each of these areas over the years and there has been a noticeable accumulative effect-in some places the trails have narrowed and have become increasingly rutted.

BW photograph of a downed branch after a set of thunderstorms.
Copyright 2021 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

Trees and parts of trees continue to fall.

I keep my eyes on those attached to the above exposed root systems.

Be safe and well.

Ida

September 5, 2021

BW photograph of the early morning as Ida was blowing away.
Copyright 2021 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

Ida left a beautiful morning in her wake-this was taken around 2:30 a.m. The sky was alight while the gusts were still blowing. The day before, during the actual storm, was quite a different story. We cycled through a series of flash flood watches and warnings, a tornado watch, a flood warning, and a high wind advisory. For several hours, all of these were in effect at the same time. The rain did fall and the wind did blow.

BW photograph of Morgan Run rushing between rocks.
Copyright 2021 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

Fortunately, none of the more severe consequences happened in my immediate neighborhood. We were lucky. The local waterways did rise…

BW photograph of a snapped sycamore tree following Ida.
Copyright 2021 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

some trees were blown over…

BW photograph of a groups of limbs on a waterway after Ida.
Copyright 2021 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

or broken…

BW photograph of a branch of sycamore leaves dropped by Ida.
Copyright 2021 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

and debris was scattered about.

But many were not as fortunate. Two tornadoes touched down in the D.C. area and flooding occurred throughout the region.

What appeared to be surprising was the impact in the Northeast: flash flooding from the copious amounts of rain resulted in numerous deaths and property damage/destruction. While listening to reports on the radio, people were saying with a degree of urgency that the “problem must be fixed because another storm will come”.

There is nothing really new about this. Superstorm Sandy decimated many of the same areas in the Northeast-she certainly flooded New York’s subway. The Gulf Coast has been battered for years…Ida is just the latest. California has moved into a perpetual fire season.

Those reacting in the reports are absolutely right. Of course there is an urgency to dealing with climate change-Ida and the wildfires in the West are indicative of that. Yes, another storm will most certainly come, as will more fires (please read this article about the wildfires in Siberia). However, we had four years with a president who was openly disdainful of climate change and did what he could to rollback much of the progress that had been made. Currently, the polarization in the U.S., especially among those in power, makes it quite difficult for any meaningful change in addressing climate policy. While there has been some important movement, that divide remains in the general public, especially when political affiliation is considered. One important example: California may well elect a candidate, Larry Elder, who is a climate skeptic if the recall of Governor Newsom is successful.

Unfortunately, there really is a short-term comfort to be had by denying the escalating impact of climate change-remembering that denial is a coping mechanism, ultimately ineffectual as it may be. For those in power who are elected by constituents and financially paid for by those who are supportive of such views, they get to remain in power. Media outlets that trumpet false information keep eyes on the screen. It is confirmation bias at its best (or worst in terms of its global impact).

Meanwhile, the storms and fires do what they do. Over an ever-increasing area.

It is frightening to wait and wonder if your house or apartment will remain intact as the waters rise, the wind howls, and the fire roars.

There is no beauty or comfort in that.

Be safe and well.

Storms

August 31, 2021

BW photograph of a cumulus cloud forming.
Copyright 2021 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

This is a follow-up to the previous post-the first four photographs here were made within a short time of each other and sequence cumulus clouds as they morphed into our latest thunderstorm.

BW photograph of cumulus clouds morphing into a storm.
Copyright 2021 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.
BW photograph of cumulus clouds morphing into a storm.
Copyright 2021 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.
BW photograph of cumulus clouds morphing into a storm.
Copyright 2021 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

The rain came just a bit later-not much, but the thunder did rumble…it is beautiful to watch as long as one is not at risk of being blown or washed away.

This was, of course, nothing like Hurricane Ida. We are expecting the remnants from her tonight, tomorrow, and maybe into Thursday. As a Category 4 hurricane at the time of landfall, she continues to be destructive even while losing strength.

BW photograph of downed power lines near a church three years after Hurricane Katrina.
Copyright 2008 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

Reports indicate that residents of parts of Louisiana will be without electricity for several weeks as repairs are made. (The above photograph is from the Lower 9th Ward three years after Hurricane Katrina.) Once again we have seen a storm amplify at a quickened pace once over the Gulf of Mexico-the much warmer water temperatures secondary to climate change provide the necessary energy to supercharge these powerful storms and the resultant damage path. The costs for repairs are yet to be determined-as is the final cost in lives.

Meanwhile, on the left coast, wildfires are burning evermore. Climate change is also at the root of those conflagrations, which continue to consume resources, material goods, and lives.

All of which presents the paradox: cumulus clouds are often compared to cotton balls-how frightening can they be? The do appear to be soft and fluffy and weightless…until the proper conditions form and you are blown to Oz. Candlelight dinners or a warm fire on a cold winter’s night or a campfire roasting marshmallows evoke a particular type of comfort and intimacy, but certainly not when fire is gobbling up mountainsides and neighborhoods. Rain and trickling water are often used in meditation and relaxation exercises-quite different than a raging torrent. Too much of anything becomes a problem, which is exactly how we find ourselves in this mess (this is alluding to the burning of fossil fuels).

The terms “climate anxiety” and “climate trauma” are in the lexicon. That makes perfect sense, given the magnitude of the catastrophe. The incidents mentioned herein and in the news are no longer isolated events-they have become the norm. As I am updating this post, we are in another tornado watch and flash flood warning-Ida has arrived. Rain is pelting the windows.

Trauma also puts denial in a different perspective. If one views denial as a coping mechanism (I once heard denial defined as an “insulating blanket to protect against an unacceptable reality”) and not a pathology, that opens the door to a way forward. Denial does provide some degree of temporary relief. However, as with addiction, the denial of the problem only allows it to progressively worsen-sometimes exponentially. In this case, both the actual problem (climate change), which is quite a real and present danger, and the resulting stress need to be addressed. Please read through this article for suggestions for dealing with climate anxiety. Taking constructive action is useful.

Be safe and well.

Precursors

August 28, 2021

BW photograph of a storm-producing cloud.
Copyright 2021 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

This is a cumulus cloud that eventually morphed into a thunderstorm-one of many that we have had recently. Warm air is a key to their development and progression.

CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions are behind that warmth. Please read this report for a synthesis of the relevant statistics. Embedded there is a link to NOAA’s “State of the Climate in 2020” report-the first line of which is: “In 2020, the dominant greenhouse gases stored in Earth’s atmosphere continued to increase.”

Statistics, though, can make one’s eyes glaze over.

The major point here is that humans are behind those stats with respect their creation on the front end and in experiencing their climate-driven impact on the back end.

BW photograph of a sandal amid weeds on a step three years after Hurricane Katrina.
Copyright 2008 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

Tomorrow, August 29, is the sixteenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina slamming New Orleans and the Gulf Coast-this link is to the Pulitzer Prize winning coverage by The Times Picayune-New Orleans and provides a harrowing account of the storm and its aftermath. The editorial from September 4, 2005 is particularly timely. The October 15, November 25, and December 30 articles apply the title of this post to the devastation and highlight one more human-centered aspect to the continuing climate crisis.

Hurricane Ida is poised to make landfall in the same area.

Be safe and well.

Lessons

August 27, 2021

BW photograph of a large irritagion pipe.
Copyright 2019 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

As a child growing up in a small town in the 1960s, I was (mostly) unaware of the major social issues tearing at the country at the time. There certainly was evidence of those problems, but those are stories for other times.

BW photograph of Silver Lake looking through some reeds.
Copyright 2019 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

I remember riding my bike across town (no helmet, of course, as traumatic brain injuries were not yet part of the culture) to a lake and fishing. Well, I would put bread or a worm on a hook and toss it into the water…sometimes that worked, but most often it did not. Looking back, that was not entirely surprising as I really did not know what I was doing. Still, it was exciting when I did make a catch-enough so that it reinforced the continuation of the same “techniques”. What niggled at me then, but for which I am much more aware now, was that I very much enjoyed the independence of being able to ride away and engage in an activity for which I was alone responsible. A child’s brain is not quite ready to fully process such ideas.

Above and below are photographs of that lake made decades later.

BW photograph of the Silver Lake spillway.
Copyright 2019 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

I remain captured by the allure of fishing-not so much the catch now, but the rhythmic discipline of the practice. The stillness and patience involved. The solitude of the manner by which I would engage it. Being outside.

Interestingly, it is these very same traits that make photography so appealing to me. Indeed, I recently finished reading How to Think Like a Fish, by Jeremy Wade. What became readily apparent was how easily Mr. Wade’s approach to fishing translates to the art of photography. For example, one of Mr. Wade’s fundamental principles is “right bait, right place, right time” (pg. 15) If one substitutes the word “light” for “bait”, you have the foundation of photography.

Mr. Wade discusses how he built his prodigious skills for fishing. Toward the end is an Appendix, in which Mr. Wade writes “Perhaps if I strip away the context and examples it will be clearer” (pg. 233), and he goes on to list and summarize his main points that were detailed throughout the book. I highly recommend reading the entire book and not just the Appendix as the context provided is quite important to how the lessons were learned and skills developed. Still, the bare list provides a useful guide.

A guide that is quite helpful for more than fishing if a bit of imagination is applied.

Be safe and well.

Flooding

August 25, 2021

BW photograph of tree debris laying atop a large, wet boulder.
Copyright 2021 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

In this time of rampant wildfires in the American West (as well as Greece), there has also been catastrophic flooding in various parts of the world.

BW photograph of a small spillway at Morgan Run.
Copyright 2021 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

This report from NPR addresses flash flooding as a consequence of climate change.

BW photograph of a damaged waterboot sitting in a mudflat.
Copyright 2021 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

This report contains six questions to ask about flooding if moving. It strikes me that these would also be useful to answer about where one lives even if not moving.

Be safe and well.

Elements

August 25, 2021

BW photograph of a leaf and a line of rocks in running water.
Copyright 2021 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

The image above contains representatives from several fundamental elements: water, the earth (the rocks and stones) and the air (the leaf stands in as it has completed its journey from the sky). There is an ever-so-gently arc from the leaf through the stones to the larger rocks. Were this a video, one could both see and hear the gurgling of the water as it flows by. As such, those sensations must reside in the imagination.

In times of turmoil, which is what I most often write about, it is so very important to have the means by which to find respite. Seeking out images such as the one above helps.

It is also important to remember those imperiled by the tragedies around the world…they are the human elements whose lives, or at least their livelihoods, are destroyed when that which can be so pleasing runs amok (flooding, earthquakes, storms).

There are many groups and organizations whose mission it is to provide relief in times of need. Here is one source that can be used to find those which you would consider supporting should you be inclined to do so.

Be safe and well.