“America, Again” | Chapter 2: The Environment

“America, Again” is a year-long project by the photographers of VII, an exploration of some of the most important issues facing American voters as they head to the polls on November 3rd. This is Chapter 2: The Environment, which includes an essay by author Simon Winchester, reflecting on some of the global and political complexities of environmental issues and America’s role in it all.

VII Photo Agency
Jan 10 · 17 min read

This chapter includes five photo stories by Zackary Canepari, Ashley Gilbertson, Ed Kashi, Espen Rasmussen, John Stanmeyer, and Sara Terry.

For the Love of Trees by John Stanmeyer
My Personal Plastics by Espen Rasmussen
California is Burning by Sara Terry and Zackary Canepari
A River Runs Through It by Ed Kashi
To Serve and Protect by Ashley Gilbertson

Introduction by Simon Winchester

Four years into the Trump presidency and the environmental needs of the planet are shuddering under a vast raft of American policy changes, both international and domestic. Coal mining is being encouraged again. Oil drilling is restarting in the pristine ranges of Alaska. International agreements on limiting emissions are being repudiated. National parks are losing protections that have been in place for decades. Clean air and clean water standards, once strictly applied, are being relaxed. And poor Greta Thunberg, trying to preach the realities of human-induced climate change to a generation that is either insouciant or ignorant about the crisis, is told by Trump and his allies — who utterly deny that man has anything to do with global warming — to quit grumbling and go back to school.

This is the context in which to view Mr. Trump’s declaration last summer that he wanted to “buy Greenland” — an announcement that prompted much of the world to erupt in a chorus of derision. The Danish prime minister — whose country has long presided over the world’s largest island, though its 58,000 inhabitants have contentedly governed themselves for the past 40 years — called the notion ‘absurd,’ the American president promptly pouted, canceled a visit to Copenhagen, and everyone got mightily steamed up.

However, one can discern a certain logic in this single emanation from the Oval Office — all of it relating to the very same climate change notion that Mr. Trump and his allies so vigorously dispute.

The melting of the Arctic ice — which all agree is happening, and fast — is all of a sudden profoundly altering the status of Greenland. What 50 years ago was a half-forgotten abode of eskimos and explorers, the birthplace of the iceberg that sunk the Titanic, is now a crucial way-station on the fast-opening transpolar shipping lanes. Just as important, the island is a source of mineral wealth of untold value. Huge quantities of gold, platinum, molybdenum, and rare earths rarer than ever known, once buried under hundreds of feet of ice, are now being stripped bare by the sun and revealed for all the world to mine.

And so not surprisingly, the industrial behemoth that is modern China wants it, badly. It wants the mineral. And it wants the shipping lanes. America, aware of this and aware too that Greenland is — just look at a map — geographically an integral part of North America, wants to make sure that China doesn’t get it. Hence the Trump demand, hence the row.

But geologists, better informed than most about Greenland’s near-limitless mineral potential, tell a salutary tale.

It relates to a geological phenomenon now found around the world, but which by coincidence was first discovered in an ice-bound fjord in East Greenland in the 1930s. Lawrence Wager, soon to be Professor of Earth Science at Oxford and an Everest mountaineer of great distinction, spotted from his boat what appeared to be a cliff made of layered sediment, like sandstone.

He picked his way through the ice floes and found to his astonishment that the cliff was not sedimentary, but was actually of volcanic origin — yet made of a magma that cooled so slowly that the minerals within settled down or floated up depending on their densities, and by doing so formed in place layers of almost pure metal. He called the new-found phenomenon a Layered Igneous Intrusion, and this one, the Index Case, he called the Skaergaard. Within the geological community the Skaergaard is famed, cherished, and studied by all.

A dozen other such bodies have since been found around the planet. The Stillwater Intrusion in western Montana, tilted on its side and with its layers snaking through the forests, sports a foot-thick layer of chromium so pure that it rings when hit by a hammer. The Bushveld Intrusion in South Africa has gold in unimagined quantities.

And now Skaergaard, too, has been assayed, and found as suspected by Wager to hold platinum, palladium, and iridium in concentrations to tempt miners like catnip. And now the ice has retreated, it is in theory easy to get at.

But here’s the story. An Australian mining firm, winning permission from a cash-strapped Greenland government, recently set up a drilling rig on top of the intrusion and flew a team of miners to start work on what they expected would be one of the richest mines on the planet. Except that after a week’s work everything had to be suddenly abandoned — because the camp was invaded by scores of angry and hungry Greenland polar bears. The miners cleared off and haven’t been seen since.

So if ever Mr. Trump does succeed in his mission to buy the island — at the time of writing this he seems willing to settle for the opening of an American consulate on the island — he will it now seems have rather more to deal with than he first supposed. Angry great Danes are one thing; angry great polar bears quite another.

These are things in my kitchen made of oil and natural gas byproducts. There are 150 more square meters of our house that contain thousands of products made of plastic. Can we live without half of them? I think we can. All images by Espen Rasmussen / VII.

My Personal Plastics

Trump has announced plans to pull the United States out of the 197-nation Paris Agreement. The country is the largest consumer of oil in the world, using 20 million barrels* of oil each day (*IEA). The U.S. is also the world’s largest oil producer, producing more that 15 million barrels per day. The rest of the world depends on the U.S. and that the country will limit the use of oil in the future to reach the international climate goals.

Across the Atlantic lays Norway, another leading oil producer, making 1,647,000 barrels per day* (*US Energy Information Administration). Though Norway often claims to be a more progressive or “climate-conscious” nation, we produce 10 times more oil per person than the U.S. For Norway and the rest of the world, reducing the use of oil will most likely only be possible with a close collaboration with the U.S. I explore the unexpected, and often overlooked, items a family may use made of oil — starting in my own home in Nesoddtangen, Norway.

When I started to photograph items, food, dishes and everything else made of oil and natural gas byproducts in our kitchen, I realized that plastic is involved in basically everything we own.
Who is responsible for the massive use of plastics? Is it me as a consumer who continues to buy it (do I really have a choice?), or is it the corporations that produce it?
So, next time we go to the grocery store, we should bring a reusable bag for the potatoes. We buy potatoes maybe twice or three times a week, every time with a new plastic bag.
Paradise, California, November 20, 2019. Sara Terry / VII.

California is Burning

Fourteen of the most destructive fires in state history since 2007, seven of them in the past five years. Seventy-eight more fire days each year than half a century ago. And 2018 — the worst fire year on record, with $400 billion in damage, 22,751 buildings destroyed and 85 lives lost in one fire alone.

California, like the rest of the world, is warming — Australia is literally aflame as I write. With hotter, drier seasons each year, Californians are grappling with more fires than ever before. They are also grappling with their aftermath — the personal toll of grief, rebuilding, increased or canceled insurance policies, and the environmental cost of air pollution, erosion, and endangered watersheds.

The 2018 Camp Fire made headlines around the world, as it destroyed the town of Paradise in northern California and took 85 lives. My colleague Zackary Canepari, who was a member of VII at the time, photographed in Paradise and the surrounding area in the immediate aftermath of that fire. I photographed the aftermath a year later, as rebirth and rebuilding have slowly begun.

Our pictures are paired together here. Zackary’s on the left, mine, on the right. They are a consideration of the relationship between humans and nature, a visual interrogation that deliberately asks questions but provides no answers.

Paradise, California, November 20, 2019.
(Left) Paradise, California, November 25, 2018. (Right) Paradise, California, November 21, 2019.
Paradise, California, November 24, 2018. Photo by Zackary Canepari / VII.
(Left) Paradise, California, December 13, 2018. (Right) Butte Creek Canyon, part of the Camp Fire, November 22, 2019.
Paradise, California, December 20, 2018. Photo by Zackary Canepari / VII.
(Left) Paradise, California, November 25, 2018. (Right) Paradise, California, November 20, 2019.
Butte Creek Canyon, part of the Camp Fire, November 21, 2019. Photo by Sara Terry / VII.
(Left) Paradise, California, December 14, 2018. (Right) Paradise, California, November 20, 2019.
Paradise, California, November 20, 2019. Photo by Sara Terry / VII.
All images by Ed Kashi / VII.

A River Runs Through It

Shortly after America’s founding, New Jersey’s Passaic River became a cradle of the nation’s fledgling manufacturing industry. Alexander Hamilton declared that it should be the center of the newly formed country’s industrial revolution, mainly due to the Great Patterson Falls, which he saw as a source of hydro power to fuel the young nation’s industrial development.

The Passaic, if you were to follow the water, travels some 90 miles. But if you hopped from start to finish in a straight line, you’d be going only 30. Mountains block the Passaic, but it finds a devious path around them eventually, dropping more than 70 feet into a narrow cataract between walls of rock. The falls are surprising, beautiful, and powerful.

It was this power that led directly to the river’s degradation. In 1791, Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton supported a plan to harness the falls to run factories, attempting to turn America into an industrial society. Paterson was the Silicon Valley of the 1800s, with locomotive, silk, and cotton industries thriving. The first Colt revolvers were made there. John Holland perfected the first motorized submarines in the Passaic River at Paterson.

The environmental price from this decision over the past two centuries has proven to be catastrophic for the Passaic/Hackensack river complex, which faces one of the toughest environmental cleanup efforts in the country. The increased manufacturing in the state turned into an acceptance of waste dumping into the Passaic. Sewage, debris, and industrial junk has built up over centuries of pollution in Paterson and Newark. It’s taken years to rid the Passaic of dangerous chemicals — and it has cost billions.

Dozens of companies share responsibility for the industrial pollution on New Jersey’s Passaic River, and several Superfund sites dot the lower portion. Diamond Shamrock Chemicals Company, formerly known as Diamond Alkali, manufactured pesticides and herbicides, including those constituting “Agent Orange,” along the Passaic in the mid-20th century. In turn, the highly toxic chemical contaminant dioxin, linked to cancers, diabetes, birth defects, and other disabilities, was released from burning waste, diesel exhaust, and other chemical manufacturing. The Passaic River has seen over two centuries of pollution, but its 20th century industrial history led to the area’s addition to the National Priorities List, becoming a Superfund site in 1984.

To date, two cleanups of the river have been completed. The plan for a third, bank-to-bank for the lower eight-mile stretch of the river, was issued in March 2016. Diverse partners continue to work with parties responsible for the pollution to complete the investigations and river cleanups for the full 17 miles of the river. Residents, local governments, community, and environmental groups are working to bring residents back to the river through park creation, education, and cultural events. One of the few bright spots has been the creation of Riverfront Park, along the Passaic River near downtown Newark and across from the Major League Soccer’s Red Bulls stadium, a small sliver of green in the midst of urban blight.

While there are efforts to clean up these rivers, mainly driven by people like Bill Sheehan, head of the Hackensack Riverkeeper, and the Natural Resources Defense Council, there is much work left to be done. The fight continues to save our rivers against the strong headwinds of the current administration that is dismantling so many of the protections that had been instituted by the Federal Government to protect and preserve our waters and air.

As Captain Sheehan positively reminds us, “the President can make all the proclamations in the world, but we have a strong set of defenses through the legal system to stop these rollbacks.”

Views of the Great Falls in Paterson, New Jersey.
(Left) Post-industrial decay along the Passaic River as it enters the city of Newark, NJ. (Right) Views of the Hackensack River as it runs through the New Jersey Meadowlands, in Secaucus, New Jersey.
Captain Bill Sheehan, head of the Hackensack Riverkeeper, along the Passaic River with the Kearny Generating Station that is now shut down, in Kearny, NJ.
Views of coal plant along the Hackensack River that has been shut down and is awaiting demolition, along the Hackensack River in Secaucus, New Jersey.
Post-industrial decay along the Passaic River as it enters the city of Newark, NJ.
Views of the Riverfront Park in Newark, New Jersey, a good example of urban renewal along the heavily polluted Passaic River.
(Left) The Passaic River passes by the North Arlington, New Jersey, high school football field as it winds its way to Newark and the Atlantic Ocean. (Right) Views of the Riverfront Park in Newark, New Jersey, a good example of urban renewal along the heavily polluted Passaic River.
Views of the Riverfront Park in Newark, New Jersey, a good example of urban renewal along the heavily polluted Passaic River.
Bossier City, Louisiana: A man at a camping store photographs a B-52 as it lands at Barksdale Air Force Base. In 2003, the first bombing runs to Baghdad flew from here, and until recently, B-52s flew raids against ISIS in Syria from Barksdale. It is an aging fleet however, more than 55 years old, and the planes require constant maintenance, producing enormous amounts of toxic waste. All images by Ashley Gilbertson / VII.

To Serve and Protect

From the VII Archives: Some images from this story were previously published in 2017 by ProPublica in their series “Bombs in our Backyard.”

For the past 80 years, the United States military’s explosive manufacturing process has caused industrial chemicals to leach toxins into groundwater, poisoning the citizens who work and live near the bases that misuse them. In small, often poverty-stricken towns, carcinogenic chemicals are released into the air during the daily burns of bombs past their used-by date. In all, hundreds of millions of gallons of water and millions of acres of land have been contaminated. These fields, paddocks, and feedlots produce food not only for the local communities but the nation’s citizens at large.

In towns like Colfax, Louisiana, and Radford, Virginia, people are diagnosed with thyroid cancer, lymphoma, leukemia, and respiratory problems in tight clusters. Residents blame the so-called burn sites, but hard evidence to correlate their diseases with the munitions sites is difficult to attain: Scientific and medical studies into the health problems are routinely blocked by the Pentagon and elected lawmakers.

When confronted with reports of contamination, the Pentagon has so far ignored or played down the threat to both the environment and public health. Concurrently, elected representatives fight the Environmental Protection Agency to exempt the bases from oversight and downplay the risk of contaminants being haphazardly dumped into the environment.

Although private contractors are sometimes hired to decontaminate sprawling, contaminated sites like Hunters Point Naval Shipyard in San Francisco, California, they are not held to task. Despite having been “cleaned up,” the soil has remained radioactive since the base was used as a testing facility in the 1960s, and the Pentagon just looks the other way.

Even after virtually every other developed nation has allocated funds to adopt clean methods of explosive production and disposal, in the United States, the military industrial complex has firmly put profit margins before public safety, and the nation has resisted change. Today, the U.S. military and its contractors remain one of America’s most prolific polluters.

Unbeknownst to most citizens, the Pentagon continues to poison America’s land and water, damaging public health. Protecting the national coffers, it seems, supersedes protecting the environment and even the American people.

Barksdale, Louisiana: Barksdale Air Force Base routinely produced thousands of pounds of toxic powder left over from airplane maintenance. The disposal of waste was outsourced, and without adequate oversight, U.S. Technology, a private company with dozens of contracts with the military, was indicted for illegally transporting the waste and dangerously storing it or illegally dumping it.
Barksdale, Louisiana: The discarded waste did not end up recycled in cinder blocks as promised by U.S. Technology. Instead, they illegally stored the waste, and over previous years, the company was found to have buried more than 11 million pounds of toxic waste directly in the ground.
Doyline, Louisiana: Peggy Gann, 61, her husband, George Gann, 65, have been evacuated twice after a state of emergency was declared after improperly stored explosives blew up on the nearby Camp Minden. Camp Minden is a former Army Ammunition Plant, and today is a Superfund site where a fraudulent contractor, Explo, was used by the military to clean up some 1.3 million aging artillery charges. Instead of removing and recycling, Explo stored materials haphazardly around the base, and in 2012, a massive explosion sent a mushroom cloud 7,000 feet into the sky and shattered windows in Doyline.
Radford, Virginia: Almost daily, a warning siren can be heard for miles around as the Radford Army Ammunition Plant prepares to set fire to discarded contents from bullets and bombs. The burning waste releases lead, mercury, chromium, and compounds including nitroglycerin and perchlorate, all known health hazards. Depending on wind directions, the contaminants will rain down on the local school, the town, or a trailer park. Air quality hazards in Radford are some of the most hazardous in the country. In addition to air pollution, the army releases millions of liters of polluted water into the nearby river every year.
Radford, Virginia: The commander of the Ammunition Plant, Lt. Col. Alicia Masson, refused to comment on the ongoing pollution and public health risks. The plant produces powder for virtually every American bullet fired overseas and is the country’s largest supplier of propellant for artillery shells.
Dublin, Virginia: The Honor Guard at a cemetery next to the Radford Army Ammunition Plant. Despite the environmental and public health risks, people of Radford remain loyal to the U.S. military and to the jobs it provides at the Radford Army Ammunition Plant.
Radford, Virginia: Jommy Douglas attaches a flag to his home for Memorial Day. Every day, depending on winds, poisonous chemicals including chromium, barium, and mercury pass through his home from nearby open burns. Thirty years ago, Congress banned U.S. industries and localities from open burns due to unacceptable health and environmental hazards. The Pentagon and its contractors were given a temporary reprieve that has remained in place ever since.
Blacksburg, Virginia: (Left) The area around Radford Ammunition Plant has some of the highest rates of thyroid problems and cancers in the state. (Right) Devawn Bledsoe, a local activist who has a thyroid condition she believes was caused by smoke plumes or water polluted by the plant.
Colfax, Louisiana: In 2015 alone, at least 700,000 pounds of aging munitions were disposed of in open burns at Clean Harbors, a private contractor just a few hundred yards from a poor, largely black community. Due to unacceptable levels of pollution, the practice has been outlawed in parts of Europe and Canada, but the Pentagon and their contractors have refused to budge on the practice.
Colfax, Louisiana: Donathan Jones, 15, breaks a horse in an abandoned lot in town. Up to twice a day, toxic plumes of smoke billow through Colfax. The mostly black town of 1,532 people has an average income of $13,800 a year, and virtually no means of recourse to the pollution in their town.
Colfax, Louisiana: Frankie McCray, a veteran who served two tours in Iraq, hides in his trailer when open burns take place. “It’s like a bomb, shaking this trailer,” Frankie’s aunt, Elouise Manatad, said. The smoke is toxic and the explosions set off bouts of PTSD. Down the street, a meeting of environmental activists and residents took place.
Mapleton, Utah: The Trojan explosives plant manufactured bombs in Mapleton since the 1940s, and the base’s most recent owner, Ensign-Bickford explosives company, was the recipient of thousands of DoD contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars. For at least the last 20 years, both companies released pure RDX explosives and nitric acid directly into an unlined ditch that ran into the town's groundwater.
Near Mapleton, Utah: Over at least two decades, explosives-laden water was dumped into an irrigation ditch that led to the river in town. On hot days, the residents would swim in the ditch and the river, unknowingly exposing themselves to deadly chemicals.
Near Mapleton, Utah: Rodney Petersen, the widower of Marilyn Petersen, the former Mayor of Mapleton. Mrs. Petersen unknowingly used well water that was poisoned with RDX and TNT on her vegetable garden, which eventually led to her being diagnosed with stage IV non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and dying in 2004. (Right) Provo City, Utah: The grave of Professor Glenn Allman, who died due to non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma as a result of exposure to RDX and TNT in the groundwater in Mapleton.
Mapleton, Utah: Susan Roper, 63, retired, and her husband Rick Roper, 61, are devout Mormons who, like many people in this area, farm their own food. The area's water was poisoned by carcinogenic chemicals from the now-closed explosives factory.
San Francisco, California: Once the Navy’s largest applied nuclear testing lab, the Hunters Point Shipyard cleanup is marred by activities of a fraudulent subcontractor and a $27 billion dollar lawsuit.
San Francisco, California: A resident talks to contractors involved in a radioactive cleanup in Hunters Point. The former Navy shipyard is one of thousands across the country being redeveloped for housing and public use, and in 2016, soil samples were falsified by contractor Tetra Tech. Extreme malpractice and intentional deception by companies working for the military have been largely ignored by the Pentagon.
Grand Island, Nebraska: Bunkers once used by the army to store explosives at Cornhusker Army Ammunition Plant are used today by a contractor to store explosives and weapons that are being disposed of. Groundwater more than 20 miles from the base was found to have residue from the deadly explosive residue, and the city was forced to provide replacement water to residents.
Grand Island, Nebraska: Shell casings at a shooting range on the Cornhusker base. In addition to groundwater, soil, used today by farmers to produce some of the nation's staples, tested positive for higher than average levels of dangerous chemicals.
Grand Island, Nebraska: The 12,000-acre Cornhusker Army Ammunition Plant was commissioned in 1942, and for decades, the plant produced millions of tons of munitions during World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. Since decommissioning, it has been listed as a Superfund site, though widespread illnesses attributed to pollution by residents and doctors continue.
Grand Island, Nebraska: “All of us drank that water and washed in it, for years and years,” said Dennis Mudloff, who worked in the nitrate building on the Cornhusker Ammunition Plant for 20 years. Mudloff’s doctors say his numerous neurological and other health problems are likely caused by his exposure to the explosive RDX in drinking water.
Grand Island, Nebraska: The explosive compound RDX helped make America a superpower. Today, it’s poisoning the nation’s water and soil.
Trees in the Kansai region of Japan, where people come to pray and meditate. All images by John Stanmeyer / VII.

For the Love of Trees

Way back in the days when the grass was still green and the pond was still wet and the clouds were still clean, and the song of the Swomee-Swans rang out in space… one morning, I came to this glorious place. And I first saw the trees! ~ The Lorax by Dr. Seuss

There is a tree older than us. It’s been alive over 3,000 years before Buddha, or Jesus or Mohammad were born.

Before the pyramids of Egypt were built, the Bristlecone Pine has lived as a testament far more significant than we.

I have never seen this near-mystical tree, but I have witnessed in awe forests of Japan, cried in sorrow in Brazil and have breathed air so rich within forests of New England, I shudder at the reality we are doing to them and ourselves…when standing before these living, breathing pillars of life, we are insignificant.

Worse, I’ve seen them burning, laying as corpses upon the earth that gives everything to us.

As humans, so flamboyantly standing, so temporary, imagining we can control and destroy something more important than us. Such fools are we.

Our brothers and sisters laid waste to much of the Amazon in 2019… for more soybeans. The same tempest beset the rainforests of Borneo… palm oil. And the vast forests of Australia and Peru were equally charred to their roots.

If we are to understand this perception called time, we would appreciate this tree and the significance of our insignificance. Do you know your grandparents?

Most likely, you did.

Do you know the Bristlecone Pine in Inyo County, California, began to grow its first leaves when your great-great-great-great-great… grandparents of 85 generations ago were born?

Today, this pine tree is more than 5,000 years old. Why does any of this matter?

I’ve seen the earth where I live, bursting in hues like candy, where much of the land is protected in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts by land conservation… I am thankful for my children. When I’ve flown over the ancient Amazon forests in the State of Mato Grosso, Brazil, I saw nothing but illegal fires caused by unending greed… I was saddened for my children.

As a tribute to the life and beauty of trees, I traveled the globe, photographing them in motion. We forget how alive trees are in their near motionlessness; trees move in earth time, not human time.

Just as centuries past, the very minutes you’ve read these words, and this word, then the next, the lungs of our earth are giving us life. The only air on the only planet we can live.

If we do not collectively take responsibility for the stewardship of our environment, then the earth will do as it has to other living creatures before, laughing at us toward extinction. It always has, and it always will.

Because the earth doesn’t need us.

UNLESS someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not. ~ Closing of The Lorax by Dr. Seuss

Trees, dancing in motion in northern Bangladesh. I photograph trees while I am in motion, the only way I’ve been able to express how alive trees are. Trees move in the rhythm and time of nature. Not human or clock time.
(Left) Deforestation in the upper Mato Grosso state of the Amazon west of Juara City, where illegal burning took place in 2008, and often continues today. (Right) After trees are burned and removed, once pristine rainforests are turned into farmland to grow soybeans for livestock to feed a global increase in meat consumption.
Whenever I drive along route 23 between Great Barrington and Otis, MA, USA, this is what I see… trees.
(Left) In September of 2008, I hired a plane only for one day to photograph the illegal fires blazing in the Amazon, learning once in Mato Grosso State, the smoke was so thick, we could hardly take off or land because of all the illegal fires. It took three days, mostly waited grounded at remote airstrips, to photograph what initially I thought was only going to be forests turned into farmland. Not fires. (Right) The strangest designs are left upon the scorched earth, leaving only a bikini line of trees where now endless fields of soybeans grow.
This day I spent among the most beautifully growing trees, within a forest outside Tokyo. There is a sacred waterfall in this forest used by Taoist monks who come to pray and cleanse their spirits. It’s often among trees where we find life and meaning.
(Left) For soybean transport out of former lush rainforests, roads must be built with further burning occurring to grow even more plant-based crops for commercial animal consumption. (Right) It will only be a few years, if not already, that the forest buttressing this farm will also be burned and removed, killing millions of animals, making larger and larger open spaces for soybean and corn.
While working on a story about sacred water, I went to Lourdes, France. Above the Massabielle Grotto where it is believed by the Christian faithful that the Virgin Mary appeared to then 14-year old Bernadette Soubirous in 1859, the most amazing trees grow. Like people dancing.
(Left) As if dead bodies, the carcasses of burned trees are all that remain after thousands of hectares of land were burned in the Mato Grosso State of the Amazon. (Right) Route 163, also known as the Soybean Highway, cutting through farmland that only 20–30 years ago was all rainforest in the Mato Grosso State of the Amazon, Brazil. The 1,100-mile paved road is the primary artery to bring the massive agricultural commodities out of the growing farm belt in the Amazon and over to global markets. Farmers are burning ancient rainforests to make way for more farmland to raise cattle and soybeans.
The Housatonic River meanders through the lush forests of the Berkshires in western Massachusetts. Much forested land of the Berkshires is protected in land trusts, guaranteeing for generations to come an abundance of trees, clean air, that nature will always take precedence over excessive development.

About “America, Again”

This project emerged among a few of the VII photographers with the intention of focusing attention on the issues that will dominate the U.S. election. The VII Foundation and VII Academy have stepped in to support the project in recognition of the importance of critical and independent storytelling in civic discourse. We will produce stories on material issues that people worldwide are wrangling with, not only Americans. We’ll cover issues that are used to divide us, and that allow populist politicians to undermine the values that are foundational to our societies.

Contributors

Photo editing by SARAH LEEN, former Director of Photography National Geographic Partners and founder of the Visual Thinking Collective for independent women editors, teachers, and curators.

Layout by GIANA CHOROSZEWSKI, VII Operations Director.

VII Photo Agency

Written by

VII is a collective of 29 visual storytellers dedicated to reporting on issues around the world.

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