“Canaries in the global coal mine” of climate change

Everyday Climate Change uses photography to educate and inspire about one of the most pressing issues of our time. The work of 40+ photographers who contribute to the account can be viewed at exhibits, such as the one on display this month at Objectifs in Singapore.

@EverydayClimateChange on display at Objectifs in Singapore. Photos by Emmeline Yong, @emmeyong

Emmeline Yong says that Singapore has recently experienced higher temperatures, flash storms and flooding, not to mention haze due to agriculture fires in neighbouring Indonesia. The cause of all this? Climate change. Despite this, she says environmental and social responsibility is still fairly low.

As cofounder of visual arts space Objectifs, Emmeline jumped at the chance to use photography as a conversation starter about the issue. She reached out to James Whitlow Delano, founder of @EverydayClimateChange, and the two worked together, along with Singapore-based photographer Tom White, to create a 36-image exhibit in the arts and heritage district of Singapore.

From left: 1. @EverydayClimateChange on display at Objectifs in Singapore. Photo by Emmeline Yong, @emmeyong 2. Facekini are suddenly the ‘new fashion’ and seen all over china and Western Fashion Magazines. This might be funny to many but the meaning behind is clearly a climate change issue. The Coast of North Eastern Japan (across from Qingdao) has been infested by huge jellyfish called Nomura’s jellyfish in the past 10 years. These up to 200 kilogram monsters leave nasty burns on the skin of the swimmers, so the entrepreneurial Chinese invented the facekini. “We have reports of massive blooming of young jellyfish near the Chinese coast, where the ecosystems of the Yellow Sea and the East China Sea are favorable for breeding,” said Professor Shinichi Uye, a leading expert on the species at the Graduate School of Biosphere Science of Hiroshima University. One contributing factor of why the jellyfish are becoming more regular visitors to Japan’s and China’s shores may be a decline in the number of predators, which include sea turtles and certain species of fish. In addition, the creatures appear to favor warmer water and research suggests that the temperature of the East China Sea is 1–2 degree centigrade higher than in the last years. Photo by Philipp Engelhard, @philipp_engelhorn

Emmeline wanted to highlight places that were close to home, so the exhibit includes images from India, Singapore, Vietnam, Indonesia, Paupa New Guinea, Japan and the Pacific Islands. While Objectifs shows are usually exhibited inside, this time Emmeline decided the impact would be more far-reaching if presented outdoors in a high foot-traffic area.

“We’ve had viewers from all walks of life, some of whom might not usually enter a gallery to view an exhibition,” Emmeline says.

While James is glad that Everyday Climate Change has been able to reach out to all continents through Instagram, he still believes nothing makes a deeper impression than face to face contact.

“I still remember a film presented in my 4th or 5th grade class on the rainforest in Southeast Asia,” James says. “I never forgot that moment. At the time, documenting what I do now seemed way beyond reach and yet it planted the seed.”

A mother collects water collected in the rocks after the rain. The family doesn’t have any water well and totally relies on rain water to survive. Yemen is enduring a water crisis that ranks among the worst in the world. Photo by Matilde Gatton, @matildegattoni

This moment was echoed on the streets of Singapore this month as passers-by interacted with the exhibit. Emmeline watched as a mother and daughter looked at Matilde Gattoni’s image of a woman collecting water from puddles in Yemen. The beauty of the image stopped them; then they read the caption.

A mother collects water collected in the rocks after the rain. The family doesn’t have any water well and totally relies on rain water to survive. Yemen is enduring a water crisis that ranks among the worst in the world.

The mother was surprised how interlinked environmental, economic and societal problems are. At that point, her young daughter exclaimed that she would stop wasting water at home.

“Ultimately, we wanted viewers to understand that there are many factors adding to environmental problems, and correspondingly, many things that we can do in our individual or collective ways to contribute to solutions,” Emmeline says.

A horse rider sitting on his horse in a dry section of Mexico’s biggest lake which has been hit by a severe drought. Photo by Bernardo Deniz, @bernardodeniz

James has witnessed and documented climate change in China’s deserts where sand — not water — fills irrigation channels, the rainforest where rain patterns have profoundly changed due to deforestation and the Californian desert, where the worst drought in 1,000 years has given way to record rains making the desert green.

He was inspired to start the account after curating a climate change-themed Instagram takeover for the International Center of Photography. More than 40 photographers contribute to Everyday Climate Change. James says the group consists of thinkers deeply committed to the issue who often discuss content and the direction of the feed.

From left: 1. A man takes cover under a tree in Mokkatam as a sandstorm and extreme temperatures grip Cairo. On May 27, 2015 Cairo registered the highest temperatures on Earth, officially a smoldering 46C (114F). It is unusual for Cairo to experience such extreme heat and a sandstorm of such magnitude in late May. Photo by Sima Diab, @sima_diab 2. Trucks piled high with coal wait to unload this highly polluting fossil fuel at a huge electric power plant, just south of Xingtai, rated the city with the most contaminated air in China. Xingtai, Hebei Province, China. The central government ordered the closure of 8,000 factories, mostly coal-powered like this electric power plant, last year in Hebei in an effort to clean the air in this province that traces a ring around Beijing. 7 of the 10 cities with the worst air pollution in China, according to a Greenpeace report last year, are in Hebei. Xingtai is rated the worst in China. Photo by James Whitlow Delano, @jameswhitlowdelano

By engaging with both art and education communities, Everyday Climate Change is gaining a louder voice. Prior to collaborating on the exhibit, Tom invited James to Singapore to teach a workshop and participate in a panel discussion on visualizing climate change at Yale-NUS College.

“The aim was to try and create a wider set of conversations for different audiences about the issue,” says Tom, who teaches part-time at the college.

At a recent presentation in the United States to doctoral students in environmental studies, James realized that he had witnessed more impacts of climate change than most academics.

“This is the value of Everyday Climate Change,” James says. “We documentary photographers are the canaries in the global coal mine.”

“I’ve been very heartened by the commitment of the contributing photographers to Everyday Climate Change, who not only make impactful images, but devote time to research and share the issues that they document,” Emmeline says.

In this age of fast consumption, instant gratification and ‘alternative facts’, she believes this has never been more urgent and necessary.

“As an arts institution, the positive response has also encouraged us to create and present more shows that educate, advocate and make a difference,” Emmeline says.

Peia Kararaua, 16, swims in the flooded area of Aberao village that is located in Tarawa atoll, Kiribati, in the Pacific Ocean. Kiribati is one of the countries most affected by sea level rise due to the climate change. During high tide many villages become inundated making large parts of them uninhabitable. Photo by Vlad Sokhin, @lens_pacific

The exhibit at Objectifs will be on display until April 30. More images from the group may be seen May 5 through 28 at Head On photo festival in Sydney, where James will also participate in a panel discusson about Fake News.

“I want the project to add to the drip, drip, drip of information providing evidence that climate change is not just happening over there but it is happening everywhere,” James says.

@EverydayClimateChange on display outside of Objectifs in Singapore. Photo by Emmeline Yong, @emmeyong

Established in 2003, Objectifs is a non-profit visual arts centre dedicated to photography and film in Singapore. Through its educational programmes, exhibitions and screenings, community outreach and developmental platforms, Objectifs aims to inspire and nurture artists, promote Singapore talents and content, offer a vibrant space for learning, exchange and dialogue, and cultivate new audiences.

Follow Objectifs, James Whitlow Delano and Everyday Climate Change on Instagram.