Cli­mate of change

Pho­tog­ra­pher shares story with Ox­ford Col­lege stu­dents

The Covington News - - Front Page - By Robby Byrd

Stu­dents and fac­ulty of Ox­ford Col­lege joined those of more than 1,500 other col­leges and univer­si­ties in the na­tion’s largest teach-in in United States his­tory on Thurs­day.

The event, called Fo­cus the Na­tion, ended with a meet-and-greet ses­sion and pre­sen­ta­tion by Na­tional Ge­o­graphic pho­tog­ra­pher Peter Es­sick.

Es­sick, along with a team of writ­ers who pro­duced a three-part se­ries for Na­tional Ge­o­graphic on cli­mate change in 2004, pre­sented the group with pho­tos and shared in­sight on what those pho­tos mean in re­la­tion to global warm­ing.

“When we first talked about the story we said, ‘If global warm­ing is real then we should be able to pho­to­graph it,’” Es­sick said.

The story was di­vided into three parts — phys­i­cal changes, eco changes and past and fu­ture changes. Es­sick pre­sented his pho­tos in that or­der to show the ef­fects of cli­mate change on the var­i­ous as­pects of the en­vi­ron­ment.

Es­sick told those in at­ten­dance hu­mans re­ally did not be­gin to im­pact the en­vi­ron­ment un­til the in­dus­trial revo­lu­tion be­gan in 1750 and the use of coal to pro­duce goods be­gan.

“When we started us­ing coal you can start to see our in­flu­ence in the at­mos­phere,” Es­sick said. “Not un­til the 1950s, when we started us­ing oil, driv­ing cars and ex­pe­ri­enc­ing large pop­u­la­tion growth did we start see­ing a ma­jor im­pact.”

He said a sci­en­tist be­gan record­ing car­bon diox­ide lev­els climb­ing in the at­mos­phere in 1957.

Through time, Es­sick said, things like de­for­esta­tion and in­creased con­sump­tion have led to more car­bon diox­ide in the at­mos­phere.

The phys­i­cal ef­fects on the earth, Es­sick said, are ev­i­dent in many ways — all of which he pho­tographed in lo­ca­tion all over the world.

“We’ve started to see melt­ing of glaciers all over the globe,” Es­sick said. “We’re also ex­pe­ri­enc­ing more for­est fires in north­ern for­est as a re­sult of the cli­mate change.”

Eco­log­i­cally, cli­mate change has af­fected an­i­mal and plan life, ac­cord­ing to Es­sick.

“Plant­ing zones have changed in the U.S.,” Es­sick said as he pre­sented an il­lus­tra­tion of the United States’ plant­ing zones. “Here in At­lanta, we have moved up one en­tire zone. I’ve started see­ing more and more trop­i­cal plants in nurs­eries around here.”

Es­sick said the phys­i­cal and eco­log­i­cal changes have a bear­ing on Earth’s fu­ture and sooner than many think.

“We will see a warmer sum­mer in­dex by around 10 de­grees in the next 50 years,” Es­sick said. “Sci­en­tists also be­lieve we will see more ex­treme weather events (like mon­soons and hur­ri­canes).”

Two Prince­ton pro­fes­sors have de­vel­oped sta­bi­liza­tion wedges that pro­vided pro­posed an­swers to solv­ing the world’s car­bon diox­ide ex­cess in the next 50 years. Es­sick said the sci­en­tist be­lieve that by ad­her­ing to the guide­lines in the sta­bi­liza­tion wedges that Earth can be made as stable as it is now.

“Sci­en­tists think we need to do it quickly,” Es­sick said. “What we’re do­ing now will stay around for a long time. If we stop now we may be able to main­tain but that’s with do­ing ev­ery­thing in the wedges and we still don’t know what ef­fect that will have on the en­vi­ron­ment.”

Mandi Singer/The Cov­ing­ton News

Worth a thou­sand words: Na­tional Ge­o­graphic Pho­tog­ra­pher Peter Es­sick, shown here with his Septem­ber 2004 mag­a­zine cover photo, spoke to Ox­ford Col­lege stu­dents about his pho­to­graphic work on the ef­fects of global warm­ing Thurs­day evening at Wil­liams Hall. Es­sick’s pre­sen­ta­tion at Ox­ford Col­lege of his award win­ning pho­tos pic­tur­ing global warm­ing around the world were part of Fo­cus the Na­tion Day.

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