In Memory of Gary Braasch: Helping the World See Climate Change

Award-winning American environmental photographer Gary Braasch died on Monday while snorkeling at the northern end of the Great Barrier Reef. (Photo: Courtesy of the author)

In Memory of Gary Braasch: Helping the World See Climate Change

Hopefully, a price on carbon, leading to a fossil-fuel-free future, will be Gary’s lasting legacy.

World-renowned photojournalist Gary Braasch, died Monday while photographing coral bleaching while snorkeling on Australia's Great Barrier Reef. This is a profound loss for me, as his close friend and creative partner, as it is for all of his loved ones. But this is also a loss for the planet, for Gary was one of the world's most indomitable climate warriors.

Twenty years ago, Gary took it upon himself focus his camera and the world on climate change. He alerted us all to the global climate crisis through his extraordinary photographs, traveling to places that the world might otherwise not see. Many of the iconic images that come to mind when people think of "climate change" were Gary's.

"We can all pay tribute to Gary Braasch's exemplary life by working toward getting a price on carbon."

For example, there were photos that captured the moving Arctic glaciers, the rising seas on the brink of washing away Tulavu, and migrating animal life in the Australian Daintree rain forest. He thought that if people could see, with their own eyes, how climate change was transforming ecosystems, causing animals to change their ranges, tundra to melt and seas to rise -- and imperiling the human race -- they would be motivated to take action to reduce CO2.

Gary followed scientists into the field photographing them and writing about their research. His project became the book "Earth Under Fire: How Global Warming is Changing the World" and a website, "World View of Global Warming."

A League of Conservation Voters study had shown that most people get their environmental information from materials that their kids bring home from school and that children are the largest force upon adults to lead a more sustainable life-style. Another study, Project Sunlight, by corporate giant Unilever found, "when kids lead, adults follow."

Realizing that youth voices could be a powerful way to make parents care and policymakers act, Gary and I wrote a children's book How We Know What We Know About Our Changing Climate: Scientists and Kids Explore Global Warming. This award-winning middle school book, illustrated with Gary's beautiful photographs, is a tool for children to teach their parents well. Teachers and kids liked the climate solutions part the best.

Realizing that we could reach even more young people through movies, Gary and I co-founded the non-profit Young Voices on Climate Change (YCCC) to make short documentaries championing youth solutions to the climate crisis and helping to share young people's success stories with other youth. Ten of the Young Voices for the Planet films will are being distributed by American Public Television and will be aired on 55 public broadcasting stations beginning on Earth Day 2016.

The films were a direct reflection of Gary's mission: "to limit the magnitude of climate change and its impacts through empowering children and youth, through positive success stories, to take an essential role in informing their communities, and society at large, challenging decision-makers, and catalyzing change since they will bear the brunt of climate disruption."

Realizing what was at stake if we humans do not reduce our carbon emissions, Gary wanted to champion youth voices.

View from bridge along the R/V Nathaniel Palmer ice breaker, National Science Foundation, Antarctica, 1999. (Photo: Gary Braasch)

In many magazines such as National Geographic, Time and Life, Gary's photo essays often showed the devastation of fossil fuel extraction and the effects of elevated CO2 emissions on the biosphere. But he understood the importance of documenting hopeful stories such as countries' commitment to -- and transition to --renewable energy generated by solar panels and wind turbines.

Gary and I founded Young Voices on Climate Change realizing that kids had power and that they paid attention to their peers. Over the past eight years we have produced 11 short films championing youth solutions to the climate crisis. These films make adults cry but they empower young people. Climate solutions motivate everyone -- and action is an antidote to fear.

"Climate solutions motivate everyone -- and action is an antidote to fear."

Andrew Revkin's post on his Dot Earth ends with a quote from Gary's book calling for a price on carbon to level the playing field that would make renewable energy more competitive while cutting global warming emissions.

We can all pay tribute to Gary Braasch's exemplary life by working toward getting a price on carbon. A fee-and-dividend approach will reduce fossil fuel consumption and promote renewables. By putting a price on carbon as it comes out of the ground, dividends can put that money directly back into taxpayers' pockets. And there is a glimmer of hope: 12 Republicans are co-sponsors of Representative Chris Gibson's climate change resolution. The New York Republican recognizes the impact of climate change and is calling for action to reduce future risks.

I look at Gary's marvelous photographs of dolphin clouds leaping across the sky, the arc of stars as Earth turns on its axis or ancient forests of verdant green and I think of all we have -- and all we have to lose. We will all miss Gary's warmth, optimism, intellect, reverence for life and the bottomless well of giving of himself for a higher good.

Gary believed wholeheartedly that people could make a difference; his photographs, books and films -- and the example he set during his lifetime -- will continually inspire us to renew our commitment to protect our wondrous home planet. Hopefully, a price on carbon, leading to a fossil-fuel-free future, will be Gary's lasting legacy.