In the first of a series of conversations with the artists at Dawn Publications, editor Glenn Hovemann shares his discussions with photographer and author Gary Braasch. Gary’s work with co-author Lynne Cherry on How We Know What We Know About Our Changing Climate has been instrumental in empowering students to become involved in climate change solutions. This award winning book is now available in a paperback edition.
Glenn: Gary, you call yourself a photojournalist, and for more than ten years you have been documenting the effects of climate change. What led you to do that?
Gary: I was in Alaska in 1997 trying to photograph migrating caribou as part of my coverage of wilderness and biodiversity. This was my main interest then and I had photographed and written about it for many magazines. But while waiting for a bush plane to take me out to the Arctic Refuge, I met some scientists who told me about climate change already happening in Alaska. I did some research and two years later launched a project to follow those and other scientists to their research locations to see if I could document the changes. No one else was doing this.
Glenn: And this quest has taken you all over the world, to places far beyond the tourist trails!
Gary: Yea, I had no idea! When I put the word out to magazine editors, one came right back with an assignment to Antarctica. I found it easy to get to locations in Alaska and places in the U.S. But I was surprised to find science being done all over the world and soon found myself trying to find the funds and the connections to go to Bangladesh, the Alps and Andes, Australia, Sweden, China, and obscure tiny atolls in the Pacific Ocean. It has been a really enlightening and sometimes frustrating quest, but now I have meaningful images and stories from 23 nations on all continents.
Glenn: You?ve written about your observation and lots of photographs in a dramatic book, Earth Under Fire: How Global Warming is Changing the World, released by the University of California Press.
Gary: I was lucky to get a contract with them and their advance helped me get to my final locations — and they have stayed with the book and allowed me to update, including putting out a paperback with 100 changes that came out at the beginning of the Obama Administration. They also backed me as I was writing it, because I wanted to have a lot about what people were doing about global warming ? beyond the science and the bad news ? and that part of the book is still current and really the most important message.
Glenn: So where did the idea of a children?s book come from?
Gary: I?ve known Lynne Cherry for about 15 years and as I began my global warming project we occasionally talked of how to do a kids book about it. Finally it was the stories of the scientists themselves, the adventure of fieldwork and the excitement they conveyed to me of discovering how the world works, that gave us the key to making it interesting to kids.
Glenn: It?s potentially a scary subject, and Dawn Publications is interested in creating a positive relationship, a bonding experience, between children and nature.
Gary: We also didn?t want to scare kids, which most other books on climate change seemed to do. Or to lay a lot of blame. So we emphasized the science, the gathering of data from observations, the building up of facts into a theory. It is really a book about science works. And along the way Lynne?s connections in the education world brought in teachers who were already teaching weather and climate, the programs that involve kids in real observations of butterflies and plants, and some stories about how kids influenced schools and communities about climate change.
Glenn: Your book for adults Earth Under Fire and your book for children, How We Know What We Know About Our Changing Climate are essentially about the same thing, but the tone is way different. Was it difficult to make that switch?
Gary: It is not easy to write well at kids? language level. We took a lot of time and got advice in both defining each scientific term and in the general word choice.
Glenn: This is your first book for children, Gary. What did you learn about writing for kids?
Gary: Actually the sharpest learning curve came — and is still coming — is speaking and interacting with kids. They are sharp and engaged — and some of them are scared about the future and wanting to do something. After we finished the book, which has three stories of middle school students taking the initiative in school or their towns, Lynne began a film project about kids who are active in fighting climate change. She found many more kid projects and has expanded the filming overseas. I think when you write for kids you have to give them accurate and understandable information, help show what needs to be
done and where the information is — and get out of the way.