Radical History Review, Spring 2010
Occasionally, we have opportunity to put our work into a broader context and write for audiences not necessarily attracted to nature or climate change publications. Thus the articles published by The Nieman Reports of Harvard University (2002) and The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (2013).
For more than thirty years Radical History Review has stood at the point where rigorous historical scholarship and active political engagement converge. Thematic issues are edited by a collective of scholars and published three times a year by Duke University Press. Gary Braasch was invited to participate in an issue themed “Transnational Environments: Rethinking the Political Economy of Nature in a Global Age.”
As published in black and white, Spring 2010:
Gary Braasch is a photographer who has been documenting the changing global environment since 1975. This issues’ “Curated Spaces” section is a photo essay comprising photographs from his ten year project, World View of Global Warming, and the resulting book, Earth Under Fire: How Global Warming is Changing the World.
A Carson, California, neighborhood, right next to huge oil refineries, is a reminder that millions of people around the world live daily with industrial pollution. Some, like the residents of Bhopal, are killed outright in accidents, but most are slowly poisoned or have restricted opportunities due to wage limits and depressed land values.
Chicago 1995, when an urban heat wave killed more than 700 people more than the normal death rate. This foreshdowed the overwhelming heat of August 2003, when more than 30,000 deaths occured across Europe, and the Northern Hemisphere heat wave of 2006. Increasing urban heat, especially at night, is one of the most robust predictions of global warming effects in the near future.
Kids playing in sand in backstreet near the giant Dalate coal fired power plant in Inner Mongolia. The Dalate plant has six generators and makes about five million kilowattts of power. China is heavily dependent on coal power and the pollution from it affects the entire nation and the world. China is the leading emitter of CO2 and sends up more SO2 than other nations. It is widely estimated that more than 750,000 Chinese die of air pollution–related diseases each year. China is the world’s largest mercury polluter as well, due to coal burning.
Intersection with moving rickshaws, Dhaka, Bangladesh. Bangladesh is the world’s largest nation that is mostly at sea level, in the delta of the Ganges and Brahmaputra Rivers, with about 140 million souls. Bangladeshis are among the world’s poorest people, with an average annual income of about $440 and their contribution to global warming is also small: The average CO2 output of eighty Bangladeshis is about equal to that of only one American. But they are on the leading edge of climate change effects. About six million people will be displaced in Bangladesh by a twenty-inch (50 cm) sea level rise, according to the IPCC scientists, and rice production will be ﬂooded out in the most productive part of the country.
The John Amos power plant near Charleston West Virginia looms over a neighborhood in Poca, across the Kanawa River. The Amos plant (as of 2003) is the nation’s eleventh in CO2 releases and near the top in increases in carbon dioxide. It is twelfth in SO2 and also emits mercury. West Virginia has long been a center of coal mining and coal-powered industry, and because of the pollution and land destruction that goes with this, it has been described as a “national energy sacrifice zone.”
View from Shijng Pagoda, Ming Dynasty, First Fairy Mountain, surrounded by Shougang Capital Steel plant and worker housing in west Beijing. During the Ming Dynasty the pagoda was built on the 600-foot (184 m) mountain overlooking a rural landscape. Since the early twentieth century, though, this area has been an industrial suburb, overshadowed by the cooling towers, furnaces, and smokestacks of the mill compound. In recent years Capital Steel employed about 240,000 workers and was Beijing’s largest industrial polluter. (Note: This steel plant was partly closed to improve air quality for the 2008 Olympics, and in the years after was decommissioned.)
Fischer Island and Miami Beach, Florida, seen in an off-shore aerial. This man-made residential area is thought to be the most expensive urban land in the United States. Florida had a 75 percent population change between 1980 and 2003, and most immigrants, rich or poor, have moved within a few miles of the coast. After four hurricanes in 2004 and more in succeeding years, it is not hard to predict that the entire coast of Florida is threatened by rising seas and stronger surges during storms. Beaches from Miami north are already being washed away by higher tides, and millions of dollars are being spent on beach armoring and replenishment..
Mix of traffic and transport in Manila in a milieu of corporate signs and advertising. According to articles in Philippine media, Manila suffers from lack of infrastructure in the form of bridges, highways and wider streets to handle the growing amount of traffic. There is not enough efficient public mass transport which not only delays commuting but also creates more pressure for roads, and thus more pollution. There is a singular lack of affordable homes for the greatest part of the population, with the result that large slums crowd against the decaying piers and industrial waterways.
Refugees from flooding in Mororo, Kenya, across the Tana River from Garissa, December 2006. They were among the millions washed out in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia, in a devastating turn from years of drought to fifty-year floods. The scorching drought had parched soil across vast swathes of land, leaving the earth unable to absorb the rainwater. These families have belongings; millions of others living to the north and west already had lost everything in the African drought, and were totally dependent on United Nations and other relief agencies. According to press reports, between 1.5 and 1.8 million people were at risk from diseases such as cholera, measles and malaria.
Scene in heavy traffic shot through window of cab, Nairobi Kenya. In 2006, the world became predominantly urban. Half of the world’s 6.5 billion souls now live in town. Cities occupy just 2 percent of the Earth’s land surface, but according to one estimate they eat up three quarters of the world’s yearly resources. As millions of rural people flood in seeking employment, social and political structures are stressed. Cities, of course, are also the focus of commerce, industry, government, education, and the arts, and are engines of huge amounts of income. The promise of cities in a warming world is to create economies of scale and humane living, with low-carbon energy and material distribution, inner-city buildings, and mass transit.
All images and text 2010 Gary Braasch