Category Archives: Highlights

Climate Change: Good News From the Front Lines

Fernbank Forest, Downtown Atlanta, Georgia in the background. Photographed from a drone. Fernbank Forest is a 65-acre urban old-growth Piedmont forest in downtown Atlanta, Georgia.
A view above Fernbank Forest, with Atlanta, Georgia in the background. Fernbank Forest is a 65-acre urban old-growth Piedmont forest being conserved and protected near downtown Atlanta.

The news coming out of Washington DC, in the form of the President’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord, has been disheartening for many who are concerned about the state of our climate and environment. But there is good news, too. On the front lines of the fight against global warming and climate change, much is being done at the grass roots level, at the local governmental level, and through independent scientific research. Several Aurora photographers have been on those front lines covering the stories of positive change and bring us the following good news.

Ice storm experiments in New Hampshire, by Joe Klementovich

Researcher does research on replicated man-made ice storm damage in order to study the effects of ice storms in New Hampshire forests
A researcher from Hubbard Brook Research center examines man-made ice damage from a replicated ice storm in a New Hampshire forest in order to study the effects of ice storms on the environment.

Ice climbing, mountaineering and suffering at cold belays has prepared me well for shooting through the frigid February nights at Hubbard Brook Research center. Tucked back in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, Hubbard Brook has been studying the environment on a large scale since 1955. They were the first group that discovered acid rain back in the 70’s. The last two winters, graduate students, scientists, and researchers have been mimicking ice storms to study the effects on the forest, looking at everything from soil change to the impact on birds and insects.

Having a dedicated photography and film crew to capture the process as well as the aftermath allowed the researchers to create a library of images and video that has become critical in explaining and sharing the experiment at a public level and to the scientific community. Photographs and video were picked up on a wide variety of outlets ranging from National Geographic to the Weather Channel to the local paper.

In a day and age where science is under attack from various corners, producing a photographic record will hopefully pushed the climate change conversation into living rooms and cafes, not just the research offices, and help show the real life impacts it is creating. The experiments have been a success scientifically, but it also showed the science community that being able to effectively demonstrate their work to the world visually is just as important as the experiments.

Click here to see more photos of the ice storm experiments by Joe Klementovich

Hubbard Brook Website. http://hubbardbrook.org/overview/history.shtml 

Energy Independence at the Ashram, by Ashley Cooper

The Muni Seva Ashram in Goraj, near Vadodara, India, is a tranquil haven of humanitarian care. The Ashram is hugely sustainable, next year it will be completely carbon neutral. Its first solar panels were installed in 1984, long before climate change was on anyones agenda. Their energy is provided from solar panels, and wood grown on the estate. Waste food and animal manure is turned inot biogas to run the estates cars and also used for cooking. Solar cookers are also used, and the air conditioning for the hospital is solar run. 70 % of the food used is grown on the estate. They provide an orphanage, schools for all ages, vocational training, care for the elderly, a specialist cancer hospital withstate of the art machinary, and even have a solar crematorium. This shot shows students making a portable solar cooker. These lightweight devices were used on an expedition to the Himalayas to cook all the expeditions food.
Students at the Muni Seva Ashram i Goraj, India, make a portable solar cooker. These lightweight devices were used on expeditions to the Himalayas to cook all the expeditions food. Almost 100% of energy at the Ashram is generated through solar and wood grown on the estate.

Visiting the Muni Seva Ashram, in Goraj, India, is like stepping into a haven of peace and tranquility. The Ashram delivers services from the cradle to the grave. They provide an orphanage, infant and secondary schools, vocational training, old people’s sheltered housing, and a specialist cancer hospital with all the latest high tech equipment. The Ashram is 100% powered by renewable energies. They fitted their first solar panels in 1984, long before any one had heard of climate change. Since then they have invested in more and more renewable technologies. Solar panels, provide much of the energy, along with biofuel which is generated onsite from food waste and wood from the estate. 70% of the food is grown organically in the grounds. The two cars used by the Ashram run on biogas, and even the air conditioning in the hospital is solar powered.

Deepak Gadhia had been a successful Indian business man until his wife died of cancer. From that point on he dedicated the rest of his life to supporting the Ashram and has been the driving force behind its conversion to renewable and sustainable practices. His enthusiasm has been infectious, and his dedication to helping his fellow citizens humbling. His proudest moment of my tour was showing me the world’s first solar crematorium, designed by Deepak and built on the estate. Local religion dictates that upon death you are cremated. In the past locals have gone into the forest to chop down enough wood to build a funeral pyre. Long term, this is a destructive process that impacts on biodiversity. The large solar reflector, concentrates the suns rays on a metal box in which the body is placed. It can burn four bodies a day, leaving the local forest intact.

I left the ashram amazed by what I had seen and convinced that this has to be the way forward, it is possible to power our lives exclusively from renewable energy, and if we are serious about tackling climate change it is the only option we have.

Click here to see more photos of the Ashram by Ashley Cooper

Fernbank Forest Restoration, by Peter Essick

Southern two-lined salamander (Eurycea cirrigera), Fernbank Forest, Atlanta, Georgia
Southern two-lined salamander (Eurycea cirrigera), Fernbank Forest, Atlanta, Georgia. Delicate amphibians like salamanders are often the first affected by changing climate. Restoring habitat like Fernbank conserves critical biodiversity where urban areas might otherwise encroach.

Fernbank Forest is a 65-arce urban old-growth forest a few minutes from downtown Atlanta. The forest is owned by the Fernbank Museum nearby, but until recently few people were allowed to visit. The forest is an excellent example of a southern Piedmont forest with many species of old-growth trees, animals and native plants. However, in recent years the forest floor was overrun with invasive plants such as English Ivy, monkey grass and wisteria. Through the help of volunteers, donors, ecologists and donors the museum began a program of restoration four years ago. This past October, the forest was opened to the public and restoration efforts continue. It is hoped that over the coming years the forest can be restored to a fully functioning forest that will not only be enjoyed by visitors and wildlife, but also become a valuable asset in the battle against climate change.

I started photographing Fernbank Forest almost two years ago to document both the natural beauty and the restoration efforts. The difference to the forest floor was very evident this spring as many native wildflowers and ferns  began blooming in areas that were once covered in ivy. I hope that my photos will show that urban forests are not only vital green spaces for our environment, but can be a rewarding subject for an photographer willing to walk in the woods with their eyes open and camera ready.

Click here to see more photos of Fernbank Forest by Peter Essick

Clean Cookstoves and Solar Sister Make a Difference, by Joanna B. Pinneo

Mforo, Tanzania a village near Moshi, Tanzania. Solar Sister entrepreneur Fatma Mziray cooking dinner on her clean cookstove that uses wood. Fatma Mziray is a Solar Sister entrepreneur who sells both clean cookstoves and solar lanterns. Fatma heard about the cookstoves from a Solar Sister development associate and decided to try one out. The smoke from cooking on her traditional wood stove using firewood was causing her to have a lot of heath problems, her lungs congested her eyes stinging and her doctor told her that she had to stop cooking that way. Some days she felt so bad she couldn't go in to cook. Fatma said, ?Cooking for a family, preparing breakfast, lunch and dinner I used to gather a large load of wood every day to use. Now with the new cook stove the same load of wood can last up to three weeks of cooking. ?With the extra time I can develop my business. I also have more time for the family. I can monitor my children?s studies. All of this makes for a happier family and a better relationship with my husband. Since using the clean cookstove no one has been sick or gone to the hospital due to flu.? Fatma sees herself helping her community because she no longer sees the people that she has sold cookstoves have red eyes, coughing or sick like they used to be. She has been able to help with the school fees for her children, purchase items for the home and a cow. ?What makes me wake up early every morning and take my cookstoves and go to my business is to be able to take my family to school as well as to get food and other family needs.?
Solar Sister entrepreneur Fatma Mziray cooking dinner on her clean cookstove in Mforo, Tanzania. Fatma is a Solar Sister entrepreneur who sells both clean cookstoves and solar lanterns.

The most dangerous activity for a woman in the developing world is cooking for her family. More than three billion people worldwide still cook and heat their homes using solid fuels. The simple act of cooking causes roughly 4.3 million premature deaths per year from respiratory and pulminary illnesses from smoke inhilation.  These deaths disproportionately affect women and children who spend the most time indoors in close proximity to dirty cook stoves.

Fatma Mziray, a vibrant thirty-eight year-old Tanzanian woman, raises six children, works on the farm with her husband, runs two side businesses and cooks most of the three meals a day for her family.  Fatma has not always been this healthy and vibrant. Like others in her community she cooked over a traditional three-stone cook stove that is highly smoky. Fatma started having chest pains, her eyes were red and watery and she was always tired. When Fatma heard about an easy to use and inexpensive efficient cook stove from a Solar Sister Tanzanian entrepreneur, she bought one. Not only did she start feeling better immediately, as did her children, but she noticed that she used a fraction of the firewood as the traditional cooking method. Now she is a Solar Sister entrepreneur. herself. Working with and organization like Solar Sister provides her with extra cash to send her children onto secondary school, an opportunity she did not have. She also helps other women in her area to improve the health of their families, simultaneously lessening local deforestation and reducing carbon emissions from traditional stoves.

In 2016 I received a Ted Scripps Fellowship at University of Colorado in Boulder to study environmental journalism and research household air pollution. Through working with Ripple Effect Images, I learned about the devastating effects of household air pollution, especially on women and children in the developing world. Great progress has been made by organizations like Solar Sister to find creative life changing and life saving solutions that also make our planet cleaner and more livable. Although the stoves are not 100% clean technology, they are significantly more efficient and healthier than the three-stone method. The Solar Sister model works because not only do women like the stove, but the peer to peer effort to sell and distribute the stoves makes local women more likely to put the new cleaner stove to use.

Click here to see more photos of Solar Sister by Joanna B. Pinneo

You can  view more stories and images of climate impact, both positive and negative, in our Environmental Photography collection. Through this collection, Aurora provides communication professionals the visual resources to effectively tell the evolving story of our environment and our planet.

8 Easy Ways to Get Outside in 2017

A skateboarder rides down a long road towards the Grand Teton Mountains and the setting sun in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

Here at Aurora, our resolution for 2017 is to get outside as much as possible. This year we’re embracing the outdoors and its opportunities for adventure, health and beauty. To help us (and you) do that, we came up with 8 ways to get into the outdoor spirit no matter where you live or how much (or little) time you have.

#1
Find an alternate way to the office. Take a zip line to work. You have one of those, right? If not, pick one day per week to walk, bike, skateboard, or skip to your job. If your commute makes that impossible, consider parking just a little farther away or hopping off public transport one stop early. Bonus points if you don’t chicken out when it’s raining  or 10 degrees outside. You can do it! We believe in you.

Woman laughing on patio during winter

#2
Set a timer to go off once or twice during your work day, to remind you to get up and go outside for 10 minutes. You don’t have to do anything special – just stand there and breathe for a bit. The trick here is to avoid hitting “snooze” on your reminders. Chances are, most things you’re working on can wait for 10 minutes or so, although don’t tell your boss that we said that.

Mother rows canoe in Kezar Lake while son tries to scoop up fish in his net

#3
Discover a fishing spot.​ Or maybe just discover a spot to sit and watch other people fish. For those with sporting tastes, the website takemefishing.org​ has a fishing and boating search engine to help you find new destinations. You can search by the type of fish you like to pursue, and if you decide to cross state lines you can even buy licenses.

Man running in urban park

#4
Find the parks and public lands around your state.​ The legendary outdoor company L.L. Bean has ​a ParkFinder tool on their website​ to help you in your search for places to #getoutside. You can discover everything from city parks and playgrounds to state and national parks. It even has an activity filter, which lets you search for the best birdwatching, bicycling, fishing (or fish-watching, see #3) or boating spots.

Trail Running

#5
Explore the rail trails and multi-use paths in your area.​ Just to be clear, multi-use doesn’t mean walking and texting. Multi-use trails are great for all sorts of outdoor recreation: running, biking, cross country skiing, or walks with friends (no need for texting). Many are just a few miles long, perfect for an hour of adventure, but others (like the ​Grand Allegheny Passage​ and ​C & O Towpath) can traverse states and run hundreds of miles. And unlike a sidewalk, these trails often avoid automobile traffic. Many of these trails exist as recreation paths thanks to the R​ails-to-Trails Conservancy,​ which keeps ​a searchable list of trails and paths​ that makes it easy to find nearby places to play.

Three man preparing themself to ride their mountain bikes (MTB) in the freshly snowed Swiss Alps near Kandersteg, Bern, Switzerland.

#6
Find a new bike route.​ Bicycling is one of those sports almost anyone can do, and you can find places to do it everywhere. Most states put out cycling maps to help riders find the best pavement, but if you’re looking for lots of maps in one place check out t​he Adventure Cycling Association’s route map store​. Not only might it give you new ideas for your home riding, but it also has what you need to plan a cross country ride or some other grand adventure. If a bicycle is too much of a challenge, the website adulttricyclespro.com has reviews and top picks of the best adult tricycles.

People shopping at the Santa Barbara Farmers Market

#7
Go to a farmers market once a week. It’s a great place to engage all your senses, enjoy your community, and force you out of the warm, dark hole that is your most recent Netflix binge. Stranger Things will still be there when you get home, and you might even score a tasty pint of artisinal gelato to enjoy in front of it. The USDA has a National Farmers Market Directory to find the one nearest you.

Adam Welch asleep on a picnic bench at Humbug Mountain State Park awakes the next morning to find the campground flooded.

#8
Get lost.​ Just go. Leave the web behind and head for the nearest park or woods. Be willing to turn your bicycle down an unfamiliar street. Every trail or fishing spot listed online is probably surrounded by five others no one has ever heard of. Those are the ones only the adventurous find. Be willing to go looking for them. It won’t always work out as you’d hoped, but that’s part of the fun. (Although we recommend keeping a cell phone or GPS device on hand, just in case.)