The Canary Project, or What Global Warming Looks Like

As an adopted resident of the Show-Me State, I often wish (as I’m sure many others do) that I had an effective way to show people the phenomenon of global warming. While some have latched on to images from Hurricane Katrina for their emotional impact, we’re all aware that saying “global warming caused Katrina and Rita” doesn’t accurately convey the complexity of climate change. Oftentimes, we’re left with pretty certain, but still speculative, predictions about the major effects global warming will have on ice caps, sea levels and farm fields.

Photographer Susan Sayler and her husband Edward Morris have come up with an innovative way to visually convey the potential horrors of climate change with their photographic collection they’ve entitled The Canary Project. The premise underlying the project is relatively simple and yet very effective: before and after photos. Or, as Sayler and Morris write in their mission statement:

The mission of The Canary Project is to photograph landscapes around the world that are exhibiting dramatic transformation due to global warming and to use these photographs to persuade as many people as possible that global warming is already underway and of immediate concern.

To compile a persuasive body of images, we will be photographing at least 16 landscapes throughout the world. These images will show that global warming: (1) is affecting the world in a variety of ways (melting, sea-level rise, drought, extreme weather events, dying habitats, etc.); (2) is affecting every place on earth. (See map)

In addition to providing visual evidence of the changing climate, we also hope to address something more fundamental that possibly lies behind apathy towards the issue in the U.S.: people’s sense of remove from the forces of nature.

The collection of photographs will go on display this month at Denver’s Museum of Contemporary Art. Additionally, forty-five city buses will display images from the collection with the message “This is What Global Warming Looks Like.” Sayler and Morris have scheduled other exhibitions this Fall at both science and art museums, as well as some galleries. To further spread the word, the couple is also pitching articles on the locations shot to a variety of magazines; three publications have already published photo essays. Finally, you can also view photographs from the collection on its website.

I certainly hope this exhibit makes it to St. Louis, as the images displayed online are incredibly powerful. Congratulations to Sayler and Morris for recognizing that art may be one of the most valuable tools we have to show people what science can’t always…

UPDATE: As I’m looking at more pictures, I’m realizing that “before and after” doesn’t accurately characterize all of these photographs — and that would’ve been tough to do. What they do show, though, is the dramatic impact of climate change on both natural and human-created environments.

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