Rune Eraker is a Norwegian documentary photographer with 25 years of experience. His recent exhibition, "A Blind Eye" at the Bryggen Museum in Bergen, Norway, focuses on the ugly and often unreported side effects of climate change and its impact on the lives of millions.
I went to see this exhibit yesterday with my friend. It many ways it was shocking and depressing. In another way it was starkly refreshing to be reminded of the often-unseen realities of our world.
The photos are from all over the world but they share the universal quality of being depressing: Central American farmers going months without work due to failed crops resulting from altered, and unpredictable, rain patterns; tourists in the Maldives lounging on the very same beaches that will be under water in a few decades; Indian cotton farmers committing suicide by the hundreds of thousands due to years of failed crops and crippling debt.
These are only a few of the many effects Eraker documents in his exhibit. They are depressing facts but they are also important. For me personally (and many others, I suspect) it's all too easy to forget the distant realities of the world we live in, to become ensconced in my own little bubble, and to never consider the far-reaching impacts of the lifestyle I participate in. For me, seeing this exhibit forced me to remember that I have been unbelievably lucky in the lottery of birth, and I shouldn't take too much for granted.
It also reminds me to be thoughtful about what I buy and consume, how I treat foreign cultures when I travel, and to keep these issues in mind when I participate in the democratic society in which I live.
It can surely be comfortable to ignore the ugly sides of modernization, progress, and the ever-increasing demands of the Western world, but at what price?
I'm not pointing fingers with this post because I would surely implicate myself. However, while I'm not suggesting you should go out there and recycle all your pairs of Birckenstocks, I do think we all need to keep in mind climate change, environmental degradation, conservation efforts, etc., when we go out to vote, and that we try to make well-informed choices in our daily lives. The type of positive change in the way we run our world, the type change that will somehow ensure we don't entirely ruin our planet, will surely come about when thoughtful leaders make the right political choices and force the unrelenting march of progress in better directions. Luckily, there are some signs we're (slowly) moving towards it, as when the Obama administration recently announced the imminent creation of world's largest marine sanctuary.
It's easy to write this off as some hippie-like "Save the planet!"-type yammering, but if our air becomes unbreathable, our planet becomes too hot and too dry to produce food, and our water too polluted to drink, then anything else we want to do becomes pointless to even consider, because we're probably too busy dying.
(Also, if you're scoffing at your screen as you read this, I really don't know what to say to convince you that our planet is worth protecting. Maybe try drinking polluted water for a few months, eating a fraction of your normal, weekly food-intake, or holding your breath, and see how well you fare.)