Men’s Journal published an excellent article that caught my attention through a post on the Redux Pictures blog, highlighting photographer Christopher LaMarca’s coverage of the story.  The article, entitled The Ghost Park, discusses the terrifying environmental catastrophe facing Yellowstone National Park due to the effects of global warming and places great emphasis on the domino-effect breakdown of the ecosystem.

Read the article – it’s excellent and focuses on the science as well as the visible indicators of the breakdown, which should be enough to convince even the skeptics that something has gone terribly wrong.  And despite the debacle that has erupted over global warming, it’s the unapologetically named culprit.
The media’s treatment of global warming is irritating at best.  As with everything else, the topic becomes sensationalized, following an on-again, off-again curve over the course of years and months, as one study supposedly discredits another.

Global warming is a reality, although I personally believe that it’s rooted in a natural cycle of global climate change.  As we pull out of the mini-ice age that dominated much of human history, things will naturally get warmer.  It is, however, most definitely a process that we’ve accelerated and amplified through our prolific use of fossil fuels.

Whatever your personal views on the matter, I don’t think any of us can stand and say, with a straight face, that the climate isn’t changing.  Even on a local scale the current seasonal weather patterns are noticeably different from those of just 20 years ago.  And while we may not see ramifications in our daily lives, there’s proof that the consequences are out there, and building to a breaking point.

What bothers me the most, however, is my inability to make a meaningful contribution towards a solution.  At home I’ve become a fanatic about minimizing power and water usage; I recycle as many things as my municipality accepts; and I drive the most fuel-efficient car I can afford.  But at the same time I work in an office that wastes an inordinate amount of paper, daily watch people around me trash items that should have been recycled, and get blown off the highway in the wake of gas-guzzling SUVs.

Simply put, I feel like the guy who’s trying to put out a house fire by peeing on it.  What difference am I really making amid masses who don’t care, and stymied by a culture and government that make it difficult and expensive to be environmentally responsible?

The problem runs deeper even than that.  I’m a photographer, so it seems that if I really want to help, to become involved in the conservation movement and offer my passion and my skills, then there should be parties who would welcome me, right?  Actually, not so much.

Take the International League of Conservation Photographers, for example.  Obviously a high-end group of very talented photographers.  But looking at the “Get Involved” page of their website, they only accept nominations for new members from current members.  And while they’ll happily take your money in donations, there’s no other opportunity for an established or aspiring photographer to contribute to their cause – they’re a closed club.

The Nature Conservancy breaks volunteer opportunities down by state, but even then the options are limited to scheduled work days or a very few more “regular” volunteer needs (receptionists, hike leaders, etc).  Unless of course you’re a scientist, or willing to donate money.  No requests for a conservation-minded photographer.

Audubon Society?  Nope.  It seems that all any of these organizations really want is money.  Which is fine – nonprofits have a tough time getting funding, especially in this economy.  But that kind of attitude separates out those who can’t necessarily afford the kinds of donations these organizations want.  Just because we don’t have money to give doesn’t mean that we don’t have anything to offer, or that we shouldn’t be allowed to contribute to a cause we’re passionate about.

I want to join the battle on the side of conservation, but I’m having a hard time finding a way to make my skills useful to anyone.  Maybe there’s a solution that I’m just not seeing, in which case I hope someone points it out to me.  In the meantime, I’ll keep doing what I can and hope like hell that it actually does make a difference.

Brent Pennington is a freelance photographer and the driving force behind The Roving Photographer. When he\’s not working with portraiture or promotional clients, he’s usually in the field, hiking, or kayaking in pursuit of nature and wildlife shots.

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