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My interview with Ashley Cooper: “I hope my imagery makes climate change real for people…”.

Jun 12, 2019

Ashley Cooper runs the world’s only climate change photo agency. His book “Images From a Warming Planet” is out now and available from An art photographic book – it contains the best 500 images from the last fourteen years documenting the impacts of climate change on every continent on the planet. His photo shoots documenting climate change have taken him all around the world. Ashley’s images are used regularly in books, newspapers and magazines around the world, including front cover images of most major UK newspapers.

In 2013 Ashley documented what was probably the first known case of a Polar Bear to have starved as a result of climate change. The image was used as the lead story on the front page of the Guardian Newspaper. From there it was used all around the world, including BBC News, Al Jazeera, NBC News.

At the age of 24 Ashley became the first person to climb all 313, 3.000 foot peaks in Great Britain and Eire, in one continuous expedition. This amazing feat involved climbing over 500,000 feet and walking over 1100 miles. The expedition took 111 days and raised £14,000 for the British Leprosy Relief Association (LEPRA).

In this conversation Ashley takes me through the amazing mission and shares his insights for overcoming the Climate Crisis. 

Praveen Gupta (PG): What were your thoughts and feelings when filming the starved polar bear?

Ashley Cooper (AC): I was thinking how tragic an end for such a mighty animal, and the fact that this is likely to be the future for all Polar Bears in a rapidly warming Arctic. It is desperately sad to see the natural world and the normal order of things being ripped apart by climate chaos. I have seen so many examples of where the natural world and many species are struggling to adapt to the climate crisis and the ever increasing pace of landscape change brought about by human activity.

PG: How and why did you pick this theme for your lovely book?

AC: I have always been interested in the environment, and for many years an outdoor and environmental photographer. I started reading about climate change at the start of the century, and it sounded interesting to me. I decided to organise a dedicated climate change photo shoot to Alaska to look at some of the issues. I spent a month looking at glacial retreat, permafrost melt, forest fires and the impacts on the Inuit community of Shishmaref. I was blown away by how “in your face” the impacts were in the Arctic, at a time when many people hadn’t even heard of climate change. I decided to concentrate on the issues, and after a year or so came up with the idea of trying to document the impacts of climate change and the rise of renewable energy on every continent. It took me 14 years to achieve that.

PG: Increasingly ‘alienated’ from any ‘rhythms of nature’, borrowing the phrases from your book – how do you bring a sense of urgency about the Climate Crisis?

AC: I hope my imagery makes climate change real for people. Humans are very visual creatures, so photography is a vital tool in helping to communicate the climate crisis. When you can see at first hand the destruction that is being wrought around the planet every day – this helps to engender a feeling of urgency. I am encouraged that people are now starting to take the issue seriously with movements like Greta Thunberg’s school strike and the rapid rise of Extinction Rebellion. As well as my book, I lecture regularly on the climate crisis and try to motivate people to action.

PG: From your travels do you get a sense that ‘The discourse on climate change continues to be deeply Eurocentric’ (quoting noted author Amitav Ghosh of The Great Derangement fame)?

AC: I think this was probably the case a few years ago, but thankfully it is now starting to change. People all around the globe are starting to make their voices heard on the climate crisis. What I do agree is that Europe and the USA have a heavy responsibility to tackle the crisis as historically we are responsible for the majority of global emissions. It is critically important that the rich nations provide funding for poorer nations to help them adapt to the climate crisis, and also to help them leapfrog to a clean progressive economy.

PG: Sensitive works like your photography or Luftwerk’s rendition using Douglas MacAyeal’s recordings of moving glaciers to create a soundtrack for climate change does touch the right chord?

AC: I believe that art has a critical part to play in tackling the climate crisis. Not many people are going to sit down and read a long scientific report into climate change. Science is critical and so are scientists communicating their powerful message effectively. But art has a way of making these messages accessible for people, in a way they can take in and understand. From understanding comes acceptance and hopefully action.

PG: With the arrival of Greta Thunberg – don’t you think a long-term, effective and inspiring Climate leadership is in place?

AC: Greta is an amazing, inspirational, powerful voice and advocate for rapid action on the climate crisis. Her power comes from telling it like it is, in a way that most politicians seem completely unable or unprepared to do. I hope she inspires more people to take up the torch. It seems rather unfair to burden the shoulders of one so young, with so much responsibility, though she seems to be coping with it amazingly well. The world needs many more Gretas.

PG: Thank you and best wishes for your fantastic mission, Ashley!

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