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Conservation photographers provide clear picture of climate change

As tens of thousands of delegates–heads of government, scientists and journalists among them–gather in Copenhagen over the next two weeks to discuss what can be done to slow the rate of climate change, you may be sure that there will be a flood of speeches, charts, graphs, and reports. Trying to make sense of all that’s...

As tens of thousands of delegates–heads of government, scientists and journalists among them–gather in Copenhagen over the next two weeks to discuss what can be done to slow the rate of climate change, you may be sure that there will be a flood of speeches, charts, graphs, and reports.

Trying to make sense of all that’s going on is challenging even for the experts. Thousands of scientists have been researching this topic for decades and there are numerous data sets–and computer models to process that data. Some of the research may seem to be contradictory, at least when data is manipulated for specific purposes. Industries, countries, and political ideologies have narrow and competing agendas.

This is where photography can rise above the clamor. Nothing can capture more vividly what’s actually happening to the world than what you see in a picture before you. It’s almost as good as actually traveling to the field to view ground conditions for yourself–without having to generate carbon emissions to get there.

Joining the Copenhagen meetings this week is Cristina Mittermeier, executive director of the International League of Conservation Photographers (ILCP). The group of professional photographers was founded essentially to document the state of the world’s biodiversity and the interaction of of human needs with the Earth’s capacity to provide.

I interviewed Mittermeier when she visited us here at National Geographic headquarters before she left for Denmark. She talks about the ILCP, the role on photography in conservation, how amateur photographers can also be involved, and recent conservation books that combine photography with science.

Video by David Braun

Part of what the ILCP does is parachute photographers into areas for a rapid assessment visual expedition (RAVE), as Mittermeier explains in the interview.

An initiative of the International League of Conservation Photographers, RAVE was ”conceived to address the challenges of modern conservation … [RAVE] aims to achieve a full visual and media assessment in a short period of time by means of a multi-disciplinary team that includes several specialized ILCP photographers (landscape, wildlife, macro, camera trapping, portraiture), writers and cameramen. Their job is to bring back a comprehensive portrait of a conservation issue or threat in a very short period of time,” says the ILCP Web site.

There have been seven RAVEs to date. You can see the results of all them here.


Photosynthesis is the engine for the nutrient cycling that drives primary production. Here on the shores of Milanovac Lake in Croatia’s Plitvice National Park, plants are able to capture the rich minerals that flow through the park and form the picturesque travertine terraces thanks to the processes driven by photosynthesis.

Photo from the book The Wealth of Nature by Maurizio Biancarelli 2008/

The ILCP also assists with the production of books that showcase in photos and essays the splendors and importance of–and threats to–biodiversity. Sponsored by CEMEX, a Mexican construction company, the books have highlighted many critical aspects of conservation in recent years, from the human footprint to the global interaction between humans and birds. The books are written in partnership with leading NGOs, and are donated to universities, government agencies, research institutions, and nonprofit organizations for fundraising.


The Wealth of Nature is the seventeenth volume in the CEMEX Conservation Book Series. It is illustrated with images from the International League of Conservation Photographers in partnership with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Conservation International.  

The Wealth of Nature is illustrated with hundreds of amazing full-color photographs by a host of worldrenowned nature photographers, including noted wildlife photographer Frans Lanting, the award-winning Jenny E. Ross and endangered species photographer Joel Sartore. “Photography moves people and take them to places they could not see by themselves. We hope to shine a light on some the most pressing environmental issues of today and inspire the public to take care of the natural world,” Mittermeier says.

If you want to make sense of what’s being threatened by climate change then this is the book to read–or at least browse.

The Wealth of Nature


New technology, in this case a high-powered hunting rifle in the hands of a Chukchi hunter from the village of Chukotka in Siberia, makes hunting walrus much easier, requiring more controls to ensure that the harvest is sustainable. But now the walrus hunters are facing another problem. The warming climate is changing the range of the walrus, and a traditional way of life may be threatened.

Photo from The Wealth of Nature © Staffan Widstrand

This book is a celebration of nature’s ecological services and demonstrates in detail how they contribute to our health, economic prosperity, and cultural values, according to the publisher.


A captive wolf at the International Wolf Center near Ely, Minnesota, defends a road-killed deer carcass from the other members of its pack. The intricate cycle of predator-prey relationships ensures that nutrients keep cycling through the system as one species kills and eats another.

Photo from The Wealth of Nature © Joel Sartore/

The volume contains essays by distinguished scientists that highlight that unsustainable economic growth has put a burden on nature’s capacity to deliver clean water, fresh air, medicines and climate regulation, among other benefits, the publisher says in a statement. “Assigning a financial value to them is the key to mend some of the environmental impact of human activities.”


A Colorado or Tsáchila Indian shaman from Santo Domingo de los Colorados in coastal Ecuador performs a cleansing ceremony by spraying a concoction of alcohol and medicinal herbs over his patient. Traditional knowledge of medicinal plants and animals, passed down over generations, has led to many of the manufactured pharmaceuticals that now stock the shelves of drugstores in industrialized countries. Ensuring that the indigenous peoples who hold this knowledge earn their fair share remains a challenge for the international community.

Photo from The Wealth of Nature © Pete Oxford

Russ Mittermeier, President of Conservation International, who, together with Jeff McNeely of IUCN led the group of scientists, said: “Nature provides services that are essential to sustain all life on the planet. These services must be valued according to the benefits that they provide to people, and those communities who work to protect
them should be financially compensated for this. Economic instruments are a way to encourage better management of ecosystems.”


As areas of rain forest are cleared for new towns on the Amazon frontier, the micro-habitats preferred by malarial mosquitoes often increase, resulting in higher levels of this deadly disease.

Photo from The Wealth of Nature © Daniel Beltra / Greenpeace

“We now recognize that the climate will change, posing new challenges and threats to nature. Conserving biodiversity will play a key role in our ability to adapt to these changes. This book is a bridge between negotiations on a climate deal at Copenhagen and the launch of the International Year of Biodiversity in 2010,” said IUCN Director General, Julia Marton-Lefèvre, who wrote the foreword of the book.

Nature photographers for the book included wildlife photographer Frans Lanting, the award-winning Jenny E. Ross and endangered species photographer Joel Sartore.


A snorkeler crosses Devils Eye Spring where teh tannin rich waters of teh Santa Fe River mix with the crystal clear waters of Devils Eye Spring at Ginne Springs Florida.

Photo from The Wealth of Nature © David Doubilet

To find out more about the International league of Conservation Photographers, The Wealth of Nature and other conservation books, please visit the ILCP Web site. 

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Meet the Author

Author Photo David Max Braun
More than forty years in U.S., UK, and South African media gives David Max Braun global perspective and experience across multiple storytelling platforms. His coverage of science, nature, politics, and technology has been published/broadcast by the BBC, CNN, NPR, AP, UPI, National Geographic, TechWeb, De Telegraaf, Travel World, and Argus South African Newspapers. He has published two books and won several journalism awards. In his 22-year career at National Geographic he was VP and editor in chief of National Geographic Digital Media, and the founding editor of the National Geographic Society blog, hosting a global discussion on issues resonating with the Society's mission and initiatives. He also directed the Society side of the Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship, awarded to Americans seeking the opportunity to spend nine months abroad, engaging local communities and sharing stories from the field with a global audience. A regular expert on National Geographic Expeditions, David also lectures on storytelling for impact. He has 120,000 followers on social media: Facebook  Twitter  LinkedIn