Environment Forum

from Photographers' Blog:

Barefoot in a recycled school

The environment hasn't been spared in India's headlong rush towards development and consumerism. With it came mounds of garbage, piles of waste that had nowhere to go, industrial pollutants that were fed straight back into the rivers and lakes that supply drinking water to millions.‬ Walking around the streets of any town in India, you don't get the feeling that care for the environment is on the top of anyone's list of priorities.‬



So it was with a little skepticism that I read about a school which claimed to be completely environmentally friendly. I made a plan to travel to Pune, about 190km (118 miles) from Mumbai, to take a look at the Aman Setu school, which means "bridge to peace". They claimed fantastic things - the buildings were environmentally friendly made entirely out of recycled and natural bits and pieces - they had their own vegetable garden for children - kids were allowed to run around barefoot.‬



What I found really was surprising. The "school" consisted of just a handful of buildings. Madhavi Kapur, who came up with the idea for the school, told me how they'd made the buildings - they'd taken old cement bags, commonly left over at many construction sites after buildings are made in India, and compacted them together with mud to make the rooms. One of the buildings was cone-shaped, others rectangular. Roofs were made out of old advertisement claddings. Ventilation was provided through disused plastic pipes.‬

Instead of using toxic paints and whitewashes, they used a mixture of cow dung, mud and water. I was told it's been traditionally used in India for centuries because strangely enough, a mixture of cow dung and water insect proofs buildings. Who would have thought?!? It smelled reasonably pleasant too, you wouldn't think you were standing somewhere were the floors and walls were plastered in cow dung.‬



There were rough windows cut into the walls. No lights or fans, just natural light streaming into the rooms, the sound of wind rustling the trees outside. The children seemed to love it. Why wouldn't they? The classrooms were rustic but nice. If they got bored of studying maths or whatever, they could just leave the class, run around in the grass for a while, feed fish in the local pond, or do whatever they want and then come back in. A teacher told us they wanted the kids "to be one with the surroundings" to give them a sense of responsibility, and also to release energy - when they do come back to studying multiplication tables, they're docile.‬



‬They'd thought of everything - they bought an old municipal transport bus and stripped it down to make it kid safe. They installed a blackboard and it doubles as a classroom and a play space, where the boys can go and dangle from the handlebars on the roof.

from Photographers' Blog:

An erupting volcano on the horizon

It was Saturday, May 21, and I was returning from a tour with nine friends. We had spent 15 hours climbing a 1420 metre (yard) high peak named Midfellstindur near Iceland's Skaftafell national park. While driving back along route 1 from Skaftafell towards our hotel, the organizer of the trip Hans Kristjansson said "This is a strange cloud just above the glacier".

As a hang glider and ultralight pilot I knew right away that this was no ordinary cloud and said to Hans: "My friend, this is not a ordinary cloud but the start of an eruption". We stopped the car and I tried to use well the last seven frames that I had on my memory card in my Canon D300 DSLR camera. I took seven frames in about 20 minutes. I always take my photos in RAW format to be able to post-process them. It paid off this time. The pictures were taken at N 63° 56.712 W 17° 23.729.

When I got back to the hotel I was unable to view my pictures as my laptop was at home in Reykjavik along with my card reader. The lesson of the trip is that I will never ever travel again without my MacBookPro and my Lexar card reader. And I will make sure that I have ample space on different memory cards!

from Photographers' Blog:

A global view of Earth Hour

The world turned off its lights on March 26 for an hour from 8.30 p.m. local time as a show of support for tougher action to confront climate change.

A global celebration of Earth Hour 2011 from Nicky Loh on Vimeo.

I was given the assignment to not only photograph the event from Taipei, Taiwan, but to produce a multimedia video that showcased the world's landmarks without lights as part of the fifth annual Earth Hour.

The Taipei 101 building is seen before Earth Hour in Taipei March 26, 2011.  REUTERS/Nicky Loh

The Taipei 101 building is seen during Earth Hour in Taipei March 26, 2011. REUTERS/Nicky Loh

The Reuters online team in Toronto and I had decided to produce a video to illustrate the event with pictures by our photographers around the world. The idea was to fade before pictures with the lights turned on into the exact same image without the lights on.

from Photographers' Blog:

An arctic adventure

Wind patterns are left in the ice pack that covers the Arctic Ocean north of Prudhoe Bay, Alaska March 19, 2011.  REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

The Arctic Ocean in March is basically an ocean of ice. Almost the entire thing is covered from October to June in an icepack that only partially disappears in the summer and is still very solid in March.

Why would anyone in their right mind volunteer to spend a month to a month in a half in temperatures that usually don’t exceed -10 degrees Fahrenheit or -23 degrees Celsius? In the case of the roughly two dozen souls who work either for the British, Canadian and United States Navy or the Arctic Physics Laboratory Ice Station, it is because there is work to be done.

A man carries an ice auger to a remote warming station near the 2011 Applied Physics Laboratory Ice Station north of Prudhoe Bay, Alaska March 18, 2011.    REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

And the first piece of work is to physically build the camp. To do this, firstly a piece of “multi-year” ice must be found, that means that it is thick enough (theoretically) that it won’t split in half and will support the weight of a camp while having enough room for an airplane runway and helicopter landing pad. Next, these folks need to load an antique airplane with enough plywood and nails to build a half a dozen un-insulated boxes to live in, this usually takes about 3 days as the workers must fly back to their base at Prudhoe Bay each evening to avoid the -30 to -50 degree temperatures until they build enough shelters to house them all.

from Photographers' Blog:

A toxic work environment

Bernadett Szabo spent eight days photographing the disaster that enveloped part of Western Hungary after a reservoir of red sludge, an alumina factory by-product, burst on October 4 and released one million cubic meters of highly toxic sludge that killed eight people, injured 120, and destroyed nearly 1,000 hectares (2,400 acres) of land. Here’s her account of working in the field under the adverse conditions she found.

Photographer Bernadett Szabo works in the village of Devecser, 150 km (93 miles) west of Budapest, October, 2010.   REUTERS

This work required a whole lot more caution than normal when covering a different type of disaster story, like a flood for example. There’s water there, and mud, and you can sink and all, but that’s only water. This red sludge is toxic.

We knew it was alkaline, with a potent bite. We knew it was a lot more dense than regular silt, making moving around in it very tiring – and its toxicity meant no touching, so we could not hold onto anything for support. Falling over was not an option, because the toxic stuff could damage you to the point of visible wounds or cause damage to your eyes, and render your gear inoperable.

from Photographers' Blog:

Covering the Exxon Valdez disaster

It was shortly after midnight on March 24, 1989 that the Exxon Valdez hit Bligh Reef in Prince Edward Sound and began leaking millions of gallons of North Slope crude oil. I was sound asleep in Toronto, Canada when that happened.

Reuters was still taking a feed of pictures from UPI (United Press International) from the United States. But I remember hearing the news that morning and packing my gear (which at that time was film, powder chemicals, portable darkroom, 16S color transmitter and of course.. some cold weather clothing). I sat in Toronto as the politics of the news business played out in Washington between Reuters and UPI. Finally, it was decided that we would both cover the story. So, David Ake, a UPI staffer from Denver, and I made our way there. I remember landing in Anchorage, Alaska, and hauling my gear into a rental car at midnight, then driving six hours to Valdez in the dead of night. About 4 hours into the drive I was held up by a few hundred caribou, who decided to cross the two lane highway, they were just mingling so I still have vivid memories of being in the middle of nowhere honking my horn to help speed up the process.

Sea lions rest on a rock in the oily waters of Prine William Sound near Knight Island, April 2, 1989, after the worst oil spill in U.S. history, caused by the Exxon Valdez.   REUTERS/Mike Blake

I rolled into Valdez at first light and it didn’t take long to realize that most of the town’s people did not want the media there. The few media that had found rooms at the only hotel in town were all having to checkout as rumor had it that Exxon had bought the hotel. With help from our desk in Washington and the chamber of commerce in Valdez I found a place to stay at the home of the local taxidermist.

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