The catastrophic floods in western Germany earlier this year arrived as a rough awakening. As images of destroyed homes and numbers of missing people flooded the news, yet again, the effects of climate change weighed heavily on the world’s shoulders. Over the last decades, the displacement of populations has been taking place all over the world. News sources globally report fires, flooding, ice caps melting and seas plagued with plastic but there still exists a gap in our understanding of those communities forcibly removed from their homes as a direct result of climate change. The Croatian photographer Luka Tomac is on a mission to redetermine the narrative by telling the stories of those directly affected by environmental disasters. In his book 1*C Rising, Tomac honours the significance of this increasingly relevant subject matter through a careful curation of essays, alongside deeply emotive photographs with statements spoken by those on the front lines.
1*C Rising begins with a text by Katia Avilés Vázquez who describes the two-month power cut in Puerto Rico as a direct consequence of fiscal austerity measures imposed after two major hurricanes tore through the Caribbean island in 2017. Vázquez describes the subsequent economic collapse that follows, alongside severe water and food shortages; “we have the effects of climate change. We are living through them”, she writes. Vázquez acknowledges that these disasters were natural but, as this book will go on to illustrate time and again, were caused by economic decisions and the burning of fossil fuels. Her solution: climate reparations for people of colour in US territory and for those in developing countries who remain vulnerable as a product of colonialist structures.
Vázquez’s words are followed by “Stories In The Sand” by the journalist and activist Daniel Macmillen Voskoboynik. Voskoboynik explains the vital practice of telling stories in these “times of relentless loss” as a product of “our systemic crisis”. He describes “eroded soils, razed forests, parched lands, shredded ecosystems, suppressed livelihoods, and extinguished cultures” and highlights the pressing need for books such as these to highlight the impact of both natural and unnatural disasters. Voskoboynik describes “stories of suffering and strength, stories of courage and vision, stories of loss and justice” in the chapters to come. Whilst Voskoboynik’s piece reads particularly provocatively, it effectively illustrates storytelling as our “shields and searchlights” and frames the importance of accounts the reader will go on to explore.
The stories that proceed are simultaneously shocking and awe-inspiring. The chapter “Toxic River”, is a journey through the kilometres of oil-polluted water in Niger Deltae: “an area that has suffered environmental degradation ever since multinational oil companies began extracting oil in the 1950s”, writes Godwin Uyi Ojo. The photographs show a wasteland littered with glistening puddles where wildlife once roamed. A local man, Eric Dooh, is photographed leaning out of a shelter looking out over the acres his father farmed before, “all of them were lost in a fire caused by crude oil pollution in 2004”, he says.
The chapter “After the Flood” follows, an essay by Nataša Crnković describes severe flooding caused by a low-pressure cyclone in the Balkans. Subsequent catastrophic rain (caused by the Earth’s atmosphere warming) caused the deaths of 62 people and the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people across Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, and Croatia. The photographs show a submerged cemetery and stranded furniture, once belonging to families, left in the water. Despite the heart-wrenching images, Crnković’s essay wraps up with a note of optimism for the future, acknowledging the environmental organisations working to tackle the issue of flooding in the Balkan Region.
“Here And No Further”, a chapter towards the middle of the book, takes us to the coal mines in the Rhineland, Germany. The Climate Collective Copenhagen describes in their essay the dangers of burning brown coal: “burning it for power is the form of electricity production that emits the largest amounts of greenhouse gas”. The piece goes on to describe the activist group “Ende Gelände” taking direct action against the burning of coal through descending on the mines and occupying the surrounding infrastructure. The call for action brings people from all over Europe; new activists and longer serving campaigners come together wearing white suits and dust masks, both to protect them from the “dangerous elements in the mine” and to achieve “anonymity in the group to facilitate action”, Climate Collective explains.
Eighteen further chapters follow, documenting stories of deeply affected communities from all corners of the earth. From the use of solar energy in Bangladesh, a country where communities are being devastated by the construction of power plants, to the chapter “Arctic Reflections” which illustrates the issues faced by the indigenous Saami youth in Sweden who, born into reindeer herding families in the southern Arctic, are struggling to survive due to the melting ice as a product of increasingly warmer climates.
Each of the chapters in 1*C Rising is burdened with a feeling of loss, but threaded throughout the book exists a continued desire for transformative change. Tomac places himself at the sidelines, behind the lens, giving a platform to those whose stories demonstrate the direct consequences of climate change right infront of us.
1*C Rising can be purchased here.
by Eliza Edwards