Eight years ago, as a photographer on assignment in Papua New Guinea covering deforestation, Vlad Sokhin also started to document the sea level rise he was witnessing firsthand. “Slowly, the sea was claiming the land, and people had to move,” he says. He decided to begin a larger project to track the impacts of climate change through the Pacific, from small island nations to coastal Alaska.
A new book, Warm Waters, shows the reality of climate change in the places that Sokhin spent the past several years visiting by canoe and helicopter and seaplane. In the Arctic, he saw houses sinking into the permafrost, and villages planning to relocate. In Utqiagvik, Alaska, he photographed an Iñupiat girl standing on melting ice, which is forcing away the animals that the community traditionally relied on for food.
In the Kamchatka Peninsula in Russia, he documented crumbling, abandoned apartment blocks in an area where the coastline is eroding. In the island nation of Kiribati, he saw traditional houses flood at high tide, and families temporarily tie up babies so that they wouldn’t drown. “This is climate change,” he says. “This is the sort of thing that when you see it, you understand that wow, this is real.”
The images are more powerful than any statistic or report—the same reason that at the global climate conference last week, the foreign minister of Tuvalu chose to give a remote speech standing knee-deep in the ocean as he talked about rising sea levels and why the world needs a real plan–and sufficient funding–to limit global warming to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius.
“Many people in the world can’t go to these places,” Sokhin says. “But when they see the pictures, they realize, OK, this is real, someone else went and brought it to us. That’s why I published the book, and an e-book. . . . Anyone can get the book and on their own screen, go to Oceania, and be there and see what’s happening.”