The Good Route: Picturing Climate Change at COP15


 ©Daniel Beltrá, courtesy of The Prince’s Rainforests Project and Sony

By Mary Catherine O'Connor

Some of Daniel Beltrá's photographs are shockingly beautiful, but many are just plain shocking. And it's the latter group—which illustrate burning, drought-stricken and clear-cut rainforests of Brazil, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Indonesia—that just may push our political leaders toward making real progress at the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP15) to be held next month in Copenhagen.

The Prince's Rainforests Project, an effort that Prince Charles of Wales established in 2007 in order to raise awareness about rainforest destruction and raise funds to support rainforest preservation, appointed Beltrá (through the Sony World Photography Awards) to photograph the world's largest and most important rainforests as part of the campaign. Now, some of these images—which show not only wide-scale damage to the rainforests but also vignettes of pristine sections (after all, leaders need to know what they're fighting for)—are collected in a book, Rainforest: Lifebelt for an Endangered Planet, which key world leaders at COP15 will receive.

The idea is that Beltrá's images will bring the facts around rainforest degradation—that it is the third largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, for example, and that it robs one billion of the poorest people on Earth from their source of livelihood—into greater focus.

Beltrá, who has shot for Greenpeace and other NGOs and for Reportage for Getty Images, says his contribution to the Prince's Rainforest Project is small in comparison to the greater effort—”I just do the artsy stuff,” he demurs. But take a look at his work. It's artistic, for sure…and come December, it might also impact international policy. Even if COP15 doesn't result in any international treaties (and now most pundits say it won't), Beltrá's documentation of our changing rainforests will likely linger in the minds of our world leaders.

Mary Catherine O'Connor is a freelance writer, covering the environment, sustainability and outdoor recreation. The Good Route, her new blog for Outside Online, is focused on the places where the active life and sustainability merge.