Published June 11, 2013
View Sean Gallagher's full audio slideshow and interview published online by The Guardian, June 10.
Pulitzer Center grantee Sean Gallagher traveled to the Tibetan Plateau in the autumn of 2012 where he spent a month photographing the natural beauty of the land, its transient visitors and those to whom it is home. He also found real evidence of the sharply accelerating speed at which the plateau is suffering permanent degradation.
Gallagher was looking for ground-level stories that would portray a number of climate change issues which the world will soon be forced to confront.
Despite two decades of UN climate talks, no headway has been made towards reducing emissions of carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases that scientists say are heating the planet.
The Tibetan Plateau covers close to 25 percent of China's surface area and houses the largest store of fresh water outside of the North and South Poles. The images show the monsoonal glaciers, those most sensitive to any change in their surrounding atmosphere. One of these glaciers is retreating very rapidly— by over two kilometers in the 20th century alone.
In one of Gallagher's images we see a man of the Yi minority overlooking the Hailuogou glacier, one of China's 8,500 monsoonal temperate glaciers. He looks apprehensive. "The glacier is not the same as before. The weather seems to get warmer," he says.
As temperatures rise, the spread of desertification is visible across the grasslands of the plateau. The immediate effect of a retreating glacier is a rising water level in the rivers that it feeds. Flooding is more prevalent and so too is the resultant displacement of people and destruction of their homes. Millions of dollars of damage occur each year.
View the full audio slideshow published by The Guardian online.
View more photos and stories by Sean Gallagher from the Tibetan Plateau in his project Meltdown: Climate Change and Environmental Degradation on the Tibetan Plateau. At present, the Pulitzer Center and Gallagher are at work on the production of an e-book to be published later this year.