‘Try to live with as less as possible’

A French photographer flies on hot air balloons and records how a ravaged planet called earth prepares for apocalypse now!
Sumiran Preet Kaur Delhi

"An unknown world lies ahead in the next 10 to 15 years," said Yann Arthus Bertrand, 63, French photographer and documentary filmmaker. Photographing the earth from helicopters and hot air balloons and making documentaries on global warming made him see that the world is changing drastically. "The quantity of information in circulation has never been greater. All of this is positive. The negative aspect is that despite knowing what is happening and being aware of the irreversible change we are bringing in nature, we are not acting fast enough."

For more than 10 years, Yann Arthus Bertrand has been drawing the portrait of the planet with his aerial pictures and films. These years of travel have given Bertrand a global vision. "I realised how fast the world was changing due to human activities and was certain that it was heading in a bad direction," he says.  It was then that he realised the power of pictures to convince people to change. He felt that people will believe what they see.

He was right. In 2009, he released his documentary, Home. The film, entirely composed of aerial shots of various spots on earth, shows the diversity of life and how societies are threatening the ecological balance of the planet. The movie was released simultaneously in cinemas, on television and You Tube on June 5, 2009, the World Environment Day, in 181 countries.

The following Sunday, the 'ecologist 'parties in the European Union elections made an unexpected high. The people wanted change. Beautiful aerial photography, an omnipresent music score and great post production details makes this an extraordinary movie. "It is an educational movie," he says.

Bertrand, when he was 30, went to Kenya to work in a national park. He also lived among the Massai tribes for three years to study the behaviour of lions and took daily pictures. It is here when he  discovered his new passion for landscape pictures from hot air balloons. He came back to France in 1981 and became an international reporter and photographer, specialising in documentaries on sports, wildlife and aerial photography. He also founded the Altitude Agency in 1991, the word's first press agency and images bank on aerial photography. In 1994, he did more research on planet earth. In 2005, he founded the international environment organisation 'Good Planet', his 'best time'.

 "While making one of my films, The Earth from the Sky, I often asked myself what I could learn from men and women I glimpsed below. I dreamt of understanding their words, feelings and concerns that linked us. From up there, the earth looks like an immense area to be shared," he said. During shooting he felt that something was missing in his films - sound, words, the people's language. He started interviewing people and launched the project - 6 Billion Others.

With this, the cameraman travelled to 75 countries in four years to interview the inhabitants of earth. The '6 Billion Others' project records testimonies of people in their original language. "In many struggles, like the struggle against poverty and climate change, we need small community efforts. We cannot ignore what links us to each other and the responsibility this implies. There are more than 6 billion people on the earth and there will be no sustainable development if we cannot live together. Each one of us has to reach out and listen to other people and contribute to the life of 6 billion others," he feels.

This is the logic which brings him to India. His exhibition 'Earth From Above' and the screening of Home will be held in Mumbai near Marine Drive in December. "India is a beautiful country but since I usually come for work, my tight schedule does not let me explore the country. India is one of the toughest countries to shoot in. There is a lot of bureaucracy. India is very image conscious. They think we are spies," he laughs. "These are the challenges that a photographer has to face."

The documentary will also be shown in the forthcoming Copenhagen climate summit. The Good Planet Foundation will be there to show its projects and work with other NGOs on climate change. "It is all a paradox. People are not taking anything seriously. It is not that they are not aware. They don't want to hear the truth. The pace at which we are going is too slow."

So what's the solution: "In democratic countries, governments do not tackle many issues since they fear they might become unpopular with the people. Hence, nobody is serious about climate change. Democracy kills people. The change has to start from you and me."

On April 22, 2009, he was designated as the United Nations Environment Programme Goodwill Ambassador (UNEP) and received the 'Earth Champion' award. "Try to bring change as individuals - that is the toughest thing to do," he says. "Try to live with as less as possible. Whatever you do, do it with passion and think how you can benefit others. I am a photographer, so I look for ways of how my profession can help others. This is what I will keep on doing. Due to effects of global warming, many people are dying every year. We have spoilt ourselves. We can't do that anymore. A difficult world lies ahead."

Box
'More catastrophes will make us suffer'
RK Pachauri is director-general of TERI and served as the chair of the IPCC since 2002. On December 10, 2007, Al Gore shared the Nobel with the IPCC. Based in Geneva, IPCC was established to provide decision-makers and civil society with objective information on climate change. Yann Arthus Bertrand interviewed RK Pachauri in Delhi. Excerpts, recorded by Hardnews.

Bertrand:  In the fight against global warming, it does not seem that India is really doing enough...
Pachauri: India is a strong, developing country, but certainly not exemplary. We all know that the average Indian today emits far less carbon dioxide than, say, the average American. It is 1.3 emissions per capita for Indians. In USA, it is 19.7 emissions per capita. In such circumstances, a developing country cannot tell its people to live in misery without development while others are happy in other parts of the world. We certainly cannot deprive them. Developed countries must show generosity. They have to be magnanimous. They have to initiate in a big way.

Is the Indian government convinced to change?
Yes. It is visible in its various policies. India is targeting the generation of 20,000 megawatts of solar power by 2022 in the National Action Plan for Solar Mission. We have to look for alternatives. We cannot depend on oil imports as it spreads too much pollution. India has to go ahead with solar generation and keep looking for alternatives.

Do you compromise with your findings and studies?
No, every report that we do, we send it to the government to be approved. At times, the government is amused by our statements and wants a few things to be changed, but we do not want to compromise on science.

You say that we have only 10 years to change. But ten years is nothing.
Yes, but we cannot wait till tomorrow. And the way to start is to start at individual level in a big way. It is not only the responsibility of the government any more. We need the involvement of people. We can do things like taking public transport in a big way. Invest in it. Whatever we do today, will help our future generations. We cannot leave a messed up world for them.

The world is already in a bad direction.
We have to be optimistic. And what makes me optimistic is that if awareness continues to grow we will bring a change.

Are meetings like Copenhagen etc, part of a paradox?
Yes, even I fly so much for my meetings, we waste so much fuel and pollute the atmosphere. We should go for bio fuel. Media has to get active. We have to boycott things on big scale. People should form groups. If we do nothing, we will have catastrophes like the heat wave of Europe of 2003 which claimed many lives. Many more catastrophes will make human beings suffer. Why wait till some tragedy happens? Sea levels have risen by 17cms, glaciers are melting, there has been an impact on agriculture and there is a problem of water supply. The efforts for tomorrow will have to begin today.

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: DECEMBER 2009