By: Jo Bruni
Award-winning environment photojournalist Sean Gallagher shared his work on environmental crisis in China and other Asian countries with dozens of Hunter and Guttman Community College students and faculty in midtown Manhattan on Sept. 26.
Gallagher, a Brit who lives in China, presented images from his stories about topics ranging from drought in India to China’s environmental problems, such as air pollution in Beijing, desertification, disappearing wetlands and the impact of climate change in the Tibetan plateau. Gallagher also covered his work on the threats of extinction for species of alligators in China and elephants in Sri Lanka.
Gallagher explained that the focus of his stories is on how environmental problems affect peoples’ lives. Urban residents of Beijing wear masks that filter out air pollution. Farmers are forced into poverty or to abandon their land due to desertification that has spread to a third of China’s land area. And thousands of Indian farmers committed suicide during one drought because they could no longer feed their families and pay their debts.
Gallagher’s training in science — he studied zoology at university — led him to focus on environmental issues. “All is interrelated,” said Gallagher. For example, he explained, we drink tea from plantations in Sri Lanka that have pushed elephants into areas inhabited by humans, creating human-elephant conflict. Similarly, Chinese consumers demand disposable chopsticks, which has significantly reduced Chinese bamboo forests. And Western consumers buy Chinese bric-a-brac, which are made by burning coal that produces global warming that then melts the Tibetan glaciers, affecting the lives of people in the Tibetan plateau.
Gallagher told students that by communicating under-covered environmental problems through visual storytelling, he believes he can spread the word and encourage policy change. But in response to student questions, he acknowledged that making it as journalist was difficult and time-consuming, requiring patience and persistence, as well as focus, not to mention a bit of networking.
The program was organized by Guttman in conjuction with the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, of which Gallagher is a six-time travel grant recipient. Pulitzer runs a Campus Consortium Network that partners with higher education institutions seeking to engage students and faculty with critical global issues.