A New Kind of Train Wreck
Ever greater numbers of people are waking up to the impact of climate change on our lives as trains full of oil crash and burn in Alabama and Canada, as polar vortex cold spells and devastating western droughts engulf us. The photo in this blog post shows a railroad train car swept away in the flood of 1965, sitting in a heap of logging debris in northern California after a flood devastated the area. Harvey Richards was ahead of his time in recognizing the devastating impact human activity has on the environment and the dire consequences that lay ahead. Today we can understand that logging and climate change go together.
In the last few weeks, new image galleries from Harvey Richards environmental photography about mining and logging have been published on the Harvey Richards Media Archive. Looking at the timeline of Harvey’s work as a photographer, you can see that he focused on logging and mining in the years from 1969 onward. Just like his photography on California farm workers, civil right protests in California and Mississippi and the west coast anti-war movements, his environmental photography was designed to help activists (militants, he called them) struggling to limit corporate destruction of the environment. He made Vanishing Redwoods as part of the effort to establish and expand the Redwood National Park. He made Warning! Warning! to help the Save the Bay movement end the filling of the bay by real estate interests. His last film, Tale of Ruin, brought together his photography of open pit mining into an indictment of capitalist resource exploitation and its role in U.S. foreign policy.
People are now asking the hard questions. How do we stop the corporate freight train? Does pointing the finger help? Or, put another way, can we stop doing something we do not understand? Big corporations are used to having a free hand in destroying the environment based on the alleged national interest in jobs and economic activity. Is this rationale valid? Now as climate change brings floods, arctic cold, drought, hurricanes and increasing poverty to vast numbers of people, humanity faces a turning point. Does mother earth have rights? Is it ok to destroy the environment in order to keep the profits rolling in? How can we overcome corporate control of the government and our resources to stop our slide into ecological disaster?
Looking back at 1965, did the logging companies pay for any of this damage? Were they held responsible for the ecological devastation of the forests they clear cut? Were they indicted for endangering public safety? For destroying ancient irreplaceable landscapes? No, they were not. They had property titles to the land and government permits to log which amounted to a license to kill the earth. Can we go on like this much longer?
Harvey Richards photographic documentation of destructive logging and mining practices focused on the great wealth created by working people for a small group of individuals who control the operations of large corporations. The cry for justice for the poor and exploited has now turned into a cry for justice for the earth and all future generations. The need to control corporations to stop the devastation of the environment is growing with each passing crisis. At the center of it all is the awareness that our earth is aging under our impact and we are unable to stop it. Private property rights without limit are not sustainable. They have brought us to this point and they are set to take us over the edge to oblivion. It is a new kind of train wreck.