Sierra Summit

Conversations and observations about California's mountains

December 1, 2009
Climate Change, Photography and Science
    "Nothing is easier than to remain unaware of gradual processes."
     Bernard DeVoto - the great historian of the American West -   wrote those words six decades ago in an article about the dangers of deforestation, over-grazing and soil erosion.
     Today, they hold true for an even larger environmental challenge: climate change. 
      But thanks to an impressive new book by  Truckee landscape photographer Elizabeth Carmel, it will be difficult to remain unaware of the gradual impacts of climate change in the Sierra Nevada.  
      Carmel's book - The Changing Range of Light -  is a surprise.  Not only is it a stunning collection of photographs of landscapes threatened by global warming (such as the Lake Tahoe basin, above), it is a reader-friendly introduction to basic Sierra Nevada climate science, as well. 
        Carmel accomplishes that feat by inviting two leading researchers - Robert Coats, a visiting scholar with the U.C. Davis Department of Environnmental Science and Policy and Geoffrey Schladow, founding director of the U.C. Davis Tahoe Environmental Research Center -  to contribute to the book. The resulting mix of aesthetic image and empirical science is a rare treat.

Not only do we see what's at risk, we learn why - and what it may mean for future generations. As Coats and Schladow write in an introduction to the book:  "It is our hope that by presenting information from the scientific literature along with Elizabeth Carmel's extraordinary photographs, we will help both to inspire and to motivate readers to take effective action to address the challenges posed by climate change."

Carmel, one of 12 photographers honored worldwide with the Hasselblad Master Photographer Award in 2006, told me she wanted her book to be more than just another collection of pretty pictures.  "As an artist who works in the Sierra, I feel it's my responsibility to communicate the threats to the landscape and scenery that everyone loves so much," she said. And turning to science helped her do that job. "Climate change is a serious issue. I think the best way to communicate that is through empirical data, rather than personal opinion."

Carmel and her husband operate an art gallery in the historic downtown section of Truckee. If you live in the area, drop by Saturday Dec. 5 from 4 to 6:30 for a book release party and fund-raiser for the Truckee-Donner Land Trust. If not, look for The Changing Range of Light in a bookstore or on-line at The Carmel Gallery web-site below.  If you love the Sierra, as Elizabeth obviously does, you are sure to like her book - and learn from it, too. 

(Photos courtesy of Elizabeth Carmel)


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About Sierra Summit

The Author
Tom Knudson lives in the Sierra Nevada and travels widely throughout the range. His hobbies include fly-fishing, backpacking and cross-country skiing. He is the recipient of numerous journalistic awards, including two Pulitzer Prizes, one for a 1992 Sacramento Bee series "Sierra in Peril," a watershed work about environmental threats to the mountain range. E-mail Tom at

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