Woman collecting and cleaning plastic bags by the Nairobi River, Kenya

This woman regularly collects discarded plastic bags around her community near the Nairobi River. After cleaning them, she sells the bags to brokers who then sell them to artisans who upcycle the bags by crocheting products such as handbags and hats. Since plastic bags are made from petroleum, this woman is not only reducing her community’s carbon footprint by reusing existing bags, but she is also cleaning up her neighborhood and creating income for herself and a chain of others.

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The Witness Tree: Climate solutions from around the world

Carolyn Monastra | US, Kenya, Tonga, Thailand, Argentina, UK

“The Witness Tree” documents the impacts of climate change around the world. From the melting ice of Antarctica to the wildfires of Australia, I am drawn to precious and precarious places that mark the shifting boundaries between nature and the effects of our not-so-natural disasters. I have photographed the climate crisis on every continent. These photographs are from the “Solutions” chapter which features seemingly small measures taken by individuals bettering their communities to larger mitigating solutions like London’s Thames Barrier.

While working on this ongoing project, I take inspiration from the people I meet and the words of Jane Goodall:

“We have the choice to use the gift of our life to make the word a better place – or not to bother. The greatest danger to our future is apathy. Only if we understand, can we care. Only if we care, we will help. Only if we help, we shall be saved.”

Although significant carbon reduction is primarily the responsibility of governments and industry, I believe, as these images attest, that the actions of individuals can give us hope.

Artist, educator, and environmental activist, Carolyn Monastra received a BA from Fordham University and an MFA from the Yale School of Art. A native of Cleveland, Ohio, her awards include grants from The Puffin Foundation, BRIC Arts Media, The City of New Haven and artist residencies at Blue Mountain Center, Ucross Foundation, Caldera Arts, Djerassi Foundation, and Saltonstall Foundation. Aresidency at Skaftfell Visual Arts Center in Iceland inspired her to focus her artwork on the climate crisis.

“My work is driven by the emerging dialogue between people who are rooted to their lands, but are (sometimes) innocently uprooted from them. Although many of the places I visited while working on this project were beautiful, the stories were not: I have heard tales of loss of life, property, and valuable natural resources.

It has been a bittersweet journey, but many of the people I met have inspired me. I believe it is possible for our collective efforts to have an impact in creating healthier more sustainable communities. Through presentations, exhibitions, and audience-engagement events, I aim to translate a general awareness about climate change into a concern and an action to reduce its effects on our world.”

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