Photographer James Whitlow Delano has focused on environmental issues for much of his career. This interest was sparked early on in his life, he says: “I’ve always been strongly affected by the environment … since I was a young child living beside a nuclear research lab in California.”
Delano has worked around the world but now lives in Japan, where he works on, among other subjects, climate change. The work is so important to him that in 2015, he founded the Everyday Climate Change Instagram feed that presents the work of photographers documenting climate change around the world.
In some of his most recent work, Delano traveled to the Valle d’Aosta mountains and valleys of the Italian Alps to see the impact of climate change there. What he found was an area — a cultural crossroads since before the time of the Romans — that has been losing its glaciers at an alarming rate over the past three decades.
The beauty of Delano’s photos of Valle d’Aosta belie the gravity of the impact that climate change is having there. As Delano told In Sight:
Climate change in Val D’Aosta means a shorter snow season. From 1960 to 2017, the Alpine snow season [became] 38 days shorter on average, starting 12 days later and closing 26 days earlier. The 2015 to 2016 winter season was the warmest on record, with the French Alps [receiving] only 20 percent the normal snowfall. This year in Val D’Aosta, there was almost no snow at all in February.
More precipitation in a warmer future will arrive as rain. The Alps are the “water tower” of Europe. Glacial ice and winter snowpack store water, slowly releasing it, feeding rivers upon which European nations have depended upon in the warmer months, since time immemorial. Receding glaciers mean less water stored up to feed rivers, especially in times of summer drought. Also, rainwater drains away more quickly and is not stored in the Alps’ glaciers. Farmers and livestock pastoralists will find less grass in high meadows in summer to fatten up cows to produce milk for cheese.
What is happening in Valle d’Aosta is of global interest, to be sure, but the people living there are aware of the impact climate change is having, too. As Delano notes:
Valdostani are [keenly] aware that global warming means a shorter ski season and a greater dependence on costly man-made snow to keep that important regional industry going. Bars, restaurants, hotels, ski schools and rental shops are all negatively affected by a snow season that is 38 days on average shorter. Pastoralists are also feeling the effects of less green pasture in the drier, hotter summer months, but millions of people, dependent on the Po, Rhone, Rhine and Danuve rivers that are either born or fed by rivers sourced in the Alps, will be affected, hundreds of kilometers away, by an Alps with fewer glaciers. The warmer “sunny side” Italian Alps, a climate change hotspot, will likely turn out to be a proverbial /canary in the climate coal mine for [the] whole of Europe.
In Sight is The Washington Post’s photography blog for visual narrative. This platform showcases compelling and diverse imagery from staff and freelance photographers, news agencies and archives. If you are interested in submitting a story to In Sight, please complete this form.
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