The adventure began in 2009 in the wake of COP15, or the fifteenth UN Climate Change Conference, when the term “climate change” came into wider use. Faced with the imminent environmental crisis, Maxime Riché turned his back on his career as a life sciences consultant engineer. “I was looking for ways to have more impact. With photography, I was able to act directly. It was more urgent to the planet than the marketing projects I was working on at the time.” Inspired and advised by committed photographers such as Yann Arthus-Bertrand and Sebastião Salgado, Riché launched his long-term project: Climate Heroes.
“It is difficult to tell the story of climate change in images; it is not something that is necessarily visible, except in disaster photos.” While covering deforestation on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, Riché found his angle: “Thanks to the Research Institute for Development, I met people who were working in agroforestry. An NGO was training former illegal loggers to practice this method of cultivation beneath the tree canopy. I felt these men possessed a great sense of pride.” Thus the first Climate Heroes story was born.
More than ten years later, the project had accumulated some twenty stories documenting the actions of heroes working for the good of the planet on every continent. Eight of these portrait-reports, selected for their complementary qualities, are gathered in the book Climate Heroes forthcoming from Hemeria with the help of crowdfunding.
During these ten years, Maxime Riché joined forces with other photographers who share his philosophy. He has also sought advice from scientists, such as Jean Jouzel and Jean-Louis Etienne, and surrounded himself with journalists. All this in order to put these climate heroes in the spotlight. “They are not Antiquity’s demigods; they are people who inspire others to do something positive.” This central idea is reflected even in the design of the book, which deliberately includes blank pages for jotting down thoughts, ideas, and actions. “I try to encourage readers to be active and share the book with others who then will also try to do something.”
The approach has already inspired the publisher. Hemeria has sought out new partners to ensure that the object cleaves to the ecological values of the heroes it celebrates. The book’s paper comes from one of the greenest paper mills in the world. The biodegradable packaging and shipping have also been researched to minimize the impact on the environment. In addition, each book sold allows the association reforestACTION to plant a tree. Lastly, thanks to its status as an association, Climate Heroes allows contributors to support the heroes featured in the book with a donation of €20 on top of the book purchase. The amount goes directly to the initiative of their choice. Definitely not all heroes need to wear a cape!
By Laure Etienne
Laure Etienne is a Paris-based journalist and former member of the editorial team at Polka and ARTE.
Climate Heroes, by Maxime Riché, with forewords by Yann Arthus Bertrand and Laure Pipien-Yout, is published by Hemeria, 17 x 23.8 cm, 256 pp. Click here to donate.