Even before a reader opens Robert Bresky's new book, it delivers a wake-up call with its title: "Sunny Travel Photos Hide Dark Secrets About Genocide, Climate Change and Pollution."
It is the longest title of all his four books, but the Oregon City author said he found a lot to talk about in it and the title summarizes everything he wanted to say.
"There is a lot of despair in the book, but the last chapter offers hope," Bresky said.
Noting that the present national agenda has cut budgets for environmental programs, he added that it is "up to private authors, states and cities to keep the issue on the front burner."
Bresky is fascinated by the natural world, photography and travel, and from 2010 to 2017 he visited Hawaii, Mexico, Baja California, South Florida, Southwestern Texas, New Mexico and Central Oregon.
He researched each of those seven locales before traveling there and kept a daily journal about the natural areas, national parks and monuments in each place. He came up with the title of the book because he decided that all the sites he visited were linked by a history of genocide of indigenous people and the ravages that climate change and pollution have wrought on the environment.
Bresky became interested in the topic of genocide after hearing a group of local tribe members speak at a seminar.
"I learned so much. These stories were written by Native Americans so we were getting their true story," he said.
In each of the seven places Bresky visited, he did research about the mistreatment of indigenous people, and noted that "real atrocities were committed against Native Americans in California and Texas."
He also noted that scientists now are drawing on the knowledge of indigenous people in order to protect animals and plants "so we can move forward to deal with climate change and pollution."
In discussing climate change, Bresky likens the Earth to a human patient visiting a doctor's office, where the physician will check heart rate, listen to a person's lungs, and take a patient's temperature.
"In nature, the rivers, oceans and lakes are like the arteries of this Earth, moving the lifeblood," he said.
The forests are like the lungs of the planet, since they take the harmful carbon dioxide and give out oxygen, while the state of the oceans, mountains and deserts affect the temperature of the planet.
The wildfires in California and Oregon just last summer are examples "of a system going wrong. We are losing oxygen and there is too much carbon dioxide," Bresky said.
The floods last year in Houston, Texas, show how "foolish it is to get rid of wetlands and build on a floodplain."
The rising temperatures in the oceans are killing coral, which is vital to the rest of the ecosystem, and the planet's deserts are growing, so there is less topsoil and less vegetation.
The worst pollution Bresky witnessed on his travels was at the White Sands National Monument in New Mexico.
Not only is that site in the state where the first atomic bomb was tested, but it also is near a military base where rockets were developed.
The military burned pieces of leftover rockets from testing in open pits, releasing percolate, "an unbelievably carcinogenic material" that has contaminated the groundwater, Bresky said.
"The EPA has said at 18 parts per billion, [the chemical] can cause thyroid cancer and fetal brain damage," he said, adding that the EPA estimates the contamination in New Mexico is 25,000 parts per billion.
Returning to his analogy of the Earth as a patient in a doctor's office, Bresky said the book's last chapter is like a treatment plan for what is wrong with the planet.
Basically, more research needs to be funded and conducted, habitats and public lands need to be protected, commercial fisheries need to be regulated, and this country needs to strengthen international cooperative agreements.
Good work is going on in agencies like NASA, which is doing space research in remote desert areas of the planet that most resemble Mars.
"This helps define where life could be out in the universe," Bresky said.
He also noted that Espiritu Santo Island National Park in Baja, California, has been set aside as a marine sanctuary.
"They were having a problem with overfishing in the Sea of Cortez, so they put together a permit system as to who can fish," Bresky said.
Finally, he noted that this country needs to cooperate with its neighbors in other countries to protect the environment and save habitat.
Bears in Texas have been hunted almost to extinction, and so the bear population has crossed the Rio Grande River into Mexico in order to survive.
"They are protected over there, so the population is coming back," Bresky said.
But if the current administration moves ahead to build a wall between the two countries, that will seriously frustrate the efforts to protect the bears and other wildlife, he said.