When the Cuyahoga River caught fire in Cleveland 40 years ago, it made a lasting impression on a young boy named Tom Barnes.
It also drew attention to the nation's environmental problems and set the stage for a raft of laws aimed at cleaning things up.
Barnes, who went on to study wildlife and take beautiful photo graphs of Kentucky's great outdoors, has spent his adult life learning and teaching about conservation of natural resources. For most of that time, he thought that education and better laws eventually would solve the world's pollution problems.
Now 52, with several books and two decades as a University of Kentucky extension wildlife specialist under his belt, Thomas G. Barnes is trying a new tack.
He has supplied photos and an essay for The Gift of Creation: Images From Scripture and Earth (Acclaim Press, $39.95).
The book, edited by Norman Wirzba from Duke Divinity School, is a series of essays on the scriptural basis for environmental stewardship.
People of faith are among those whom the book hopes to reach. Barnes said his research has shown that although every major religion has a statement about the importance of caring for the natural world, there is a disconnect among the people practicing those religions.
"Generally speaking, the more fervently religious you are, the more you go to church, the less you know about the environment, the less you care about the environment," he said.
People might interpret the religious teaching that man should "have dominion" over the earth as a pass to damage it at will, he said. They might use a belief that God is going to destroy the world eventually as permission to use it up.
Barnes' previous books include two — Kentucky's Last Great Places and Rare Wildflowers of Kentucky (with Deborah White and Marc Evans) — that also sound the alarm that the natural world is being degraded and paved at an alarming rate.
In Creation, the scene for the theological essays is set by Barnes' older brother, biologist Paul W. Barnes of Loyola University in New Orleans.
Paul Barnes begins with Hurricane Katrina as a wake-up call for global climate change. Then he moves on to ozone depletion, air and water pollution, deforestation and habitat loss.
Thomas Barnes also took the photos — "the ones I didn't necessarily want to take but had to" — for that section. They show a coal-burning electricity- generating plant, a mountaintop-removal coal mine, and kudzu smothering trees.
But his greatest contributions to the book are what he is best known for: dazzling photos of the natural world.
A number of the images are from Kentucky, including the chorus frog peeking out of a Kentucky lady-slipper (which graced the cover of Barnes' and S. Wilson Francis' Wildflowers and Ferns of Kentucky).
He also supplied many photos of other places, including Mount Rainier in Washington, marsh marigolds in a swamp in New York, and a North Carolina beach.
The message: These are the things that God created and put in our care. And we have not been good caretakers.
"When I look at the world today, we don't have a river on fire," Barnes said. "But that doesn't mean things are better."