Earthrise is the name given to this photograph of the Earth taken by astronaut William Anders in 1968 during the Apollo 8 mission. In Life‘s 100 Photographs that Changed the World, it was called “the most influential environmental photograph ever taken.” Photos of the Earth from space are so striking because they show how beautiful the planet is when viewed from a distance. Such photos of Earth allow us to view our planet as one singular system, which we are a part of. They remind us that we only have one Earth to work with, and that we depend on it for our survival. Against the inky blackness of space, our home appears small and fragile, a living miracle of air, water, soil, and vegetation.
Such a worldview is particularly important in light of our growing human disconnect from nature. As our smaller worlds have become more industrial and our lives have become more dependent on technology, we have begun to lose our essential connection to the natural world of which we are a part. Most of the human beings on this planet live in cities and a great number of us spend most of our time wrapped in technology and manufactured goods. Although it is of course true that humans are animals, we do not often like to be reminded of it. Indeed most of us know that we are mammals, however, we think it an insult to be called an animal, be it a pig, a dog, monkey, what have-you. Calling someone an animal is deemed as a derogatory statement.
Of course there are some extremely significant factors that set us apart from the rest of the animal kingdom. We are after-all, or so we hope to think, the most developed communicators on the planet. And of course we cannot overlook our mastery of tool making and technology. However, although these factors do make us stand out from the other organisms that we share our home with, they do not separate us from nature. We must not forget that we are nature. This is why it is so important to spend time outdoors, in nature, and with wildlife. This time allows us to reconnect with who we actually are.
The first photos of the Earth from space are very powerful because they remind us that our planet is alive – she is Gaia, Mother Earth, she is life – and because of her, we have life. More recently a variety of photos [composites or collages more-so than actual photographs] have become very popular on-line. These are the views of the Earth at night. These assembled photos also provide us with very powerful perspectives of our home. They allow us to visualize mankind’s extreme impact on the Earth. From these composite images, we can clearly see densely populated areas of the Earth lit brightly. We can clearly see the industrialized parts of the planet. That is to say that we can see were the natural Earth has been converted into cities. We can see where the natural Earth has been converted to man-made structures of concrete, wood, and steel. That is to say that we can clearly see where non-renewable fossil fuels are being converted and used as electricity. We can see where we live, and the impact we have made to our planet.
When I first looked at images of the Earth at night, I remember being struck by their power. They are immediately grasping in their ability to communicate visually. If we go by the old rule that every picture is worth a thousand words, then these collages of images certainly have something interesting to say. As I have spent more time looking at these images, I am struck by the notion that the Earth looks sick. The lights are symptoms of the spreading illness. Man-kind’s current ways of thinking are destroying our planet.
Now, this all seems very depressing, in a doom and gloom sort of manner. There is however a positive spin that can be taken from these visuals. That of course would be to understand the size and scope of impact that we have had in transforming our planet in such a small amount of time. This is important only because there is still hope. There is still time to reverse our effects. Man-kind is not necessarily the cause of Earth’s sickness, but rather man-kind’s current ways of thinking. We need to change the ways in which we think, consume, and pollute. If we get the ball rolling towards new ways of thinking, we can have massive impact in very little time. Our objective is to work towards a sustainable, healthy relationship with our home, Gaia, Mother Earth.
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