Earthrise: The Photo that Launched a Movement

It has been said that the pictures taken on Christmas Eve forty years ago created the environmental movement, that for the first time people really could see that we really were all together on one little boat floating in space. This was the first, the black and white shot. Historian Christopher Riley writes in the BBC that Frank Borman saw it: "Oh, my God! Look at that picture over there!" Then they ran for the colour film.

Soon it was on the cover of the first Whole Earth Catalogue, an icon of the movement. Nobody had yet even considered that it might be a vast photoshop job- it was a time when we believed our eyes.

Riley writes:

These images, along with hundreds of other still pictures taken of the whole Earth during Apollo's nine flights to the Moon, helped to drive the momentum of a burgeoning green movement during the 1970s.

They fuelled an awareness of the vulnerability of the Earth which still resonates with us today and shapes our behaviour.

Robert Poole has written a book about it; the LA times review notes:


The year 1970 saw the first Earth Day and groundbreaking new laws partly inspired by the sheer fragility conveyed in the photo -- and the love it generated. "The perspective expanded again, to embrace all life in the universe, and all time since the Creation," writes Poole. It is this expansion of consciousness that Poole calls "the unofficial space programme," distinct from the technological race and competition with the Soviets to put men on the moon.....

"One thing was obvious to all," Poole quotes biologist Lewis Thomas: "while the moon was 'dead as an old bone,' the Earth was 'the only exuberant thing in this part of the cosmos.' "

Jim Lovell noted that "The vast loneliness is awe-inspiring and it makes you realize just what you have back there on Earth." Even the Pastafarians among us can appreciate Frank Borman's conclusion:


"And from the crew of Apollo 8, we close with good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas, and God bless all of you - all of you on the good Earth."

More at Happy Birthday Earthrise

Others disagree about what was the image that kick-started the environmental movement:
The Power of the Power of Ten

Tags: Wayback Machine

Best of TreeHugger 2014

WHAT'S HOT ON FACEBOOK