Seeing Earth as a beautiful calamity

hurricane sandy nasa image
Public Domain NASA image courtesy of Norman Kuring/ Ocean Color Web

Michael Benson at The New York Times writes about how the view of Earth from space has changed since it was first seen by man in the 1960s and '70s:

In fact, few signs of humanity were visible, at least on the sunlit side. Sure, Los Angeles was visibly smoggy. And irrigated cropland could sometimes be discerned, like pointillism on Nile Delta sand. But these were exceptions. Under a startlingly thin layer of atmosphere, vast expanses of desert ceded to forests that gave way to the oceans that make up 70 percent of Earth’s surface. The planet seemed largely untouched. Only at night, when jewel-like cities rotated into view, did clear signs of civilization emerge.

There was something profoundly reassuring about this. Even as the ICBMs slept, it was heartening to know that despite our best efforts, we had not yet banged up the biosphere enough to make the effects easily visible from space.

But those were the 1960s and early ’70s; the global population was half what it is today, and the portion driving cars and leaving the lights on was far lower.

Contrast that with the last decade or so, when astronauts and Earth-observing satellites have recorded a different, deeply unsettling picture. While our world remains ravishingly beautiful, it increasingly shows symptoms of distress.

In a stunning, but startling series of photographs and videos provided by NASA satellites, Benson tours some of the problem areas on this planet explaining how deforestation, agricultural burning and other manmade actions are making the atmosphere a dumping ground.

It is hard to look at images of our home from this perspective and not feel a desperate urge to do something, anything to pull back on the reigns and slow this crisis.

Benson concludes Obama needs to do more.

President Obama should invite world leaders to an emergency conclave in Washington as early as possible and challenge China, India, Brazil, Indonesia and other major greenhouse-gas emitters to equal or exceed the percentage reductions he seeks for the United States. He should also try to rally the nation and globe in support of an international Manhattan Project, in which the best scientific minds would devise carbon-sequestration technologies that could clean the air of the heating elements we’ve put there — rather than simply seeking to limit the damage.

Having constructed a civilization capable of observing our still paradisiacal world from objectivity-inducing distances, we need to set aside our squabbles, recognize that we face a species-wide threat, and use our scientific-technical genius to protect the only known home of life in the universe.

See the incredible images and read the rest here.

Seeing Earth as a beautiful calamity
The New York Times has a stunning feature showing images of Earth and the immense damage caused by man to the land and atmosphere.

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