Three Posters

Whole Earth (1975)photo
Earth at night (1985)


Earth by night (2008)


I have three photos on my walls I hold dear.  They are listed above by title.

The whole Earth picture was, I believe, the first picture ever taken of the whole Earth in sunlight.  No such pictures exist today, since one has to be in deep space to get it, and our current deep space probes are too deep to have a “closeup” view.

Its publication set off an awareness of our home as a single entity that people on Earth had never known before (and one which has, sadly, been largely lost).  It is easily argued that it was the  start of  the movement which, today, thinks of the entire planet as being a single living being, one that is threatened by mankind’s success.  Those of us who subscribe to this view, call that single entity “Gaia,” and most of us have a very real fear that our (human’s) success may, indeed, be fatal to that being.

The  1985 picture is a composite of satellite images, as is the  2008 picture, showing the whole Earth as if it were being viewed simultaneously in the dark.  Since 1/2 of the Earth is always in sunlight, that is, of course, impossible.

The major purpose of such images is to give an overall impression of the presence of civilization on the planet, which is, itself, a reflection of human population on the planet.

Well, some would dispute that characterization since they associate the word, “civilization,” with the idea of “civilized,”  but that’s a discussion for another blog.  Here I only mean to stress the relationship between the gross amount of light visible in these night composites of the Earth and the gross number of humans alive on it.

The population in 1985 was approximately 4.65 billion.  In 2008 it was about 6.7 billion.  Today it is in excess of 7 billion.  Areas in which the growth is most visible in comparing the two night photos are Europe, Northern and Southern Africa, India and China, The United States and southern Canada, South Korea, South America, and Indonesia.  Some of the increase in visible light clearly reflects growth in technological infrastructure as well as population, and one can easily see it as a worldwide issue, not a conglomeration of individual problems.

I use the word “problem” advisably, for it most certainly is.  Until people begin to confront the issue of population growth as a problem that must be addressed head on, there is nothing being done to protect Gaia from the cancer we have become.  Anyone can see the proof of our cancerous growth by visualizing the Earth at night pictures as x-rays.  We are malignant , and we eventually will kill our mother–unless we self-correct by going into spontaneous remission.  That will only happen if we acknowledge what we have become.

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2 Responses to Three Posters

  1. Hank Raymond says:

    I’d like to see the 2 photos of earth at night corrected for exposure so that they both have the same exposure. There’s no accurate way to know how much the different levels of sensitivity to the light the 2 cameras have and how much that affects the photos.

    • George says:

      Yes, such a standardization, as well as regular time intervals between shots would be extremely beneficial to better understanding the whole phenomenon of population grwth and humanity’s impact on Earth. One of my greatest frustrations is that I cannot even find this 1985 image any lomger on the web. It makes me suspect myself of being either a conspiracy theorist or hopelessly incompetent at using the web. The latest image, in something like 2010, is particularly unhelpful, especially because it appears to now be the image in all of APOD’s archival composite night photos.

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