It's Christmas Eve, 1968. The Apollo 8 spacecraft has successfully completed its first three orbits around the moon. Launched from Cape Canaveral three days before, this is the first time that humans have ever traveled beyond low Earth orbit. On the vessel's fourth pass, the Earth slowly comes into view and reveals itself above the Moon's horizon. Astronaut Bill Anders frantically asks his crewmates where their camera is, grabs the Hasselblad, points it towards the window, presses the shutter, and takes one of the most important photographs of all time: "Earthrise."
When the crew was safely home a few days later, they were asked about the mission. Anders famously replied, "We went to the moon, but we actually discovered Earth."
What did he and his fellow crewmates feel in this incredible moment? In a study released just this past year, a team of researchers at the University of Pennsylvania examined the testimonies of hundreds of astronauts who had the opportunity to view the Earth from space. Their analysis uncovered three common feelings: first, a greater appreciation for Earth's beauty; second, an increased sense of connection to all other living beings; and third, an unexpected, often overwhelming sense of emotion. The researchers believe that seeing the Earth from a great distance provokes someone to develop new cognitive frameworks to understand what they are seeing. They believe these astronauts were forever changed by this new view, this new perspective, this new visual truth. This feeling is commonly referred to as the "overview effect."
Only 558 people have ever been to outer space. 558 people had the opportunity to gaze down in awe, to wonder at our planet floating in an infinite sea of darkness. But what if that number were bigger?
Three years ago, I set off on my own mission: to see if I could bring this feeling of overwhelming scale and beauty to many more people just by using one small computer in my small New York City apartment. It was then, in 2013, that I launched "Daily Overview."Every day, I have used satellite imagery to create one expansive overhead view of our planet. More than 1,000 of these images have been created thus far, and more than 600,000 people tune in for this daily dose of perspectives. I create the imagery by curating photos from the massive archive of a satellite company called Digital Globe. They operate a constellation of five satellites, each roughly the size of an ambulance, that is constantly taking pictures of the Earth as they orbit at 28,000 kilometers per hour.
Now, what does this mean? Each of these satellites is equipped with a camera that has a focal length of 16 meters, so that's roughly 290 times greater than a DSLR camera equipped with a standard 55 millimeter lens. So if were able to attach one of their satellites to the roof of this theater in Oxford, we could take a picture of a football, clearly, on the pitch at the stadium in Amsterdam. That's 450 kilometers away. That's incredibly powerful technology. And I decided at the beginning of this project that I would use that incredible technology to focus on the places where humans have impacted the planet.
As a species, we dig and scrape the Earth for resources, we produce energy, we raise animals and cultivate crops for food, we build cities, we move around, we create waste. And in the process of doing all of these things, we shape landscapes and seascapes and cityscapes with increasing control and impunity. So with that in mind, I would like to share a few of my overviews with you now.
Here we see cargo ships and oil tankers waiting outside the entry to the port of Singapore. This facility is the second-busiest in the world by terms of total tonnage, accounting for one-fifth of the world's shipping containers and one half of the annual supply of crude oil.
If you look closely at this overview, you'll see a lot of little specks. Those are actually cows at a feedlot in Summerfield, Texas, in the United States. So once cows reach a particular weight, roughly 300 kilograms, they are moved here and placed on a specialized diet. Over the next three to four months, the cows gain an additional 180 kilograms before they are shipped off to slaughter. You're also probably wondering about this glowing pool at the top there. That gets its color from a unique combination of manure, chemicals and a particular type of algae that grows in the stagnant water.
This is the Mount Whaleback iron ore mine in the Pilbara region of Western Australia, a beautiful yet scary scar on the face of the Earth. Of the world's mined iron ore, 98 percent is used to make steel and is therefore a major component in the construction of buildings, automobiles or appliances such as your dishwasher or refrigerator.
This is a solar concentrator in Seville, Spain. So this facility contains 2,650 mirrors which are arrayed in concentric circles around an 140-meter-tall tower at its center. At the top of the tower, there is a capsule of molten salt that gets heated by the beams of light reflected upwards from the mirrors below. From there, the salt circulates to a storage tank underground, where it produces steam, which spins turbines and generates enough electricity to power 70,000 homes and offsets 30,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions every year.
This overview shows deforestation in Santa Cruz, Bolivia immediately adjacent to untouched tracts of rainforest. Deforestation in the country has primarily been driven by the expansion of mechanized agriculture and cattle ranching, so as the country tries to meet the demand of its growing population and feed them, the sacrificial destruction of its rainforest has taken place to do so. It is estimated that the country lost 4.5 million acres of rainforest in one decade alone from 2000 until 2010.
This is the Eixample district in Barcelona, Spain. So the overview perspective can be incredibly helpful to help us understand how cities function and how we can devise smarter solutions for urban planning, and this will become only more relevant as it is expected that 4.9 billion people will live in cities around the world by the year 2030. This area of Barcelona is characterized by its strict grid pattern, apartments with communal courtyards and these octagonal intersections which allow for more sunlight, better ventilation and additional parking at street level.
And here we see that grid pattern but under much different circumstances. This is the Dadaab Refugee Camp in northern Kenya, the largest such facility of its kind in the world. To cope with the influx of refugees who are fleeing Somalia, where there is famine and conflict, the UN has built this area gridded out at left called the LFO extension to house more and more refugees who are arriving and occupying these white dots, which are actually tents which will slowly fill up the area over time.
So if you have one of these overviews, you have a moment in time. If we have two overviews, however, we are able to tell stories about changes in time. I call that feature of the project "Juxtapose," and we'll share a few examples of it with you now.
So the tulip fields in Netherlands bloom every year in April. So we take an image captured in March a few weeks before and contrast it to one taken a few weeks later. We're able to watch the flowers bloom in this magnificent cascade of color. It is estimated that the Dutch produce 4.3 billion tulip bulbs every year.
In 2015, two dams collapsed at an iron ore mine in southeastern Brazil, causing one of the worst environmental disasters in the history of the country. It is estimated that 62 million cubic meters of waste were released when the dams broke, destroying numerous villages in the process, including Bento Rodrigues, seen here before...and after the flood. Ultimately, 19 people were killed in this disaster. Half a million people did not have access to clean drinking water for an extended period of time, and the waste soon entered into the Doce River, extended for 650 kilometers all the way into the sea, killing unknowable amounts of plant and animal life along the way.
And lastly, here is a story related to the crisis in Syria, a conflict which has claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of people and displaced millions. So this patch of desert is seen in Mafraq, Jordan in 2011, the year the conflict started, and when we compare it to an image captured just this year in 2017, we see the construction of the Zaatari refugee camp.
So just as the astronauts of Apollo 8 watched the Earth rising above the lunar landscape for the first time, there is no way that you could have imagined what the places I just showed you look like from outer space. And while you may enjoy the aesthetics of an image, once you learn exactly what it is you're seeing, you may struggle with the fact that you still like it. And that's the tension I want to create with my work, because I believe it is that contemplation, that internal dialogue that will lead to greater interest in our planet and more awareness of what we're doing to it.
I believe that viewing the Earth from the overview perspective is more important now than ever before. Through the incredible technology of these high-flying cameras, we can see, monitor and expose the unprecedented impact that we are having. And whether we are scientists or engineers or policymakers or investors or artists, if we can adopt a more expansive perspective, embrace the truth of what is going on and contemplate the long-term health of our planet, we will create a better and safer and smarter future for our one and only home.