Thirty-five years ago this Christmas, a turbulent world looked to the heavens for a unique view of our home planet. This photo of “Earthrise” over the lunar horizon was taken by the Apollo 8 crew in December 1968, showing Earth for the first time as it appears from deep space.
Astronauts Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and William Anders had become the first humans to leave Earth orbit, entering lunar orbit on Christmas Eve. In a historic live broadcast that night, the crew took turns reading from the Book of Genesis, closing with a holiday wish from Commander Borman: “We close with good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas, and God bless all of you — all of you on the good Earth.”
Regarded as one of the 100 photographs that changed the world, the late adventure photographer Galen Rowell called it “the most influential environmental photograph ever taken.” Captured on Christmas Eve, 1968, near the end of one of the most tumultuous years the U.S. had ever known, the Earthrise photograph inspired contemplation of our fragile existence and our place in the cosmos. For years, Frank Borman and Bill Anders of the Apollo 8 mission each thought that he was the one who took the picture. An investigation of two rolls of film seemed to prove Borman had taken an earlier, black-and-white frame, and the iconic color photograph, which later graced a U.S. postage stamp and several book covers, was by Anders. Reference from here.
It was called “the most influential environmental photograph ever taken.” Rightly so!
Those words were spoken by the late Galen Rowell, the famous Californian wilderness photographer, commenting about the Earthrise photograph taken from Apollo 8 on December 24th, 1968 during the first manned mission to the Moon.
No one who saw that picture of the planet we all live on could fail to be moved. Indeed, none more so than onboard NASA astronaut Frank Borman who uttered the words as the Earth rose above the horizon of the moon, “Oh my God! Look at that picture over there! Here’s the Earth coming up. Wow, is that pretty.” It was fellow Apollo 8 crew-member, Bill Anders, who then took the ‘unscheduled’ photograph.
Who hasn’t gazed into a night sky and been lost in the beauty above our heads. Or felt the wind, flowing across our ancient lands, kiss our face. We stand so mite-like, so insignificant in all this immensity of creation. Our planet is ‘pretty’. Indeed, Planet Earth is good, beautiful, and so precious to life. Life that arose in just a fraction of time after our Solar System formed 3.7 billion years ago; the oldest traces of life have been found in fossils dating back 3.4 billion years. Our miracle of life.
But the one thing we cannot do is to take that miracle of life for granted. Here’s a perspective on that. Just a couple of months after that famous Earthrise photograph, in February 1969, America’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) recorded the level of CO2 in the Earth’s atmosphere as 324.42 parts per million (PPM).
From 43 years ago we fast forward to February of 2012. NOAA now recorded that CO2 level as 393.65 PPM, some 21% higher than the 1969 level, but even more importantly over 12% higher than the figure of 350 PPM which is regarded by climate scientists as the maximum safe level for our Planet. And the trend upwards is steepening. Not just for CO2 but also for Methane and Nitrous Oxide which have the potential to be incredibly more damaging to our beautiful planet than CO2.
Across the face of the world people are waking up to the fact that something has to be done. While some Governments and many industries are providing great leadership, the complexities of these modern institutions means that progress is slow; far too slow. People are now taking action for themselves and for their communities.
The most notable group is the worldwide Transition Movement. It started in the UK in September 2006, indeed started in the town of Totnes, Devon, just three miles from where I used to live.
Less than 6 years later across the world there are 975 initiatives! Including nearly 500 Transition Communities in Europe and 392 in the UK.
In the USA, there are a staggering 285 initiatives with 26 in California and three here in Arizona: Tucson, Pima and and East Valley in Phoenix ‘mulling’ it over. The ideas behind the Transition concept are powerfully simple and can be easily summarised thus:
That it is inevitable that our lives will soon have to adapt to a dramatically lower energy consumption, especially carbon-based energy, and that it’s better to plan for it than to be taken by surprise.
That the over-whelming majority of communities, currently lacks resilience.
That we have to act now to rebuild our community resilience and prepare for life without fossil fuels.
That by tapping into the collective potential of the community, it is possible to develop new ways of living that are nourishing, fulfilling and ecologically sustainable.
Reduce our energy use, increase our resilience, switch away from carbon-based fuels and go back to the strength of communities. No mystery about what to do!
We do not have another 43 years. Indeed, some say we are very close to the tipping point of runaway climate consequences.
My message for this Earth Day and, indeed, for every day of the rest of our lives.
Yesterday, I published a soft little item showing some reflective pictures and rather appropriate words of attachment. Little did I know that some very powerful word forces were planning same day to really thump me around the head. Here’s what happened.
The church that Jean and I go to on a regular basis is very inspiring. Two reasons come to mind. The first is the love and friendship that the congregation offer, both to regulars and visitors alike. The second is the spiritual inspiration gifted to the priest and, boy oh boy, does that come out through his sermons. Indeed, the rest of this article was motivated by yesterday’s sermon.
Take a look at the American railway ticket above. Turn your head and look at the right-hand part. What do you read? ‘This check is not good if detached‘. Now let me quote a little from the sermon,
It is difficult to care for people in the world when we are not a caring community. It is totally absurd to speak of peace in a world when we do not have peace in our community. It is impossible to be an instrument of love in the world if we are not a community of love.
What is true in the Church is of course true in the world as a whole. We do need to learn to live together. Railway tickets used to carry the words, “Not good if detached.” That is true of life in general. Our survival and progress as people on this planet are dependent on our interrelatedness.
See the beautiful spiritual inspiration that comes from those gifted to draw such powerful word pictures. Take that last word ‘interrelatedness’. Jean and I are studying at the local college for a Master Gardener’s Certificate. For the simple reason that we have to find a way to tame our wild garden, comprised mainly of decomposed granite granules, so that we can grown our own vegetables, have some chickens, that sort of thing.
The last session was about botany. To a complete non-gardener like me it was, nonetheless, fascinating. What moved me beyond measure was the detail and complexity of all things botanical; grasses, trees, shrubs, flowering plants, you name it. It was the interconnectedness of it all. Here’s an example.
Certain orchids dupe male wasps into trying to mate with them. Here are a few extracts from a piece in the New Scientist website,
Few can resist the allure of a beautiful rose, but some wasps outdo even the most ardent flower lover. Presented with the right specimen, a male orchid dupe wasp ejaculates right on the petals.
Many insects mistake flowers for femmes, but few go as far as these wasps, says Anne Gaskett, a biologist at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, who led a study of the insects’ amorous intentions toward two species of Australian tongue orchids. “It’s just so hard [for the wasps] to resist,” she says.
Now have a quick watch of this video extract from the BBC,
OK, let me get back to that botany class. As our teacher pointed out, lose that particular species of wasp and the planet probably loses that species of orchid. Think about the interconnectedness of that, and much more in the beautiful planet all around us. It is such a marvellous, beautiful, complex and interconnected world. We need constant reminding of that fact. Which is where yesterday’s sermon hit the mark again.
Inspired by the pictures from a flight to the moon in 1968, American poet Archibald MacLeish spoke these beautiful words:
“To see the earth as it truly is, small, blue, beautiful in the eternal silence where it floats, is to see ourselves as riders on the earth together …“
That is a wonderful image, riders on the earth together. It speaks of our togetherness as a human race, brothers and sisters on this fragile island within the vastness of the universe. Brothers and sisters … that really need to know … that we are brothers and sisters.
We need to do all that we can to build bridges, to mend bridges, to stay together as a true community… because we are:
Not good if detached. Amen.
What a powerful sermon. What inspired power in those words. Real words.
Forgive me for holding your attention just a tad longer. This is the full Archibald MacLeish’s quotation, referred to in the sermon above.
To see the earth as it truly is, small and blue and beautiful in that eternal silence where it floats, is to see ourselves as riders on the earth together, brothers on that bright loveliness in the eternal cold—brothers who know now they are truly brothers.
— Archibald MacLeish, American poet, ‘Riders on earth together, Brothers in eternal cold,’ front page of the New York Times, Christmas Day, 25 December 1968
This is what Frank Borman, who was on Apollo 8, had published in Newsweek, 23 December 1968,
When you’re finally up at the moon looking back on earth, all those differences and nationalistic traits are pretty well going to blend, and you’re going to get a concept that maybe this really is one world and why the hell can’t we learn to live together like decent people.
This is what Frank Borman was reported as saying in the press in early 1969,
I think the one overwhelming emotion that we had was when we saw the earth rising in the distance over the lunar landscape . . . . It makes us realize that we all do exist on one small globe. For from 230,000 miles away it really is a small planet.
The view of the Earth from the Moon fascinated me—a small disk, 240,000 miles away. It was hard to think that that little thing held so many problems, so many frustrations. Raging nationalistic interests, famines, wars, pestilence don’t show from that distance.
The power in those words. The power of the truth about our interconnectedness and the power of Not good if detached.
Let me leave you with a fragment from another Blogsite that I came across quite by chance while researching for this piece.
A blog is a voice, the inner voice, telling, in this case, what is going on, inside and out. And in me, that means it should also be about my spiritual path. My spiritual life is as important to me as breathing. Without connection with the One, what is life? What is it for?