Tasmanian Times

The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. No price is too high for the privilege of owning yourself. ~ Friedrich Nietzsche

The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. No price is too high for the privilege of owning yourself. ~ Friedrich Nietzsche

Jon Sumby

It Was Fifty Years Ago Today …

Earthrise ... Taken from Apollo 8. Pic: NASA

On the 24th of December 1968 the crew of the Apollo mission orbiting the Moon cried out in surprise.

They had seen something beyond anything they could comprehend. They saw the Earth. Their training kicked in; record this! All of the crew started yelling for the cameras and William Anders grabbed the cameras from their rack and threw them one to each astronaut.

The camera he picked up was the only one with colour film in it and the image he made changed the world. Anders later recalled that when he made the image he mused, ‘We came all this way to explore the Moon, and the most important thing is that we discovered the Earth.’ Pilot Jim Lovell radioed a description that was heard around the world, describing what they saw as; ‘a grand oasis in the big vastness of space’.

Called Earthrise, the image was the first time people saw the world that is their home. On Christmas Day the front page of the New York Times simply carried the words of the poet Archibald MacLeish:

To see the earth as it truly is, small 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.

Earthrise is a transcendent image, everyone who has ever lived is in that image and it showed people how the world we live on is at risk of destruction by our own hands. This was the time of the Cold War, but beyond the chance of nuclear destruction there was the chance of environmental devastation, something that we are now seeing come to pass.

The image inspired the modern environmental movement and demonstrated to people that our actions on Earth don’t go away. The image fitted in with some important ideas that had arrived. Rachel Carson’s 1962 book Silent Spring had revealed with shocking precision the effect of chemical pollution on life on Earth. And just before Earthrise, the British economist Barbara Ward-Jackson had published a book Spaceship Earth where she argued for sustainable development and that the planet was in essence a closed system, a spaceship that we could pollute and degrade if no care is taken. And there it was: Earthrise made Spaceship Earth a real thing.

British economist E. F. Schumacher followed this with the book Small is Beautiful a sharp critique on the destruction and dehumanisation wrought by massive corporations and the insanity of the emerging neoliberal economic ideas of ‘bigger is better and biggest is best’. His basic thesis was described as, ‘a study of economics as if people mattered’ and is still studied and relevant today.

Soon after the British chemist James Lovelock published a paper proposing a hypothesis that the Earth is functioning as a single system, that life on Earth interacts with inorganic matter to regulate and promote life itself. He called the system  Gaia. This idea, which he developed further with Lynn Margulis, can be clearly identified as the most revolutionary advance in the study of life on Earth since Darwin’s On the Origin of Species.

The Gaia Hypothesis has formed an entire new field of research, Global Environmental Studies, that is studied around the world. It has brought to light the explanation of why oceanic plankton carry a chemical antifreeze in their cells, or how spiders can fly to Antarctica.

Earthrise transformed our view about our place in the environment of this planet and our effects, and inspired a movement that continues today in the face of adversity.

Author Credits: [show_post_categories parent="no" parentcategory="writers" show = "category" hyperlink="yes"]


  1. Emmanuel Goldstein

    January 14, 2019 at 4:59 pm

    Emmanuel, offering a weblink on its own does not constitute a Comment. Readers could be suspicious of its integrity and ignore it.

    Please introduce a weblink with your own words .. a summary of the subject itself, for example.

    — Moderator

  2. Russell

    January 6, 2019 at 6:14 am

    ‘We came all this way to explore the Moon, and the most important thing is that we discovered the Earth.’

    And we have set out to systematically destroy it ever since.

  3. Kim Peart

    December 24, 2018 at 1:39 pm

    For the land Down Under, the Earthrise photo arrived on Christmas Day because our time zone is ahead of the United States.

    It is true that the Earthrise photo awakened a new generation to the needs of the Earth, but that was three generations ago, and our planet is in a far worse state now than in 1968.

    The question that needs wheeling out is: Why did the Earth movement fail totally to keep a safe Earth? What did the Earth movement overlook? I suggest that a terrible error in judgement was made. The Earthrise photo was celebrated, but where that photo was taken was swiftly forgotten about.

    When the space movement arose in the 1970s, a way was presented which would have kept a safe Earth. We now see that the key strife we face is the rise of CO2 in the air.

    James Lovelock attempted to warn about a swift shift to a permanently hotter environment (“The Vanishing Face of Gaia: A Final Warning”, 2009).

    James Hansen observed that a 1980s level of CO2 in the air (350 ppm), along with the speed of the rise, can send the planet into a runaway greenhouse effect (“Storms of My Grandchildren, 2009”).

    Atmospheric CO2 is now flying beyond 400 ppm by 2 ppm per annum, with CO2 and methane now being released from places like a fast heating up Arctic region where the permafrost is melting. A recent study found that there is 60% more heat in the sea that previously known.

    We now wait for the third bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef in coming months.

    Environment scientist, Guy McPherson, suggests that this heat rise could happen in the coming decade and deliver a devastating impact on human society .. “It will probably be earlier” and “I’m not a fan (of the information) I’m not promoting it. All I’m doing is connecting the dots. I’m forced to come to that solution.”

    In the early 1970s the space movement was aware of the CO2 problem, with the Princeton physics professor, Gerard K. O’Neill, writing on space-based solar power “If this development comes to pass, we will find ourselves here on Earth with a clean energy source, and we will further improve our environment by saving, each year, over a billion tons of fossil fuels” (“The High Frontier” – Gerard K. O’Neill, 1977, William Morrow, page 162).

    Should the Earth movement have joined forces with the space movement in the 1970s and demanded action on keeping this planet safe by launching energy transition to the power of the Sun, as harvested in space?

    We would be a much more advanced society now, and with a safe Earth, and with most heavy industry relocated into space.

    Was the Earthrise photo telling us that we must think in terms of the Solar System as a whole, to keep this Earth safe and healthy? Was that ever considered by the Earth movement?

    The total focus on Earth alone has turned this planet into a death-trap for us, and it’s a potential tomb of life if a runaway greenhouse effect cooks this planet, or nuclear war leaves this rock a radioactive cinder world.

    Read David Wallace-Wells 2017 article “An Uninhabitable Earth” where he found climate scientists discussing the Great Filter theory, and wondering if climate change would deliver our extinction.

    Does the Earth movement now resign to global suicide, or is there a will to survive that can still be mustered?

    I was engaged in the Earth movement in the 1970s, and then looked into the space movement, and I have since looked at this problem from every angle.

    I have simply concluded that if we wish to survive, that if we wish to win back a safe Earth, then we must identify a global plan for space within the year, and mobilise to act within ten years.

    Shuffle along on Earth alone, like we have for the last three generations, and we may simply be the barbecue.

    O’Neill suggested ~ “Almost anything can be done in a ten year period when we set our minds to it.” ~ (“The High Frontier, Gerard K. O’Neill speaks” ~ https://youtu.be/Kyt5W812hCQ ).

    The stakes could not possibly be higher.

    Can we learn from Albert Einstein when he said “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”

    Or as Steve Jobs would say, “Think different.”

    It really is up to each and every individual on Earth now to awaken to the true meaning of the Earthrise photo.

    The total focus on Earth alone has failed, totally. It as put our survival at risk, and has become a threat to all life on Earth. We need to shift our thinking to the Solar System as a whole, and hope that we have enough time left to succeed.

    What we do now will determine whether we survive with a safe Earth, or not.

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