Thursday, April 22, 2010

Earth Day: Our Everything

Here it is, everything we know and everyone who we love, hate, or feel indifferent towards, all of it.

Our whole world is nothing more than a thin blue layer of gas and water clinging to a volatile ball of molten rock.

Here are the Earth and Moon viewed from Voyager. Outside that thin layer of blue gas and water is nothing, a black vacuum with radiation and the occasional rock floating around. And this goes on beyond our imagining. That little blue ball in the ocean of darkness is the only place we have to live.

To my mind, the greatest of all Western landscape artists, and the most thoughtful about our life within the landscape, was Pieter Bruegel the Elder. Here are his surviving 5 paintings of the seasons. Hannah Arendt's description of our life in the world as "metabolizing with the Earth" comes to mind when I look at these pictures.

The Harvesters


The Dark Day

Hunters in the Snow

Return of the Herd

Toujoursdan reminds us that we really have nothing to congratulate ourselves for this Earth Day. For all of our consciousness-raising, we've done nothing to really change our habits of consumption and expansion. I recently heard a science journalist talk about "climate engineering," how scientists are now seriously discussing it, but only because they do not expect anyone to do anything serious about carbon emissions until it's too late. Climate engineering is a last resort. The scientists do not see any real movement despite the rhetoric, and are very skeptical that anything will be done before a real catastrophe happens, such as a change in rain patterns that disrupts the monsoon cycle in southern Asia.

Perhaps we'd rather hug trees than save them.

1 comment:

rick allen said...

One of the things I think we routinely exaggerate is the occurence of a "changed consciousness," "Copernican revolutions" in the way we think.

But. I think there has been one, in our environmental consciousness, and it has been driven more by the image than by the word. I don't know how old you are, but I remember well the awe of seeing the first photographs of earth as "earthrise" over the surface of the moon from the Apollo 8 mission. Despite the long existence of world maps and globes and an intellectual sense of the unity of the planet earth, I really think that images such as those you post here have changed us.

It's very interesting that you pair Bruegel's paintings with the earth images. Last Christmas my son gave me a DVD of "Solaris" (the Russian original, not the remake with George Cluny). It contains a wonderful sequence, on board the station orbiting an unearthly planet, in which the camera spends time simply panning over details of "Hunters in the Snow."