Earthrise is a photograph that many people consider to be the most influential environmental photograph ever taken. It was one of the first to be taken from a vantage point of looking back at the earth – the first time we truly saw ourselves from a distance.
The photograph includes some of the Moon’s surface as well as the Earth, which appeared in a stunning shade of blue. The photographer was astronaut Bill Anders and he took it on December 24th, 1968, during the Apollo 8 mission. “Oh, my God,” was his reaction on looking out of his spacecraft window. “Look at that picture over there! There’s the Earth coming up. Wow, is that pretty!”. The ‘overview’ effect of seeing the earth from a distance is said to have had cognitive changes on the awareness of astronauts. In a recent article on the website Space.com, Bill Anders recalled that experience. “Fifty years later, ‘Earthrise’ — the lingering imprint of our mission — stands sentinel. It still reminds us that distance and borders and division are merely a matter of perspective. We are all linked in a joined human enterprise; we are bound to a planet we all must share. We are all, together, stewards of this fragile treasure.”
The photograph of our ‘blue planet’ inspired the first ‘Earth Day’ in 1970 and it appeared on the cover of the ground-breaking report ‘Limits to Growth, published in 1972. It also provided a backdrop for the 1987 UN-commissioned Brundtland Report, ‘Our Common Future’, which defined ‘sustainability’ as meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. James Lovelock’s Gaia principle which was developed in the 1970s is said to have been influenced by the photo. It states that living organisms interact with their non-living inorganic surroundings on Earth to self-regulate the Earth environment, a complex system that contributes to maintaining the conditions for life on the planet.
Despite the photograph of Earthrise having enduring impact, the damage to the climate and biodiversity of our blue planet being wreaked by the human species is still relentless. As we enter a New Year, the iconic image will need to inspire action by more people in the current generation, including here in County Monaghan, in order for humanity to have a liveable planet in another 50 years – on the centenary of ‘Earthrise’.
Compiled by Liam Murtagh