I recently rediscovered that little illustration of the barren planet in my materials archive. It gave me an idea. I enlarged it and had it printed on mylar. The illustration was originally meant to show the rocky subsurface of the Earth - not unlike the skeletal system of the human body - the armature upon which the mantle of planetary life is draped. This peculiar moon-like image also suggests the fate of Earth in the far distant future, when the sun expands into a red giant and burns off the atmosphere and evaporates the oceans, resulting in planetary death, although, most life would have perished long before this cosmic event due to intense solar radiation. Also, the surface of the sun blasted planet would not look like the illustration because plate tectonics would have reconfigured continents in ways that cannot be foreseen.
My interest in this hypothetical image is aesthetic but also has a moral dimension. I began to regard this image of a lifeless world as a once living thing, not only with a life span, but also, more importantly, as a kind of organism, susceptible like all organisms to disease. Whether taken literally or metaphorically, the planet today is running a high fever, a fever produced largely by carbon emissions. We might be able to bring the fever down and begin to regain the health of the planet. There is always hope. But an image of a barren and lifeless planet might dramatize the eventual outcome of our negligence and act as a haunting reminder of what is at stake. I came to realize that I also needed a current image of the planet; a contrasting image of a living world, one that appeared healthy and revealed the precious jewel that is our home. Other than perhaps large wildfires and intense storms, the effects of climate change today are mostly invisible from space. Of course, if climate change continues unabated the world might look very different from space hundreds of years from now. If we make the necessary changes and begin to seriously address the consequences of our reckless behavior, we might still change course. For the living planet I chose a well-known image showing the African continent, the birthplace of our species; a reminder of our origin and close connection to the natural world: A living, breathing Earth, a vibrant organism that is our privilege to inhabit. This artwork is, then, a tale of two worlds: Of the living and the dead. Everything, including Earth, eventually passes away. It is inescapable, it’s called entropy. Even if we cannot halt our self-destructive course and renew the health of the planet, for our sake as well as countless other species, Earth will eventually recover to live a long life without us. The choice is ours. P.F.