Today, we see our planet in a new perspective. The
University of Houston's College of Engineering
presents this series about the machines that make
our civilization run, and the people whose
ingenuity created them.
I'm just back from an IMAX
showing of a movie called Blue Planet.
It was a jolt. You and I both know we occupy a
fragile island home in vast interstellar space. We
think about it. Then we put it out of our minds. We
go on to other things.
Now I know why we've been able to do that. It's
because we always see the beauty of Earth
piecemeal. We see the damage we do in fragments --
a glass of brown water here, a smoggy day there.
But now I've seen Earth whole as I'd never seen it
My eyes traced the huge vista across a brilliant
screen that enveloped me. Earth dazzled me with
every shade of blue and white, just as it dazzled
the astronauts who photographed it.
Down on the ground the camera gazes upward through
Amazon trees at the beautiful tangle of rain
forest. Up in the sky we gaze downward and see a
huge piece of South America under a pall of smoke.
Developers are burning that rain forest away at the
rate of an acre a second.
We look down at shifting blues and greens. Mighty
glaciers look like delicate white arteries carrying
ice to the sea. We pass over Madagascar and are
astonished to see its rivers running rust red.
Malagasy farmers have cleared too much land. Trees
once held the soil in place -- now no longer. Now
rivers cut away the red earth. Then they strangle
Back on the ground, we squint our eyes to see the
Los Angeles skyline through smog. It looks like a
local problem. But from the sky we see dull brown
smears reaching over huge areas of the Earth. Then
the narrator says one thing that rings false. She
says there's still time to return Earth to what it
There is not. Change is irreversible. The imprint
of all our actions is permanent. We can halt the
destruction. But thousands of species have already
perished. We can find a new equilibrium. We cannot
have the old equilibrium back. If we exterminate
the blue whale, no repentence will bring him back.
But there is still time to make Earth a fit
habitation. There is still time to give that
glorious ball of blue and white a place ahead of
profit or country or even of self.
So my Saturday morning entertainment hit me very
hard. I saw Earth whole. There were no national
boundaries or corporate logos in the view from
space. I saw instead a single dwelling -- a mansion
of incomparable beauty and majesty. I saw the only
home we'll ever have, being put under terrible
assault. I might shrug off those violations on the
ground. But from this vantage point they were too
terrifying to ignore -- ever again.
I'm John Lienhard, at the University of Houston,
where we're interested in the way inventive minds