Jacqueline Oud - Culture

Yann Arthus Bertrand shows us the "Earth From Above"

More than just famous photos

His photos are famous all over the world and he has held meetings and expositions in a huge variety of countries. Yann Arthus-Betrand, the French photographer, has made his book "Earth From Above" - originally "La Terre vue du Ciel" a must on photography. But anyone who looks a bit more behind the photos must notice they are not just beautiful, the essence of his photos is the message it bears: sustainable development of the Earth.

All his photos show the Earth in its different ways. Some photos are showing us the most idyllic places in the world, whereas others show us how humankind and its various civilisations have influenced its origins. This variety of images taken mostly from a helicopter should make us more aware of how we are treating the Earth and understand its consequences. If we want to be able to benefit of tourist dream destinations like Bora Bora - see below - we should reconsider how to stop the damages we inflict upon them.

We are also exploiting our environment in our race to capitalism. We built houses everywhere, make roads and destroy forests. The beautiful photos from Yann Arthus-Bertrand might in the future remain the sole memory of our beautiful Mother Earth.

But, these same photos do also show us that we are already growing more aware about Earth. We are increasing the number of natural sites that are being protected, we are exploring new types of energy and trying to restore some of the environment we previously harmed.

A testimony - portrait from above

Earth From Above is therefor a genuine testimony both showing the positive side as well as the negative side. This testimony should not be reduced to beautiful photos only because since 1990, Yann Arthus-Bertrand has flown over about 100 of countries. His aerial photographs cannot be dissociated from the accompanying texts and invite each to reflect on the Earth’s evolution and the future of its inhabitants. A diagnosis in images and words to increase awareness that we are all individually responsible of our Planet and to decide all together on what we will hand on to our future generations.

Yann Arthus-Bertrand states to be optimistic and believes in the good side of everyone. He doesn’t aim to state a negative image because the Earth is indeed beautiful, he just wants to remind us of its beauty and make us want to keep it like that.

Maybe also it is as he states in his book, that our "technological" generation" is finally openly aware of its forces to influence the nature and its environment.

Some photos below will give you an overview of the Earth from Above

The following photos will give a glimpse of his work and of the stakes for the future. I would like to thank Yann Arthus-Bertrand for his approval of using his pictures and also thank his team of the support it has given me.

The photos will be regrouped by 3 categories, trying to accentuate some of the main thoughts that the book Earth From Above inspired me:

  • Tourism
  • Mass Population
  • Living in peace with our Planet

Tourism

Tourism is for many a means for leisure and spent holidays. It is also the way to discover in real the beauties of past civilisations. Besides, for many countries it represents an important sum of money that enables the local development and ways of living for its inhabitants. But when tourism becomes mass tourism, the risks are plenty and dangers are just one step away. The three photos I have chosen will show idyllic places that are in real danger. Danger because of the many tourists that are not taking well care. Danger also because of the industries that develop their activity but non ecological. And danger due to political and religious climats.

If we want to be able to visit these idyllic places in the future, we must try to find a way of harmony between these different factors. Humility, understanding and co-operation will only be a first step.

The Archipel Bora Bora

  • Bora Bora, Polynesia
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TVDC-Bora Bora

The archipelago of the Leeward Islands (or îles Sous-le-Vent†) in French Polynesia, an overseas French territory since 1946, includes this island of 15 square miles (38 km2), whose name means first born†in Polynesian. It is made up of the emerged portion of the crater of a 7-million-year-old volcano and surrounded by a coral barrier reef. Motus, small coral islands with beaches and vegetation that consists mainly of coconut trees, have developed along the reef. The lagoon’s only opening to the sea is Teavanui Pass, which is deep enough to allow cargo and warships to enter. The island was used as a military base by the United States in World War II. All of the coral formations of the planet cover only 110,000 square miles (284,000 km2) of sea territory (the equivalent of about half of the state of Texas) in inter-tropical regions where the water temperature favours their growth. Limited in extent, these areas still contain a remarkable biological diversity: about 100,000 plant and animal species have been classified there, out of an estimated total of 2 million. More than 50 percent of the world’s coral reefs (80 percent in the most populous zones), however, have deteriorated from the impact of human activity.

Egypt - An unfinished ancient obelisk

  • The Unfinished Obelisk, Aswan, Egypt
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TVDC Egypte - Obelisque

Fixed forever to its rocky bed, this obelisk is condemned to remain horizontal, meaning it will never fulfil its social role as a great symbol. The obelisk broke while it was being hewn out and was abandoned in its granite matrix. The strange destiny of the biggest obelisk of all-it weighs 1,200 metric tons and is 138 feet (42 meters) long-is thus to remain in its quarry at Aswan, where it nevertheless contributes to tourism, Egypt’s biggest currency earner. Despite sharp declines due to the Gulf War in 1991, and to a terrorist attack at Luxor in 1997-which killed sixty-two people, fifty-eight of whom were tourists-the industry earned $4.3 billion from 5 million visitors in 2000. For countries whose economies depend heavily on tourism, many of which are developing countries where the industry’s role is growing, such events can have serious consequences even if they take place at a great distance. Tourist numbers fell again after terrorist attacks in the United States in September 2001. In 1998, Egypt lost trade worth $2 billion.

India - Taj Mahal

  • Taj Mahal, in Agra, Uttar Pradesh, India
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TVDC - India - Taj Mahal

The Taj Mahal was built between 1632 and 1653 on the orders of Mughal emperor Shah Jahan, as a memorial to his wife, Mumtaz Mahal (“chosen of the palace†), who died giving birth to their fourteenth child. The total height of the tomb is 243 feet (74 m), and it overlooks the Yamuna River in Agra, in northern India. This white marble mausoleum, adorned with fine carvings (Koranic verses and floral and geometric motifs) and semiprecious stones, was created by 30 architects and 20,000 workers. The building was declared a UNESCO world heritage site in 1983. In the twentieth century the building began to show the effects of industrial pollution. In 1993, 212 factories in Agra were shut down in order to preserve the structure’s whiteness, which in the Muslim faith symbolises the purity of the soul. India has 100 million Muslim inhabitants, making it the second-largest Muslim nation in the world after Indonesia. The country’s majority religion is Hinduism, which is practised by 80 percent of the population. The approximately 800 million Hindi in India represent nearly all of the world’s devotees of this religion, which is the third-largest on earth.

Mass Population

The overall wealth has increased in the world and attracted many people to the main metropolitans in the world. Everyone has its hopes to have its share of wealth. But, increase of population and housing is one of the results of this search. In fact, the need for housing outnumbers the availability and constructions no longer look primary for comfort. Contrasts between rich and poor are becoming in the end even more visible than before. Every day preoccupations are primarily about gaining place instead of well being. And in the mean time .... the world population continues to grow.

Brazil - Rio de Janeiro and its Favelas

  • Favelas in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
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TVDC - Favela, Rio de Janeiro - Brazil

Nearly one-fourth of the 10 million cariocas-residents of Rio de Janeiro-live in the city’s 500 shantytowns, known as favelas, which have grown rapidly since the turn of the twentieth century and are wracked by crime. Primarily perched on hillsides, these poor, underequipped neighbourhoods regularly experience fatal landslides during heavy rains. Downhill from the favelas, the comfortable middle classes of the city (18 percent of cariocas) occupy the residential districts along the oceanfront. This social contrast marks all of Brazil, where 10 percent of the population controls the majority of the wealth while nearly half of the country lives below the poverty level. As a result of urban growth, approximately 25 million people in Brazil, and 600 million in the world, inhabit the slums of great metropolitan areas, where overpopulation and poor conditions threaten their health and their lives.

The United States - an example of modern suburbs

  • Highlands Ranch, Outskirts of Denver, Colorado, United States
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TVDC - USA - Housing

These winding streets of identical houses do nothing to break up the monotony of the asphalt. The outskirts of Denver are a good example of the runaway sprawl of suburbs in North America. This phenomenon was triggered by post-war economic growth, which encouraged private home ownership and stimulated investment in roads. Since then, the number of people living in such areas has relentlessly grown-by 12 percent between 1990 and 1998-at the expense of the growth of city centres, at a rate of 4.7 percent over the same period. These networks of low-density suburbs make their residents totally dependent on their cars, one of the chief sources of greenhouse gases. This dependence is one reason that Americans generate the highest emissions of greenhouse gases on the planet. Although North Americans are only 5 percent of the world’s population, in 1998, they produced almost a quarter of human-generated carbon dioxide.

Living in peace with our Planet

The various populations are gaining conscience of their behaviour and the dangers it represents. Tourism has developed in huge quantities the last 50 years and the "rich" countries are devouring energy that seemed to be beyond limits. The damages are becoming visible but actions have started to take place. The famous Mont Blanc, in France, is being cleaned and tourism is being reorganised as to better preserve the peak. In the same way, new types of energy are being developed. Wind energy has become a worldwide project providing clean solutions for the huge need of energy. And in the end, we start to give back to nature what belongs to her. This is often done by means of declaring special areas to become a natural reserve with parts prohibited for visitors. Places like this will restore some balance. For example in the Camargue, in France, horses are free, the water is not being disturbed and many flora and faun can develop.

A lot is still to be done. By helping all a hand and show our politeness to our gentle host Mother Earth, we can keep it a good place to be.

France - The Mont Blanc

  • Roped party of mountaineers climbing Mont Blanc, Haute-Savoy Department, France
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TVDC - France - Mont Blanc

The Alps, which form the largest mountain range in Europe, began forming about 65 million years ago. At 4,807 meters (15,765 feet), Mont Blanc is their highest peak. In the sixteenth century it was known as the “Montagne Maudite†(accursed mountain), representing a chaos of rocks and sterile, dangerous glaciers for the shepherds of the Chamonix Valley. For all but a few intrepid chamois hunters and mineral collectors, it remained so until the end of the eighteenth century. In 1787, Jacques Balmat, Gabriel Pacard, and Horace Bénédict de Saussure made an arduous, two-day climb to the summit. Since then there have been many more ascents. One hundred fifteen people reached the summit between 1787 and 1860. The scientific motivation of the Enlightenment gave way to the quest for physical achievement, then in more recent times to tourism. The summit is equipped for hikers, and receives a stream of up to 300 visitors a day. The site, which is extremely fragile, is now deteriorating. This tourist boom, which represents the primary economic resource for the people of the valley, may result in its own demise. It is not only large cities or rich plains that suffer from the presence of humans, but extreme places - deserts and high mountains - as well.

USA - looking for new types of energy: wind energy

  • Windmills of Banning Pass, near Palm Springs, California, United States
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TVDC - USA - Wind Energy

This landscape studded with wind turbines has become a classic sight in the United States and in northern Europe. Germany is the world leader in the use of wind power. The use of wind energy, although still marginal in the world energy balance sheet (its power exceeded 16,600 megawatts in 2001), underwent exceptional growth in the last three years of the twentieth century. Global wind power is expected to exceed 20,000 megawatts by the end of 2002. Perfectly renewable and non-polluting, windmill energy uses the most modern methods developed by the aeronautics industry.

Camargue - France

  • Dried cracked mud in Camargue, Bouches-du-Rhône, France
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TVDC - France - Camargue

Before flowing into the Mediterranean, the Rhone (812 km) branches out, forming an 850 km2 delta called Camargue, mainly constituted of alluvial deposits. Swamps and ponds occupy 40% of this vast wetland area, their water more or less brackish (0 g to 36 g of salt per litre); some of them dry out in summer, exposing a silty soil soon covered with cracks and saline deposits due to the sun and heat. A national nature reserve in parts since 1927, Camargue provides a habitat for a varied fauna, numerous bird species in particular: pink flamingos, herons, ducks, passerines, birds of prey... The rich environment of the delta also favours a variety of human activities: rice and wine growing, hunting, fishing, horse and bull breeding, as well as the exploitation of 100 km2 of salt marshes, the largest saltern in Europe which produces almost one million tons of salt per year.

For those interested to see more of the photos by Yann Arthus-Bertrand, have a look at www.yannarthusbertrand.com/yann2/

Towards a sustainable development

Since 1950, economic growth has been considerable, and world production of goods and services has multiplied by a factor of 7. During this same period, while the world’s population has only doubled, the volume of fish caught and meat produced has multiplied by 5. So has the energy demand. Oil consumption has multiplied by 7, and carbon dioxide emissions, the main cause of the greenhouse effect and global warming, by 4. Since 1900, fresh water consumption has multiplied by 6, chiefly to provide for agriculture.

And yet, 20% of the world’s population has no access to drinking water, 40% has no sanitary installation, 40% is without electricity, 842 million people are underfed, and half of humanity lives on less than $2 a day.

In other words, a fifth of the world’s population lives in industrialised countries, consuming and producing in excess and generating massive pollution. The remaining four-fifths live in developing countries and, for the most part, in poverty. To provide for their needs, they make heavy demands upon the Earth’s natural resources, causing a constant degradation of our planet’s ecosystem and limited supplies of fresh water, ocean water, forests, air, arable land, and open spaces.

This is not all. By 2050, the Earth will have close to 3 billion additional inhabitants. These people will live, for the most part, in developing countries. As these countries develop, their economic growth will jockey for position with that of industrialised nations - within the limits of ecosystem Earth.

The Earth’s situation is not irreversible, but changes need to be made as soon as possible. We have the chance to turn toward a sustainable development, one that allows us to improve the living conditions of the world’s citizens and to satisfy the needs of generations to come. This development would be based on an economic growth respectful both of man and the natural resources of our unique planet.

Such development requires improving production methods and changing our consumption habits. With the active participation of all the world’s citizens, each and every person can contribute to the future of the Earth and mankind, starting right now.

To learn more about the sustainable development and the situation, see the following website: sustainable development

[1 August 2004]


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