A Change of Perspective

The impact of climate change — the scars that it’s leaving on our planet — is visible from above, too.
— Captain Mark Kelly

We can learn a lot about Earth from an astronaut’s perspective. Captain Mark Kelly has gone to space many times, and he’s looked at Earth first-hand in a way few of us have. What does he see? The rapid changes humans are imposing on the planet in just the short timespan of his career, leaving huge marks all over the world that are visible from space.

“When I first looked down upon the Amazon rainforest in 2001, I saw vast areas of jungle and a wide and winding copper colored river that went on and on and on. A river that was impossible to miss and like no other on the planet,” Kelly wrote in an article for CNN on January 10, 2018. “By 2011, however, the part that was most noticeable wasn’t the river or the jungle but the large swaths of empty land.”


Deforestation in the Amazon, 2001 and 2011. Images courtesy NASA.

Deforestation in the Amazon, 2001 and 2011. Images courtesy NASA.


Kelly notes that the destruction he sees from space indicates a parallel story of devastation on the ground to the species and ecosystems in those areas.

“We see the loss of an incredibly diverse ecosystem that once held endless possibilities for new medicines and other discoveries,” Kelly writes. “We see the loss of a home for so many species that will now have to learn to adapt and survive somewhere else — or not.”

Whether viewed from outer space or through a microscope, the loss of great swaths of forests and individual species are significant to the entire planet. Even if a landscape or seascape can be restored, some species will be gone forever. “Look closely at nature,” E.O. Wilson says in his book Half-Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life. “Every species is a masterpiece, exquisitely adapted to the particular environment in which it has survived. Who are we to destroy or even diminish biodiversity?”

The Half-Earth Project, in collaboration with our partners, is working to save half the Earth for all of life, including ourselves.


The Giant Otter is one of a long list of endangered species in the Amazon rainforest. Photo by www.Araguaia.org.

The Giant Otter is one of a long list of endangered species in the Amazon rainforest. Photo by www.Araguaia.org.


“As an astronaut,” Kelly writes, “I’m often asked about the climate, our environment, and how we are destroying the Earth. My response often surprises people. ‘Don’t worry about the planet, the Earth will be just fine,’ I tell them. ‘What you need to worry about is us — all of us.’ ”

Wilson says it this way: “It is reckless to suppose that biodiversity can be diminished indefinitely without threatening humanity itself.”

As we expand deeply our scientific understanding and respond to our moral obligation to all living things, the work to protect global biodiversity and secure a healthy planet for future generations continues to gain momentum. From astronauts to field scientists to people everywhere, we all have a role in reaching Half-Earth.