Earth Then and Now: Amazing Images of Our Changing World

Earth Then and Now: Amazing Images of Our Changing World

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Earth Then and Now: Amazing Images of Our Changing World by Fred Pearce

300 stunning before-and-after photographs that show the staggering transformation of our world.

Earth Then and Now records the dramatic way our planet has changed over the past century. On one page is a specific part of the world as it was 5, 20, 50 or even 100 years ago. On the facing page is the same place as it looks today. Each stark visual comparison tells a compelling story — a melting glacier, an expanding desert, an encroaching cityscape, a natural disaster.

Earth Then and Now reminds us that nothing is without a cost. Highly topical and thought provoking chapters in this book include:

  • Environmental change: Bearing witness to the effects of global warming
  • Industrialization: Revealing the hidden costs of "progress"
  • Urbanization: Showing the effects of our spreading cities
  • Natural disasters: Reminding us of the power of nature
  • War: Using comparisons to show the impact of armed conflict
  • Travel and tourism: Illustrating the predatory nature of development.

Concise captions explain the facts and then allow the reader to draw personal conclusions. Anyone concerned about the environment will enjoy and appreciate Earth Then and Now.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781554074211
Publisher: Firefly Books, Limited
Publication date: 09/12/2008
Edition description: New in paperback
Pages: 288
Product dimensions: 8.50(w) x 10.90(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Fred Pearce has reported on scientific, environmental and developmental issues from 64 countries. He is environment consultant of New Scientist magazine and a regular contributor to the Boston Globe and the London Independent. He is the author of The Last Generation.

Zac Goldsmith is the editor and director of The Ecologist, a leading environmental issues magazine.

Table of Contents

Map Contents
Foreword by Zac Goldsmith

Environmental Change

  • Trift Glacier, Switzerland
  • Cordillera Blanca, Peru
  • Grinnell Glacier, United States
  • Rhône Glacier, Switzerland
  • Upsala Glacier, Patagonia
  • Stieregg Restaurant, Switzerland
  • Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania
  • Filchner Ice Shelf, Antarctica
  • Larsen B Ice Shelf, Antarctica
  • Arctic Ocean, North Pole
  • Lake Dongting, China
  • Venice, Italy
  • Yellow River, China
  • Hitzacker, Germany
  • Lake Chad, Africa
  • River Rhine, Germany
  • Aral Sea,
  • Maldives, Indian Ocean
  • Carysfort Reef, Florida Keys, United States
  • Sakhalin Forest, Russia
  • Tiananmen Square, Beijing, China
  • Ozone Layer, Antarctica
  • Hong Kong, China
  • Aberdeen Harbour, Hong Kong, China
  • Dubai, United Arab Emirates
  • Mexico City, Mexico
  • San Francisco, United States
  • City Hall, San Francisco, United States
  • Seattle, United States
  • Santa Cruz, Bolivia
  • Tokyo, Japan
  • Buenos Aires, Argentina
  • Skye Bridge, Scotand
  • Millau Viaduct, France
  • Sprogo Island, Denmark
  • Vale of Neath, Wales
  • Beijing, China
  • Avenue Paulista, São Paulo, Brazil
  • Kathmandu, Nepal
  • Sydney, Australia
  • Gibraltar, Mediterranean Sea
  • Canary Wharf, London, England
  • Seoul, South Korea
  • Downtown, Singapore
  • Bilbao, Spain
  • Las Vegas, United States
  • Los Angeles, United States
Land Transformation
  • Glen Canyon, United States
  • Three Gorges, China
  • Ataturk Dam, Turkey
  • Anatolia, Turkey
  • Panama Canal, Central America
  • Wadi as Sirhan, Saudi Arabia
  • Machala, Ecuador
  • Almeria, Spain
  • Para, Brazil
  • Rondonia, Brazil
  • Subtropical Forest, South America
  • Gifford Pinchot National Forest, United States
  • Bingham Canyon, United States
  • Atacama Desert, Chile
  • Cape York, Australia
  • Nauru, Pacific Ocean
  • Vancouver, Canada
  • Isahaya Bay, Japan
  • Pripyat, Ukraine
  • St. Peter's Basilica, Rome, Vatican City
  • Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Forces of Nature
  • Surtsey Island, Atlantic Ocean
  • Heimaey Island, Atlantic Ocean
  • Mount St. Helens, United States
  • Mount St. Helens, United States
  • Mount Kilauea, United States
  • Montserrat,
  • Mount Pinatubo, Philippines
  • Mount Cook, New Zealand
  • Bam, Iran
  • Anchorage, Alaska, United States
  • Yungay, Peru
  • Makhri, Pakistan
  • Scarborough, England
  • Twelve Apostles, Australia
  • Aceh, Sumatra
  • Aceh, Sumatra
  • New Orleans, United States
  • New Orleans, United States
  • Betsiboka River, Madagascar
  • Missouri River, United States
  • South Dakota, United States
  • Atacama Desert, Chile
War and Conflict
  • Passchendaele, Belgium
  • The Somme, France
  • London, England
  • Caen, Normandy,
  • Hohenzollern Bridge, Cologne, Germany
  • Frauenkirche, Dresden, Germany
  • Leningrad, Russia
  • Tarawa, Pacific Ocean
  • Trinity Site, New Mexico, United States
  • Nagasaki, Japan
  • Hiroshima, Japan
  • Mekong River, Vietnam
  • Mesopotamian Marshes, Iraq
  • Brandenburg Gate, Berlin, Germany
  • Mostar Bridge, Bosnia
  • Beirut, Lebanon
  • Qalqilya, Palestine
  • Twin Towers, New York, United States
Leisure and Culture
  • Mount Rushmore, United States
  • Luxor Temple, Egypt
  • Bamiyan Valley, Afghanistan
  • Mayan Temple, Central America
  • Cleopatra's Needle, Egypt/England
  • London Bridge, England/United States
  • Great Wall, China
  • Qinghai-Tibet Railway, Tibet
  • Woodstock, United States
  • Zermatt, Switzerland
  • Zugspitze, Barvaria, Germany
  • Cornwall, England
  • Shenzhen, China
  • Dal Lake, India
  • Paris, France
  • Jumeirah Beach, Dubai, United Arab Emirates
  • Benidorm, Spain




Two years ago I stood on the promenade at Muynak, an old seaside resort on the shores of the Aral Sea in central Asia. Behind me was a fish-processing factory that had once sent canned fish across the Soviet Empire, from Warsaw to Vladivostok. No longer. Looking out to what should have been sea, I saw fishing boats abandoned on a beach that went on forever. The sea had disappeared more than 30 years ago, and its bed had turned into a new and entirely unexplored desert. Over the horizon, I was told, a remnant of what had once been the world's fourth-largest inland sea remained. But the shore was more than 60 miles (100 km) away now and nobody in the town had ever gone to see it. I spotted a fox trotting where fish had once swum. In the far distance, a dust storm was brewing.

The Aral Sea died because Soviet engineers removed all the water from the two great rivers that once kept it full. They took the water to irrigate vast expanses of cotton farms -- to grow the uniforms for the Red Army. The Russians have been gone for more than a decade now, of course, but the abstractions continue, and the fields are today growing cotton for shirts and jeans and underwear on sale in almost every high street in the world. We are to blame now, as the sea continues to evaporate in the heat of the desert sun. It will probably be entirely gone within a decade.

UN scientists call the emptying of the Aral Sea the greatest environmental disaster of the 20th century. But I only really understood the scale of what had happened when I returned home from Muynak and looked at the pair of satellite images that appear in this book. They show a whole sea reduced to a toxicsump by human action. It is an unprecedented humanmade change to the shape of the world. This book is full of such pairs of images, showing how our world has been changed. Most show bad things we have done, but by no means all. There are good stories here, too. This is the latest chapter in man's use and abuse of planet Earth. But all the images beg the question: What will happen next?

Humans have been making their mark on the landscape for a long time. Our hominid ancestors discovered how to make fire more than a million years ago, and they hunted animals across the plains of their first home, Africa. By the time of the last ice age our own species, Homo sapiens, had learned to combine these two skills to good effect, setting huge fires across the grasslands to drive animals toward their spears. It was the start of what has probably been mankind's biggest and most destructive impact on the land surface: deforestation. But we soon ceased to be hunters and gatherers alone. For at least 10,000 years, since the end of the last ice age, we have been farming. To make way for the crops needed to feed a fast-growing human population, we chopped and burned down ever-greater areas of forests, plowed the great roaming grounds of wild animals and drained huge areas of marshes. Nature was on the retreat.

But, thanks in part to the ephemeral nature of many human settlements, nature has demonstrated a remarkable ability to recover. Many apparently natural forests contain evidence that ancient human civilizations, of which we know virtually nothing, cleared them thousands of years ago. Afterward, nature returned. Modern explorers have rediscovered the great Mayan ruins, for instance, buried in thick jungle in Central America. And those ruins are far from unique. Six hundred years ago there were cities with substantial populations in the Amazon jungle. Go back 1,500 years and the forests of central Africa were being turned into charcoal for metal smelting.

So, the good news is that nature can recover from the impact of human activity. But the bad news is that nature has never experienced anything like the intensity of our current interventions. Today there are almost seven billion humans on the planet, a thousand times more than 10,000 years ago. And we now have advanced technology at our disposal. Once, we damaged small areas and then moved on; now very little of our planet is untouched by human occupation, and often the damage looks terminal.

Photographs can not document those early footprints of humanity, but they do cover the past 150 or so years, during which our population and our impact has soared. In these pages you will see some of the consequences. In that time we have chopped down half the world's forests, doubled the area of land under the plow, all but eliminated large mammals, drained the majority of the world's marshes, and reduced most of the oceans' fish stocks and whale species by more than 90 percent. We have paved huge areas of the planet and broken much of the rest of the natural environment into tiny fragments by our extensive road-building. We have replumbed the rivers, plugging most of them with dams so that many no longer deliver water to the sea, and we have diverted their water instead through thousands of canals to irrigate fields. The demise of the Aral is only one albeit the worst -- outcome of that hydrological plunder.

We have dug deep into the bowels of the Earth. Look at the pictures of what we have done to Bingham Canyon in the U.S. and to Chile's Atacama Desert -- all in the pursuit of copper. And consider the way in which we have mined the South Pacific paradise of Nauru until there is, more or less literally, nothing left. Meanwhile, by releasing chemicals into the air we have burned a hole in the ozone layer and fundamentally altered nature's methods of recycling key elements such as sulfur, nitrogen, and -- perhaps most dangerously for the future habitability of our planet -- carbon.

Even seen from space, our handiwork is glaringly obvious. It is visible in huge reservoirs and megacities, in land drained from the sea, in whole coastlines that shift under our hidden hand, in dust storms that circle the globe, and in disintegrating ice sheets.

And yet there are things we can be hopeful about. Who can fail to be moved by the architectural magnificence of the Millau Viaduct in southern France, or by some of the dazzling modern cityscapes, or even, for its sheer joie de vivre, by the Paris beach? The construction of the Panama Canal killed thousands, but it remains an extraordinary monument to entrepreneurial and engineering endeavor. We should marvel, too, at the civil determination behind the rebuilding of San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake, the war-damaged Frauenkirche in Dresden, and the new Mostar Bridge in Bosnia.

Our creativity and inventiveness may have got us into our current environmental mess, but we must hope that they can get us out of it too. And there is evidence that they can. Look at some of the environmental rehabilitation projects undertaken after the closure of old mines. And think how the bleak, smog-filled industrial heartland of Bilbao has been transformed by an imaginative cultural vision. Scars can be healed.

Despite this, there is no denying that these chapters also contain evidence of tragedy, stupidity, venality, and short-term thinking in abundance. And, sadly, it is these misdemeanours that, for the time being at least, hold sway over the various examples of rehabilitation. Why, for example, care about coastal mangroves when they can be turned into toilet paper and the land annexed for prawn farms? Why worry about drying up the Aral Sea when there is cotton to be grown? Such human willfulness has, of course, been immensely compounded by advancing technology. We have shovels that can lift a hundred tons of ore in one scoop and dig holes up to a kilometer (3,300 ft) deep. We plug rivers with concrete barriers hundreds of feet high, and drain marshes and defoliate rainforests because we can. Sometimes the scale of our endeavours is overwhelming. In Tokyo, for example, we have paved an area of more than 5,000 square kilometers (2,000 sq m).

But we don't just inflict damage on nature. We do it to each other, out of fear and hate. The wars of the 20th century, I sincerely hope, will be looked back on by future generations as outbreaks of collective madness, never to be repeated. Thanks to the industrialization of warfare tens of millions of people have died, often for causes that were illusory or have long since ceased to matter. For me, trying to sum up in a couple of hundred words what exactly happened, and why, at Passchendaele -- an event nearly a century ago -- was almost unbearable. The devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the siege of Leningrad also chill the soul. But perhaps the worst is over. Horrific as modern terrorist outrages such as the destruction of the Twin Towers are, they are orders of magnitude smaller in scale than the state-sponsored carnage of the two world wars. Nuclear weapons have not been used in anger since the summer of 1945. But, of course, while they continue to exist we remain under their shadow.

Nuclear weapons famously claimed to unleash the power of the sun. And, for all our inventiveness and technological sophistication, the forces of nature remain supremely powerful influences on the habitability of our planet. At times we simply have to stare in wonder: at the power of floods to wash away our world, at the force of earthquakes as the Earth's crust shifts, at tsunamis and avalanches that wipe out tens of thousands of people in their path and at volcanoes that throw the molten contents of the Earth's core in our faces and shroud the planet in dust. One such volcano, 73,000 years ago, cooled the planet so much that our species came close to being wiped out.

And yet the truth is that we humans are beginning to change these great geological and planetary processes. Witness the extraordinary images of how the ozone hole opens up over Antarctica each southern spring. This is an entirely humanmade phenomenon. The chemicals that make it happen did not exist in nature before we invented them in the early 20th century. Discovering the ozone hole in the mid-1980s was the moment when scientists realized that we truly could accidentally destroy our world.

And witness, too, the many images of melting glaciers and collapsing ice sheets. The Earth's stores of coal, oil and gas are the remains of carbon that nature captured from the air in much hotter times and gradually buried over tens of millions of years. That capture helped cool the Earth and keep it fit for the rise of humans. But now, by digging up and burning those fossil fuels, we are releasing that carbon back into the atmosphere. Every year, we unleash carbon that it took nature a million years to bury. Few people, beyond the perverse, can be truly surprised that our planet is warming fast as a result.

I am not among those who believe that we are doomed either by the pollution we have created or by our ransacking of the planet's resources. But nor am I indifferent to what we have done, as a significant minority of people still seems to be. The stakes are high. We do have the power to destroy our world. Nevertheless, I hope that you will see in these images some signs of our virtue as well as of our sin; of reasons for hope as well as for despair.

For me, one of the strangest pairs of images is that of Pripyat -- a Soviet town built to house the workers at a power station in the Ukraine. The first of the two pictures looks like any other bleak landscape of tower blocks built by unthinking bureaucrats. The second image is, at first sight, similar, until you notice all the overgrown trees and weeds in the squares and streets. And the absence of people. It is like a post-apocalypse landscape.

And that, for the people of Pripyat, is what it is. For they worked at Chernobyl, the nuclear plant that caught fire in 1986. It released so much radioactivity that the town was evacuated and will not be safe enough to reoccupy for centuries to come. This is a human disaster, of course. But it has been a boon for wildlife. Down there among the trees are wild boar and deer, elks and wolves. They may be a bit radioactive, but they have reveled in the departure of humans and reoccupied the city. Nature has returned, just as it did after the fall of the ancient rain forest empires.

Is there a final lesson here? I think so. Nature is not as fragile as we think. It is resilient. With time, nature may recover from the worst we can throw at it. It is we, ultimately, who are the fragile ones. Look at these pictures and fear not so much for nature: fear for us.

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