The Breathtaking Beauty of Our Planet's Destruction

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Media Outlet: Foreign Policy

Bina Venkataraman wrote a feature essay for Foreign Policy Magazine on the aerial perspective of Earth and what it can illuminate and obscure about climate change:

In 1858, a notorious artist and stuntman soared above a village near Paris in a hot air balloon to capture the world’s first aerial photographs. By then, the Industrial Revolution had already set humanity on its current course of radically re-engineering the planet. Gaspard-Félix Tournachon, better known as Nadar, published his images in French newspapers to stoke public interest in building a heavier-than-air machine. Nadar’s friend, the author Victor Hugo, wrote in support of the artist’s dream for the future of flying: “It is the abolition of all boundaries. It is the destruction of separation.”
That obliteration eventually gave humanity a new self-image — a sweeping perspective, at once empowering and humbling.
Today, airplanes, satellites, and drones summon images that allow cartographers to map continents, countries to spy on arsenals, and relief workers to rescue the victims of floods and earthquakes. Yet the view from above has not ceased to abet artistic imagination. The vantage point of 30,000 feet, a device used by some of the artists whose work appears in the following, is familiar to the contemporary global traveler as the cruising height of commercial planes. It is an elevation of transition, where a passenger does not inhabit a geography but passes over it in the fog of jet lag and oxygen deprivation.


Bina Venkataraman is a Future Tense Fellow and was a Class of 2016 & 2017 Carnegie Fellow with the Fellows Program at New America. She is writing a book about how our society of gamblers can forge tools to think about the future amid rapid technological change. She is the director of global policy initiatives at the Broad Institute of MIT & Harvard.