"The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive." "When will our country stop wasting money on global warming and so many other truly "STUPID" things and begin to focus on lower taxes?" "I believe in clean air. Immaculate air. But I don't believe in climate change." Three quotes that represent a tiny fraction of the number of occasions when Donald Trump has voiced scepticism regarding climate change. Over the years he has
"The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive."
"When will our country stop wasting money on global warming and so many other truly "STUPID" things and begin to focus on lower taxes?"
"I believe in clean air. Immaculate air. But I don't believe in climate change."
Three quotes that represent a tiny fraction of the number of occasions when Donald Trump has voiced scepticism regarding climate change. Over the years he has espoused opinions ranging from claims that global warming is not caused by human activity to flat-out denial the problem even exists. Consequently, it was no surprise – although no less saddening – to discover shortly after Trump’s inauguration as President of the United States that his administration had started to quietly remove all references to “climate change”, “global warming” and associated language from a whole host of US government websites, including those run by the departments of energy, agriculture, transportation and even the Environmental Protection Agency.
However, there was one department that refused to play ball. One that employs over 17,000 of the world’s finest scientists and engineers, who have built telescopes that can see 13 billion years into the past and sent spacecraft 13 billion miles across the solar system. They also just happen to have collected more data regarding climate change than anyone else on Earth, so it would be understandably difficult for them to suddenly start ignoring the subject. We are of course talking about NASA.
Established in 1958 at the height of the Cold War, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration has always had a distinctly civilian orientation, encouraging peaceful applications in space science – its motto is For the Benefit of All – and many still most closely associate it with the 1960s Apollo missions to land people on the Moon. Achieving such a feat by the end of that decade required the most sudden burst of technological creativity, and the largest commitment of resources ever made by any nation in peacetime. At its peak, NASA’s Apollo programme employed an astonishing 400,000 people and required the support of over 20,000 industrial firms and universities.
Between Apollo 11 in 1969 and Apollo 17 in 1972, NASA landed 12 men on the Moon over the course of six missions, each time returning them safely to Earth – a scientific and technological feat that has yet to be surpassed. On what would be the final mission, the crew of Apollo 17 took an extraordinary photograph of the Earth from the window of their spacecraft. This image, now known as The Blue Marble, was the first time that our planet had been captured on camera in its entirety and has become one of the most reproduced images in human history. If you have ever come across a photograph of the Earth, it is almost certainly this one that you have seen.
“The sight of the whole Earth, small, alive, and alone, caused scientific and philosophical thought to shift away from the assumption that the Earth was a fixed environment, unalterably given to humankind, and towards a model of the Earth as an evolving environment, conditioned by life and alterable by human activity,” wrote the historian Robert Poole. “It was the defining moment of the twentieth century.”
This photo quickly captured the public imagination, representing the closest approximation we have to what psychologists have dubbed the “overview effect” – a sudden awareness astronauts experience upon seeing with their own eyes the reality of the Earth in space, which is immediately understood to be a tiny, fragile ball of life, hanging in the void, shielded and nourished by a paper-thin atmosphere.
“Here we came all this way to the Moon, and yet the most significant thing we’re seeing is our own home planet, the Earth.” - Astronaut Bill Anders
“You develop an instant global consciousness, a people orientation, an intense dissatisfaction with the state of the world, and a compulsion to do something about it. From out there on the moon, international politics look so petty. You want to grab a politician by the scruff of the neck and drag him a quarter of a million miles out and say, ‘Look at that, you son of a bitch." - Astronaut Edgar Mitchell
This profound cognitive shift, reported time and again by astronauts, made it clear that NASA’s mission should be expanded so that it included the careful study of Earth – something they were uniquely able to do from outer space – alongside the rest of the cosmos.
Fast-forward to 1981 and it was a NASA scientist, Dr. James Hansen, who first alerted the world to the dangers of global warming. Hansen had spent the 1970s studying the planet Venus, attempting to discover why the planet was so much hotter than expected. He concluded that the thick atmosphere of carbon dioxide surrounding Venus was trapping the sun’s rays, creating a runaway ‘greenhouse effect’, which had heated the planet to an average temperature of 462°C. Subsequently turning his attention to Earth, Hansen realised that the large amount of carbon dioxide emitted by human industries reliant on the burning of fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas was causing a similar, although less severe, warming effect on our planet and this would inevitably worsen as time went on. Which, as we now very clearly understand, has indeed happened.
NASA’s response was to create a dedicated Earth Sciences research programme with the stated aim of developing “a scientific understanding of the Earth system and its response to natural and human-induced changes to enable improved prediction of climate, weather, and natural hazards for present and future generations”. The centrepiece of this project was the launch in 1991 of the Earth Observing System, comprising a series of artificial satellites and scientific instruments in orbit designed for long-term global observations of the land surface, biosphere, atmosphere, and oceans.
By 2007 NASA had 17 space missions collecting climate data. These capabilities - nearly 30 years of satellite-based solar and atmospheric temperature data - helped the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change come to the conclusion that “Most of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations.”
But it wasn’t just all a confusing mass of complex scientific data. Alongside this NASA has been able to provide us with the most unambiguous evidence of all – hundreds of thousands of high resolution photographs that clearly show how global warming has changed our planet. Just like The Blue Marble nearly 50 years before, these images can help capture the public imagination, understand the fragility of our planet and spur people into action before it is too late.
And here is where RÆBURN comes in. With NASA’s cooperation, beautifully haunting yet striking images of melting glaciers have been incorporated into the collection and serve as a creative call to arms, capturing the effects of climate change across pieces made from sand-wash silk, organic cotton and recycled polyester. These poignant images show the reality of the world we’re inhabiting. Receding glaciers and shifting seasons. We’re all part of the problem but we’re also all part of the solution.
Discover the collection here.