I once read that when the Apollo 8 astronauts made the first orbit of the moon, the "Earthrise" that they witnessed was such an unexpected wonder that it introduced complete chaos to their scripted-to-the-minute schedule. They forgot about radio check in, they forgot about telemetry and task lists. They just went gah-gah and snap-happy with the cameras, as they witnessed something that all their planning and training hadn't prepared them for: a sight no human had ever seen.
Only 24 human beings have seen the Earth in its totality from space. But the images that they brought back were a monumentally important event in human history -- the chance for us to see the beautiful blue marble we inhabit in all its vulnerable isolation.
For those of us who haven't been to the moon, there's Google Earth.
And thanks to Google's Outreach program, which is coaching charities and non-profits and activist groups in how to create their own layers of information and bundling them in with the application, Greenpeace now has an initial set of datapoints that draw the link between climate change and forest destruction, bundled right into the Global Awareness layer that comes with the free software.
Forests store half of the Earth's terrestrial carbon stock. On an annual basis, global emissions from deforestation, mostly tropical, contribute approximately 20 percent of total human-induced greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere, more than that produced by the global transport sector.
If we want to knock 20 percent off of our greenhouse gas emissions and preserve the lives of the people and wildlife that call those forests home, we need to stop the crime of forest destruction. And the first step to stopping a crime is making sure that there are witnesses.
The Greenpeace Google Earth layer was launched this morning in Hamburg, and I had a chance to hear Oliver Salge, just back from the Congo, show pictures of the one guy, in an office with a dirt floor, in charge of policing a forest as big as Germany, and talk about the incredible destruction of the forest that he witnessed first hand. Of course, you too can now witness it thanks to Google Earth. Download the latest version and check out the "Global Awareness" Layer. (Oh, and yes, as the good folks over at Google Earth Blog noted, it does include naked people.)
I live blogged the launch over at my personal blog -- if you want to learn more about some of the other very cool stuff that the Google Outreach program has made possible, check it out.
And while you're flying over the forest and zooming into information about how it is being destroyed, don't forget to make sure you do something to keep this big blue marble healthy. Get involved.