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Title: Earth Month: The 117 Million Foot View

By Jeanette Garcia Polasky, Baltimore County Department of Public Works

Looking at the Earth from above, we get perspective on our changing, living planet. Astronauts understand this better than any of us, given their firsthand experience seeing Earth from space. They call this the Overview Effect.

East full disk image, GOES 16 satellite |
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

When astronaut and Cockeysville native Reid Wiseman accepted a Hero Pin from County Executive Kamenetz in 2015, I asked him about experiencing the Overview Effect. His response was profound.

“When I went to space, and you start to look out, you can watch sands from the Sahara Desert get blown all the way over to Brazil. You watch a hurricane. You see flooding. You see a dam.

"You can see cities really well, they just look like smudges; but you start to realize that the Earth is far more alive than any of us.

“This machine right here has been going a long time – before we came – and it will be going a long time after we leave. It’s our home.

“The Earth is like our parents – parents for every human being that’s ever walked on the planet, every animal. So that was really what I took away. This machine we live on is much more alive than any of us in this room.”

The idea of Earth as a living machine has stayed with me since that day. If only everyone could have the opportunity to experience it, perhaps we would be inspired to put in the hard work required to leave behind a livable planet for future generations.

It’s unlikely that you or I will ever get the chance to see Earth from space, but what we do have is a way to simulate the experience – with virtual reality (VR), and you can do it without spending a dime.

Here’s an Earth Month challenge – make your own cardboard smartphone VR viewer for free. You can find tutorials online, as well as a downloadable VR viewer kit offered by Google at no charge. You probably already have the materials you need sitting around the house or in the recycling bin. After it’s assembled, get out your smartphone and download a free app.

Get ready for a whole new worldview from 117 million feet!

Get involved in Earth Month. Baltimore County is hosting events including Earth Month Pop-Ups in the parks and an Earth Day Household Hazardous Waste Collection Event. Take action all year long.  Participate in cleanups, plantings and other events to protect and connect with the land, waters and wildlife that make our Chesapeake home special.

Revised October 16, 2020               
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