The battered home: representations of the Earth, from the Whole Earth Catalog to GOCE.


The battered home: representations of the Earth, from the Whole Earth Catalog to GOCE. By: Gonzalo Carrasco Purull + Pedro Livni.

The past week the European Space Agency, through its program GOCE (Gravity and Ocean Circulation Explorer) published the first results obtained from the data given by the GOCE satellite, in orbit since March 2009 (http:// / gu.com/p/2z64v). The data collected focused on the identification of differences of gravity on Earth’s surface. A key piece of information when making any kind of estimate about future global climate scenarios. Since gravity acts on phenomena such as ocean currents, sea levels or the behavior of ice, everyone in determining strong influence of climate on the planet.

These data were entered into a model or geoid, whose final form was the result of the deformation of the Earth’s surface, to make each point on the surface was obtained, equivalent values ​​of gravity. The images delivered by the GOCE team in yellow show areas where gravity is higher, while in blue areas where it is presented weak. This is how the successful image of an Earth is deformed, dented, something very similar to the irregular shape of a potato.

These images of the Earth – the show is subject to strong tensions and forces – is far removed from those other generated from the first space flights conducted in the sixties. Photographs, in which the Earth is shown as a blue sphere, lonely and extremely precarious, in the middle of interstellar space. Some images that helped shape the minds of many movements of the sixties counterculture. In which, it showed these pictures to emphasize the fact that, despite ideological differences in the decade divided the world into two irreconcilable hemispheres were all the end of the inhabitants of the planet.

One idea that characters such as Buckminster Fuller made his own. Already famous Earth Games, or through his famous phrase that described the planet as “Spaceship Earth.” Representations of the planet on the other hand were key to the group around Stewart Brand and his Whole Earth Catalog. Publication in each of its editions, reproduced on its cover image of the lonely blue planet in the midst of absolute darkness of deep space. The tools, knowledge and technologies that were broadcast there, appealed to the generation of a survival platform for a stage characterized by precarious balance of the planet.


Images of Earth from space – as they were reproduced by the Whole Earth Catalog – in addition to other speeches accompanied countercultural movements such as the first environmentalists, hippies and radical scientists on the West Coast, such as Gregory Bateson.

Hence the potential importance for future global discourses Earth images delivered by the GOCE team last week. Lie to the view from space of Earth realized that although fragile, lonely and poor, could ultimately reach a state of equilibrium or – to put it in biological terms – of homeostasis. The recognition of a nature that in spite of the imbalances that man could run on the global ecosystem, it was always possible that the Earth – through its natural cycles – could return to equilibrium lost. This is the argument behind many of the environmental movements of the seventies, or groups about the work of the Sierra Club, for whom preservation has no other meaning to leave Earth, and thus act to restore lost order.


However, what we see in the pictures delivered by the GOCE refer to any state, unless the balance. Although it is only a model of the Earth and not a photograph, it is less strong the effect of a representation that shows the planet as an object that tends to balance, but as an object subject to forces that deform it, the dent and transform. While the still images of Earth seen from space appealed to a “laissez-faire nature, these images instead appeal to a much more active role by us – its people – in future environmental policies.

It is trivial that these graphs serve eventually to study disaster scenarios such as earthquakes and global climate change. It is still early to know clearly what discourses may be aligned behind these pictures, but one thing one can say: it is that if there are decisions and policies on a global scale, “Spaceship Earth” will become a home difficult to repair dented. VKPK.

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