Paul McCartney on Saving the Arctic
23 Jul, 2012
1968. That was a hell of a year. The people were on the streets, revolution was in the air, we released the White Album, and perhaps the most influential photograph of all time was taken by an astronaut called William Anders.
It was Christmas Eve. Anders and his mission commander Frank Borman had just become the only living beings since the dawn of time to orbit the moon. Then, through the tiny window of their Apollo 8 spacecraft their eyes fell upon something nobody had seen before, something so familiar and yet so alien, something breathtaking in its beauty and fragility. “Oh my God!” Borman cried. “Look at that picture over there! Here’s the Earth coming up. Wow, is that pretty!”
“You got a color film, Jim?” Anders snapped back. “Hand me that roll of color quick, will you…” For a minute or so, two human beings in a tin can nearly 400,000 kilometers from home scrambled furiously to fix a roll of Kodak into their camera. Then Anders lifted it to the window and clicked the shutter and captured our delicate home planet rising slowly over the horizon of the moon. Earthrise. That single image made such an impact on the human psyche that it’s credited with sparking the birth of the global environment movement—with changing the very way we think about ourselves.
That was more than 40 years ago, the blink of an eye in the grand sweep of time, but something quite remarkable has happened since then. For at least 800,000 years the Arctic Ocean has been capped by a sheet of sea ice the size of a continent. But in the decades since that photo was taken, satellites have been measuring a steady melting of that white sheet. Much of it has now gone, and it seems likely that there’ll be open water at the North Pole in the lifetimes of my kids. I might even see that moment for myself.