As the global population nears 8 billion, the human footprint can be seen in almost every corner of the Earth. Logging roads cut deep into the Amazon rainforest. Plastics swirl in remote parts of the ocean. The world’s largest gold mine is carved out of the mountains of Indonesia.
Satellite and aerial images have captured much of this destruction, often in startling and unsettling images. But a new collection of photos offers a different view: Images of places where efforts are underway to slow or even reverse the damage we have done to the planet — massive wind and solar energy facilities being built on a vast scale; sea walls erected to hold back rising waters; an ambitious tree planting campaign to help stop the advance of desertification in sub-Saharan Africa. When seen from above, these cutting-edge projects are stunning and starkly beautiful.
These early markers of a transformation to a more sustainable world are captured in a new collection of photos published in the book Overview Timelapse: How We Change the Earth. Co-author Benjamin Grant says the scale of the innovation on display is indicative of how quickly society can tackle environmental challenges when it is motivated. “If you get the right momentum and the right belief behind a certain idea, change can happen quickly,” says Grant. “And it’s not necessarily all change for the negative, there can be change for the positive as well.”
Scroll down to see the images, or click on the photo below to launch a slideshow.
The Oosterscheldekering, translated as the Eastern Scheldt storm surge barrier, is the largest of a series of 13 dams designed to protect the Netherlands from flooding from the North Sea. It was constructed in response to the widespread damage and loss of life due to the North Sea flood of 1953. The barrier spans approximately 5.6 miles and uses large, sliding gate–type doors that can be closed during surging tides.
A year of progress (2018-2019) in the Great Green Wall initiative, a massive tree-planting initiative that aims to stop the march of desertification in Africa’s Sahel region on the southern edge of the Sahara. In an area impacted by worsening droughts, food scarcity, and climate migration, the project intends to restore 250 million acres of degraded land by 2030 by planting a 5,000-mile tree line, such as this section along the border of Mauritania and Senegal.
Blades for wind turbines grouped together at a manufacturing facility in Little Rock, Arkansas. Individual blades are transported from this facility on top of trucks to wind farms and then assembled on-site. The longest blades seen here are 350 feet long, or 1.3 times the length of a New York City block.
For decades, the waters of Nanri Island in the South China Sea have been cultivated for the growth of kelp and seaweed and the raising of abalone (large sea snails). Since 2015, offshore wind turbines have been operating amid the fishing nets that surround the Chinese island, with minimal effect on aquaculture production.
The Fântânele-Cogealac Wind Farm in Romania is the largest onshore wind farm in Europe. The facility is constructed in the midst of canola fields, demonstrating the type of dual-land use possible with renewable energy. With 240 turbines, the wind farm generates 10 percent of Romania’s renewable energy production.
A before and after look at the installation of solar panels atop the Westmont Distribution Center in San Pedro, California. The 2 million square feet of panels have a bifacial design, meaning they can collect reflected light from the surface of the roof in addition to direct sunlight. This enables the panels to generate up to 45 percent more power than traditional rooftop solar panels and power 5,000 nearby homes.
An aerial view of the $6-billion MOSE system in Venice, Italy, a network of 78 steel gates designed to hold back sea level rise and protect the city from storm surges from the Adriatic Sea. Venice, built on top of a lagoon, already experiences regular flooding as high tides bring water into the city’s streets. The MOSE system, scheduled for completion in 2022, will be capable of stopping tides up to 9.8 feet.
The Sustainable City is a complex in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, built to be the first net-zero-emissions development in the country. The area is home to roughly 2,700 people with housing, offices, retail, health care, and food shopping all on-site. Eleven “biodome” greenhouses generate produce for the complex’s residents, a passive cooling system keeps energy requirements low, and all houses come with solar panels and UV-reflective paint to reduce heat buildup.