The photographs are taken from satellites, allowing views of the Earth that would have been impossible in the not-too-distant past, but the results are similarly, bewilderingly beautiful.
Here, natural landscapes evolve into abstract fantasies. The Sahara’s Taoudeni Basin and the Dacht-e Kavir desert in Iran resemble close-ups of an artist’s palette, while many of the water systems – the Brahmaputra River in Assam or the mangrove swamps in the Gulf of Bengal – look like paintings of trees or tree roots.
Man-made structures can be equally fascinating – the array of 5,000 decommissioned aeroplanes at a US Air Force base in Arizona calls to mind the art installation from Don DeLillo’s Underworld – and sometimes chilling: the thick white waste on one double-page spread at first appears to be a snowcapped mountain range but is in fact smog over Beijing, where pollution levels are up to 40 times greater than World Health Organization-recommended levels. Equally disturbing is the open-pit Chuquicamata Mine in Chile, one of the largest copper mines in the world, which from this perspective looks like a serious burn; the damage is spread over a wide area because of the toxic dust particles released by the constant to-ing and fro-ing of trucks.
Studies of Fukushima and Chernobyl are reminders that other forms of damage happen instantaneously, but the accompanying text offers glimmers of hope: satellite photography allows for identification of illegal deforestation in something very close to real time, which means that helicopters can be despatched to close it down. As ever, however, the message remains that our planet is as vulnerable as it is beautiful, and we’re consuming its resources at a frighteningly unsustainable speed.
THE EARTH FROM SPACE BY THE GOODPLANET FOUNDATION; foreword by Yann Arthus-Bertrand, Thames & Hudson, £34.95