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Gazing at Gaia

There’s much talk about the footprints we individually and collectively leave on the planet as humans, but how often, asks Jo Earlam, can we step back and consider the bigger picture of our impact on Earth?

An installation of artwork ‘Gaia’, the name for the Greek goddess of Earth, on display at Exeter Cathedral gives space for that reflection, a chance to gaze at Earth’s entire surface and imagine the eight billion people it supports, along with billions of other lifeforms, plants, and minerals.

Gaia – installation by Luke Jerram at Exeter Cathedral

The feature that stands out the most though is not animal, vegetable, or mineral, it’s the striking blue that makes up 71% of our planet – water. The North and South Pacific Oceans look vast, filling the space, between Asia and Australia and North and South America, not easily depicted on a flat atlas surface.

The installation is seven metres diameter, or 1.8 million times smaller than the real earth. To give a further sense of this context, the scale equates to one centimetre for every 18 kilometres of the earth’s surface. In densely populated cities millions of people will live in one of those centimetres as seen when gazing at Gaia.

The first time people were able to see Earth in its entirety was as a result of the Apollo Space Missions of the late 1960s/early 70s. After millennia gazing up at the moon, mankind was finally able to gaze upon home.

The artist behind the installation Luke Jerram writing on the My Earth website said: “I hope visitors to Gaia get to see the Earth as if from space; an incredibly beautiful and precious place. An ecosystem we need to look after – our only home. Halfway through the Earth’s sixth mass extinction, we urgently need to wake, and change our behaviour. We need to quickly make the changes necessary, to prevent run away Climate Change.”

One scientific assessment of our current use of the planet’s resources is that as people we need one and a half earths to support our current lifestyle, or effectively we’re using a third more than is sustainable – hence the importance for every one of us to think of how me might decrease our personal footprint, or to put it more simply in the words of a traditional native American blessing: “May you walk gently through the world and know its beauty.”

The Gaia installation can be seen at Exeter Cathedral until February 27th, booking can be made in advance on this link.