True nature of elements

True nature of elements

Living inside our neat, concrete, urban houses, we don’t sense much of nature’s power, except perhaps, when we witness a natural disaster like a Tsunami or an earthquake.

This too, we get to watch through 20-odd inches of television screen, from the cozy comfort of our living rooms. But the reality is, fair weather or foul, nature reverberates with an incredibly powerful, self-contained energy; a power that we perceive just a glimpse of, when it breaches out during some kind of natural catastrophe. The awesome potential energy in nature is what photographer Yann Arthus Bertrand helps us to sense through his incredible aerial photographs.

Swirling waves, smouldering volcanoes, the blistering heat inside the earth, sweeping winds — well, glory be to this massive energy. This is what would well sustain us in the future, in view of the looming energy crisis that most of us are still obliviously casual about, slogans from rooftops notwithstanding.

These stills are actually from Yann’s carbon-offset movie Home. Usually, people move from photographs to movies. But Yann is somebody who proceeded in reverse. He quit the movie industry to run the. Later, when he lived with his wife in Kenya in the Massai Mara national park, he happened to take photographs to study the behaviour of lions. That was when he discovered the lure of the still camera.

Now, his aerial photographs are world famous. The coffee table book he made for Unesco clicking the world’s most beautiful landscapes from aerial vantage points in helicopters and balloons, ‘Earth from Above’ sold over three million copies and has been translated into 24 languages.

In this series of photographs on energy, Yann begins with the sun — a fantastic visual that shows the awesome heat bubbles on its surface. He then turns his lens on to sand dunes in Namibia, a beautiful photograph that is half orange and half blue, thanks to the reflection of the evening sun-washed dunes and sky, with a solitary tree and its reflection as the anchor point. He then moves to windmills in France, farms in Greece, the spectacularly blue-green tinged Danish seas with melting icebergs floating about, gushing rivers in New Zealand… he also looks at the other side, overhead views of plane dump yards, over-grazed, barren patches of lands in Haiti, and so on.

Yann is not content with ‘image’ messages. He is serious about the data as well. So alongside these images are interesting snippets of information, which make you dwell a little deeper on the question of alternate sources of energy. There is interesting data on the energy generation and usage patterns of various forms of energy. For instance, wind energy or energy generated from windmills contributes to just 13.5 percent of global energy consumption.

And though it is common knowledge that there is energy locked deep within the earth in the form of heat, Yann also mentions that the temperature increases with the depth of about 3°C up to 100m and 10°C in some areas particularly active. The operation of the heat of the earth (geothermal) could represent a potential renewable energy but the exploitation of this is still undeveloped, though the projects are multiplying around the world. Some are supported by the European Union.

You get a sense of the untapped power of the ocean when you see the still he has clicked that shows a light house nearly swallowed up by rising waves. Come to think of it, the waves that we so enjoy to paddle about in, ocean currents that we think of only when we take a motorboat ride, and ocean tides, are just the different manifestations of this kinetic energy. “Tidal energy, inexhaustible on a human scale, can be converted into electricity by various devices, such as factories or new wave ‘hydrolienne,’ ” Yann informs. At the moment, these systems are still few and largely experimental. They have to adapt to a difficult environment. In France, the plant of the Rance tidal inaugurated in 1966 remains one of the most powerful of the world.

Agro energy cannot be a comprehensive answer as it could involve the clearing away of native flora, biodiversity and food crops. What we could instead do is to dip in to earth’s raw power. The 20th century saw the energy from organic deposits that we know as petroleum deposits lead to a technical revolution in the way of life, travel, production and consumption. That time is now about to be up, and we need to come up with a revolutionary new source of energy.

For this reason, many countries have pledged to reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases. “This effort would entail reviewing the way we produce, consume, travel, construct our buildings or design our cities. While consuming much less energy we will also need to increase the share of renewable energies such as solar or wind,” Yann voices. This is a challenge indeed, and the way we respond to it could well determine the future of mankind.

When science meets art, it makes for something that goes beyond the spectacular and becomes sublime. As propaganda, these images need no slogans to scream out the message. These are moving images, not in the emotional, but in the intellectual sense. May it power us on to rediscover our planet’s potential — our planet’s potential energy.
Somebody who walks the talk, Yann’s environmental organisation Good Planet set up a programme ‘Action Carbone’ to offset his own greenhouse gas emissions generated by his helicopter transports for aerial photography. Later, he extended this carbon offset programmes for other likeminded individuals and firms to offset their climate impact by funding projects on renewable energies, energy efficiency and reforestation.