Trevor Paglen speculates that human civilization's longest lasting monuments will be the satellites in geostationary orbits around the Earth.
Humanity's longest lasting remnants are found among the stars. Over the last fifty years, hundreds of satellites have been launched into geosynchronous orbits, forming a ring of machines 36,000 kilometers from earth. Thousands of times further away than most other satellites, geostationary spacecraft remain locked as man-made moons in perpetual orbit long after their operational lifetimes. Geosynchronous spacecraft will be among civilization's most enduring remnants, quietly circling earth until the earth is no more.
Billions of years from now, he began to narrate, long after city lights and the humans who made them have disappeared from the Earth, other intelligent species might eventually begin to see traces of humanity's long-since erased presence on the planet.
Consider deep-sea squid, Paglen suggested, who would have billions of years to continue developing and perfecting their incredible eyesight, a sensory skill perfect for peering through the otherwise impenetrable darkness of the oceans -- yet also an eyesight that could let them gaze out at the stars in deep space.
Perhaps, Paglen speculated, these future deep-sea squid with their extraordinary powers of sight honed precisely for focusing on tiny points of light in the darkness might drift up to the surface of the ocean on calm nights to look upward at the stars, viewing a scene that will have rearranged into whole new constellations since the last time humans walked the Earth.
Paul Bogard recently published a book on darkness called The End of Night. Nicola Twilley and Geoff Manaugh interviewed Bogard about the book, the night sky, astronomy, security, cities, and prisons, among other things. The interview is interesting throughout but one of my favorite things is this illustration of the Bortle scale.
Twilley: It's astonishing to read the description of a Bortle Class 1, where the Milky Way is actually capable of casting shadows!
Bogard: It is. There's a statistic that I quote, which is that eight of every ten kids born in the United States today will never experience a sky dark enough to see the Milky Way. The Milky Way becomes visible at 3 or 4 on the Bortle scale. That's not even down to a 1. One is pretty stringent. I've been in some really dark places that might not have qualified as a 1, just because there was a glow of a city way off in the distance, on the horizon. You can't have any signs of artificial light to qualify as a Bortle Class 1.
A Bortle Class 1 is so dark that it's bright. That's the great thing-the darker it gets, if it's clear, the brighter the night is. That's something we never see either, because it's so artificially bright in all the places we live. We never see the natural light of the night sky.
In an interview with Nicola Twilley and Geoff Manaugh, photographer Edward Burtynsky talks about his use of film and drones, his current big project photographing water, and the challenges of finding ways to photograph the ubiquitous.
I'd say, actually, that I've been careful not to frame the work in an activist or political kind of way. That would be too restrictive in terms of how the work can be used in society and how it can be interpreted. I see the work as being a bit like a Rorschach test. If you see an oil field and you see industrial heroism, then perhaps you're some kind of entrepreneur in the oil business and you're thinking, "That's great! That's money being made there!" But, if you're somebody from Greenpeace or whatever, you're going to see it very differently. Humans can really reveal themselves through what they choose to see as the most important or meaningful detail in an image.
In the event of an invasion, the entire country of Switzerland is rigged to destroy all of its road, bridges, railroads, and other infrastructure. Or at least it was during the Cold War. Geoff Manaugh reports on a John McPhee book about the country's defenses.
In any case, the book's vision of the Alps as a massively constructed-or, at least, geotechnically augmented and militarily amplified-terrain is quite heady, including the very idea that, in seeking to protect itself from outside invaders, Switzerland is prepared to dynamite, shell, bulldoze, and seal itself into a kind of self-protective oblivion, hiding out in artificially expanded rocky passes and concrete super-basements as all roads and bridges into and out of the country are instantly transformed into landslides and dust.
The first reader comment is more than a little eye-popping:
I have seen this with my own eyes as a foreign student in Switzerland in 1981, when a MOUNTAIN "opened" up and four jets flew out of it, near the quiet town, Martigny.
Update: About a minute into this clip from Rick Steves' Europe, Steves takes a tour of some of the hidden defenses of Switzerland.
It's still unknown exactly why this area -- and this area alone -- should produce such regular lightning. One theory holds that ionized methane gas rising from the Catatumbo bogs is meeting with storm clouds coming down from the Andes, helping to create the perfect conditions for a lightning storm.
With a total of roughly 1.2 million lightning discharges per year, the Relampago del Catatumbo is thought to be the world's greatest producer of ozone. As the lightning rips through the air, it produces nitrogen oxide, which is later converted by sunlight into ozone, which ends up in a protective layer high above the planet.
I learned about this storm from the description of a course that Geoff Manaugh is teaching at Columbia about...what would you call it...geoarchitecture?
The studio will be divided into three groups -- one designing glaciers, one designing islands, one designing storms. Each group will mix vernacular, non-fossil fuel-based building technologies with what sounds like science fiction in order to explore the fine line between architectural design and the amplified cultivation of natural processes.