When astronauts gaze down at Earth in its entirety for the first time, they describe a profound psychological shift. Beholding our small blue planet floating in the vastness of the universe imbues them with a sense of understanding about our place in the cosmos and the extent to which everything on Earth is connected and interdependent. Only about 550 humans have been lucky enough to contemplate the world from this perspective, but their anecdotes inspired science writer Frank White to dub this phenomenon the “Overview Effect.”
When Benjamin Grant first learned about the concept from a documentary, he was mesmerized. “Once I saw Overview, I felt like my perspective had shifted entirely. It was something I couldn’t stop thinking about,’” Grant tells The Creators Project. While preparing for a meeting of a space club he’d started, Grant typed “Earth” into a satellite mapping program, thinking it would return a zoomed-out picture of the planet. Instead, he got Earth, TX, a small town surrounded by miles of green and brown circles, the beautiful byproduct of pivot irrigation fields, or sprinklers that water crops in a circular pattern.
A few days later, in December 2013, Grant launched Daily Overview, and he’s posted a new, stunning picture of Earth from above every day since. “When I discovered that I could create something that was not only beautiful but also informative that spoke to [the ‘Overview Effect’] directly, you can imagine how fulfilling that was,” Grant says. After three years of collecting incredible images of the planet, amassing a huge following, Grant curated 200 of the best images into a gorgeous book, which goes on sale later this month.
Even after doing this for three years, there’s still so many things I haven’t seen. There are so many places I hear about from other people or read about in the news that I’ve never seen before,” Grant says. He posts pictures of tulip fields and salt mines, housing developments and landfills, and though they’re all breathtaking, it’s jarring to see pristine wilderness juxtaposed by more sinister images of destruction. Some of the most compelling photos use symmetry, patterns, and color to highlight the tension between beauty and tragedy.
“I think of one of a refugee camp in Kenya. There’s this amazing red color and on top of that, a grid pattern, but then you realize that grid is the space created for 400,000 displaced Somali refugees,” Grant says. “It’s kind of a horrible, dark moment for our species, and you have to acknowledge you enjoy looking at it at the same time. That’s challenging, but maybe it gets you to look longer at something you might typically look away from.”
One thing nearly all astronauts talk about is an understanding of the fragility of Earth’s ecosystem after seeing our thin atmosphere and vast human footprint from space. Despite the relative ease of travel, many of us have a geographically-limited comprehension of the world. Seeing the planet from above could help more people grasp the urgency of combating climate change and making sure the Earth is a sustainable home in the future. If everybody went to space, would it be enough to convince us to save the world?
“I think one thing this project does is build awareness of what is going on through new perspectives. I think that’s the first step before we start acting to protect the planet. People aren’t going to spontaneously say, ‘We need cleaner energy, and we need to reduce our waste,’ unless they truly understand what’s going on first,” Grant says. “Sending everyone to outer space is not going to happen for a little while. Hopefully one day, but in the meantime, this is one way to use the cameras we already have up there to help get to a collective awareness. I think awareness leads to inquisitiveness leads to questions leads to, hopefully, action.”