Crucial Minutia
it's the little things...
Cristina Pippa
All the World: Here on Earth
7 Comments | posted April 12th, 2007 at 11:34 am by Cristina Pippa

Darfur“Oh,” a woman in a thick overcoat whimpered outside a market. She was covering her mouth as she look over a bed of lifeless tulips. I joined her at what might as well have been the seen of an accident, at which point she said, “I know how they feel.”

“Me too,” I admitted to this stranger, although I didn’t go so far as to tell her that I had once googled Seasonal Affective Disorder, appropriately nicknamed “SAD.” Surely there are bigger things to worry about than when the sun will come out and the temperature will spring up again.

Yesterday I discovered that Google Earth and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum have teamed up on a project called Crisis in Darfur. 200 million Google Earth users (a group which can include you if it doesn’t already– since it’s free to download and you must have some access to a computer if you’re reading this) have the ability to coast over an almost 3-D depiction of our planet to Sudan. There, they will find a bevy of red flames, signaling which villages have been destroyed. They can also click on camera icons to see photos and read stories of genocide.

I wonder if this interactive tool will help those of us on the outside of the crisis to better grasp the mass chaos and imaginable tragedy occurring right now. Will it help us feel closer to it? Or will it make the crisis feel more like a violent video game? I agree that any way to bring genocide to the attention of those who are fortunate enough not to have experienced it is worthwhile. But I can’t help wondering — then what? Will the tourists who rely on Google Earth to plan their next vacation click over to Darfur? Will they hesitate, like I did, when a warning is issued that the images will be disturbing? Will they go back to using “Turn Here” on Google Earth’s map of Costa Rica, or will they then proceed to search for Baghdad, Mostar, Kigali.

The photo of a baby dressed in brilliant colors and standing at an empty water basin in West Darfur has stayed with me since I used Google Earth to virtually travel there. I hope that since someone took her picture, they were also able to give her water. And this is where environmentalists connect the frozen buds and tulips in the U.S. to the crisis in Darfur. Global warming. Climate change. Loss of water.

“The blunt truth is that the lack of water and agricultural land is a significant contributory factor to the tragic conflict we see unfolding in Darfur. We should see this as a warning sign.” –British Home Secretary John Reid

Fortunately, MSNBC released hopeful news yesterday. Satellites are not only good for providing topographical imagery of Darfur for Google Earth. The satellite Radarsat has been used to penetrate the sand in western Sudan with radar waves and has revealed an ancient lake basin covering almost 12,000 square miles.

“The likelihood of groundwater to exist in huge amounts is almost certain, so why not explore it for groundwater to help these refugees and the people who live in Darfur?” –Farouk El-Baz, Director of Boston University’s Center for Remote Sensing

Why not? There can only be one reason: that the inhabitants of an earth, so eagerly mapped by Google, choose to store this information rather than to use it. Let’s admit that’s no excuse.

This entry was posted on Thursday, April 12th, 2007 at 11:34 am and is filed under In The News, Science & Technology, Environment. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

There are currently 7 responses

  1. JP

    Once again, ms. pippa has made me think!!!!!

    You rock!

    April 12th, 2007 | 11:58 am
  2. Wow, this hit me hard Pippa. I am fascinating–as you know–by the mental affects and moral responsibilities that come with global awareness. If we can see Darfur, rather than compartmentalize it or intellectualize it or put our finger on it on a 2-dimensional map, does it change the way we perceive of our own connection to it. Are we suddenly and inextricably linked to things we see?
    I wonder this as the homeless woman comes through the subway car. She makes “homelessness”–the issue–into a person, and even though I’ve decided that the best way to help the homeless is by funding nonprofits that reach out to them and paying my taxes for govt. programs that try to help them, there is a moment shared that I can not intellectualize. I’m convinced my dignity is lessened by not putting money or food in her hands, even if just a little.
    Is our dignity lessened by seeing the Google map and doing nothing?

    April 12th, 2007 | 1:12 pm
  3. Chris talks about this kind of thing a lot, in regards to public health. It happens in the progressive community too often, too. Well-intended artists or filmmakers (I’m looking at you, Michael Moore) create incendiary pictures of social problems, but then forget to even include a web link or action list of things that people can do to stay involved and make a difference.

    Raising awareness without raising capacity for action is very dangerous, for exactly the reasons Courtney mentions above. If you know about a problem, feel passionate about doing something, but don’t know what to do, then you end up with lots of people feeling like their dignity is compromised.

    It would be cool if this project could join up with some kind of global aid group, so that people could send money or something to make a difference. Hell, even in violent video games, your avatar has some capability to impact the scene.

    April 12th, 2007 | 1:43 pm
  4. Amazing. I hope this kind of technology can chip away at the “us vs. them.” I think seeing does link us. Thank you for sharing. xo, Kimmi

    April 12th, 2007 | 1:53 pm
  5. Al Gore, on the other hand, did include an action list for Inconvenient Truth viewers, which can be found at…

    Anyone have ideas on how we can specifically help make it possible to explore Darfur’s groundwater resources?

    Because, as Court mentioned, dignity comes with accepting responsibility and actually doing something with it. That doesn’t mean that we will ever feel that we’ve done enough though– I think that’s also part of global awareness.

    April 12th, 2007 | 5:13 pm
  6. Antonio Giuliano

    A few more writers like you would make this world a much better place.
    Love your style.

    April 12th, 2007 | 5:52 pm
  7. Great link, Cristina! And great question. Well-timed, too.

    Yesterday, someone introduced me to the organization called Charity: Water. According to their website, their goal is to raise awareness about the 1.1 billion people in the world without access to clean water.

    They’re currently raising money to fund freshwater wells and sanitation projects in Africa by selling $20 bottles of water here in the U.S. The bottle is symbolic, of course; 100% of the proceeds go to the efforts in Africa. (Charity: Water is closely monitored by Charity Navigator, which reassures me that their financial claims are actually true.)

    Perhaps these folks would might want to expand their efforts into Darfur? It would be harder, doing this work in an active war zone, but could be life-changing.

    One caveat: I don’t know about the size or quality of the water table in Darfur and surrounding areas. Charity: Water indicates that there are substantial water tables in the African countries where they’re working.

    Other ideas? Responses?

    April 13th, 2007 | 9:41 am

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