With Google Earth, satellite images become an activist’s ally
LATE IN 2005, REBECCA MOORE WAS GIVING a presentation to a community group concerned about proposed logging in the Santa Cruz Mountains, south of San Francisco. In the darkened room, a large screen displayed an image of Earth floating serenely in space.
Moore touched a key on her computer, and the planet expanded to fill the screen. As the view zoomed closer still, the more than 300 audience members were able to make out the California coastline, then their own region. The landscape tilted, and the flat imagery leaped up to form mountains and valleys. Finally, they could see detailed three-dimensional satellite images of the redwood-covered ridges above their homes.
Moore touched another key and added an overlay of the proposed logging plan. The audience gasped. Suddenly, the grainy sketch a timber company had presented as a fire-prevention measure was revealed for what it was: a commercial logging operation that would deplete the forests adjacent to the community’s homes and schools and threaten the drinking water of more than 100,000 people.
“It electrified the room,” recalls Moore, who had developed the presentation in just a few days using Google Earth, a free desktop application that lets anyone with a modern computer explore a breathtakingly detailed digital model of the planet.