Above the Earth

Can you tell what this photograph shows? Yes, that's a tree in the center—one of the last standing in this part of Tsavo National Park in Kenya, Africa. In the 1970s, human hunters, settlement, and drought caused herds of elephants to crowd into the park, where their overpopulation seriously damaged the surrounding vegetation.

there is an aerial picture of a lone tree in an arid area of land.

Tsavo National Park © Yann Arthus-Bertrand / Altitude.

Some human effects on the earth are obvious. This is just one refuse dump in Mexico City, Mexico, where residents deposit nearly 10,000 tons of household garbage every day. In industrialized countries around the world, each person creates between 700 and 2,000 pounds (a whole ton!) of garbage every year. That probably includes you!

there is an aerial picture of a huge expanse of garbage with people walking among the trash.

Mexico City garbage © Yann Arthus-Bertrand / Altitude.

What's so important about the rainforest? For one thing, its thick plant growth keeps heavy rains from eroding the soil. In Argentina, where much of the forest has been cleared for farming, iron-rich red soil runs off into the river and out to sea. The Rio Uruguay, which runs across the picture, is ruddy and muddy, but the tributary flowing into it isn't. Can you guess why?

there is a picture of a rainforest river which has turned orange from soil run-off.

Rio Uruguay © Yann Arthus-Bertrand / Altitude.

More evidence of rainforest destruction floats down the Amazon River in Brazil. Logging, an important industry in Brazil's economy, uses up 7,400 square miles of rainforest every year. The loss of this habitat poses a huge threat to the global web of life, since nearly two-thirds of the world's organisms live in the Amazonian rainforest.

there is a picture of the Amazon River clogged by trees which have been logged.

Amazon River Logging © Yann Arthus-Bertrand / Altitude.

See more photos from above Earth. Read Earth from Above for Young Readers by Yann Arthus-Bertrand.


  • refuse: Something to be thrown away.

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  1. What do you think the people in the photo of the refuse dump are doing?
    [anno: The people appear to be collecting things from the piles of trash.]
  2. What kind of conservation efforts could people make to reduce garbage sent to a refuse center or garbage dump?
    [anno: Answers may vary but could include that people could reuse or recycle more materials. Students might also suggest that people buy products that are sold in more efficient or recyclable packaging.]
  3. Find an item in the photo that could have been used to make something else or used as a fuel source. What is the item, and what could have been done with it?
    [anno: Answers will vary. A possible answer would be using the wooden crates as fuel or turning the wooden crates into woodchips for a garden.]