Chicago speech - 1970 - Georges Pompidou.

A visionary discourse on ecological issues inspired by this historic photograph by Bill Anders, which for the first time shows mankind "the home of man" in the immensity of space. (incredible story of this picture at the end of the article)

During an official speech at the Alliance Française dinner on 28 February 1970 in Chicago, Georges Pompidou warned of the environmental issues at stake, prompted by the first photo of the "Earthrise" from the Moon taken by Bill Anders during the Apollo 8 mission in 1968.

With a population of eight million, a gross annual product of $46 billion, an annual family income of $14,000, and a steel production greater than that of France, Chicago needs no praise. The reality of its businesses speaks for itself, as does the beauty of its skyscrapers which evoke the names of the greatest architects, such as Mies van der Rohe. In the adventure of modern America, of the modern world, your city plays an eminent role that is conferred on it by the entrepreneurial spirit and the energy of its citizens. No city is more representative of the extraordinary technical and industrial progress made by the United States.

But the pace of this evolution is creating unexpected problems for man at the end of the 20th century. Taken by surprise by the transformations of his environment for which he is directly responsible, he wonders if he is still capable of mastering the scientific and technological discoveries that he expected to bring him happiness. Like a sorcerer's apprentice, does he not risk perishing in the end because of the forces he has unleashed?

Man's hold on nature has become such that it carries the risk of destroying nature itself. It is striking to note that at the same time as so-called consumer goods are accumulating and spreading more and more, it is the most basic goods necessary for life, such as air and water, that are beginning to be lacking. Nature appears to us less and less as the formidable power that man at the beginning of this century was still striving to master, but as a precious and fragile framework that must be protected if the earth is to remain habitable for man.

This is largely the consequence of urban development that has reached alarming proportions and is of concern to all those responsible. In Chicago, you are particularly concerned about this.

In the crowdedness of large cities, people are burdened with all kinds of constraints and servitudes that go far beyond the advantages of a higher standard of living and the individual or collective means at their disposal.

It is paradoxical that the development of the car, for example, which everyone expects to have freedom of movement, ultimately results in traffic paralysis. The time is not far off when walking will appear to be the safest and fastest mode of transport in our large cities, if there are any pavements left! Similar problems are already beginning to arise in the air.

More serious than these traffic problems - even though they are a cause of considerable physical and nervous fatigue for people, especially for workers - are the moral consequences of living in modern cities. I am thinking, for example, of the increase in crime, especially juvenile delinquency. Is the 'city', the symbol and centre of all human civilisation, destroying itself and producing a new barbarism? This is a strange question, but one that we cannot help asking, and one that you are asking with a concern that we Europeans, whose history has consisted in pushing back the ancient Hercyan forest to the benefit of the city, and who, today, must concern ourselves with restoring the forest to its place. 

These are some of the challenges to modern society, to use President Nixon's phrase, that we are beginning to realise and that we need to address. In order to do this, we must, as always, count the difficulties and look for the appropriate solutions in each case. However, in the face of what is hopefully only a phenomenon of growth, we can see how slowly institutions are being developed compared to the lightning development of technology. The organisation of society is not adapting to the enormous demographic growth and displacement that is causing the "congestion" phenomena well known to sociologists. This is a subject for study and reform for the leaders of the States as well as for those responsible for the large cities.

But it is a fact that each problem solved gives rise to others, usually more difficult, and that man is led to question the belief in linear progress according to which each success of discovery would add to the previous ones in a continuous chain leading to happiness.

Thus, at the very moment when scientists are winning their most spectacular and mind-expanding victories, the first elements of a science trial are appearing. More than the fundamental science whose development nothing can stop, nor control its orientations, it is from the technology which proceeds from it that it is possible to orient the applications in order to better adapt them to man and his need for happiness. We must create and spread a kind of "environmental morality" imposing on the State, on communities and on individuals, the respect of a few elementary rules, without which the world would become unbreathable.

It is no coincidence that the United States, a country at the forefront of economic expansion and technical progress, is also the country with the greatest interest in so-called "conservation" issues. The protection of the natural environment must now be one of our primary concerns.

It follows that the role of the public authorities can only expand, since it is for them to lay down the rules and to pronounce prohibitions. But the application of these rules cannot be left to the sole discretion of civil servants or technicians. In a field on which the daily life of people directly depends, the control of citizens and their effective participation in the planning of their existence is more necessary than elsewhere.

I would add that the solution will be best sought within an international framework and in the cooperation of all nations, particularly all industrial nations, equally concerned about the dangers that threaten them and anxious to avert them. You know that President Nixon has taken initiatives in this direction. Similarly, France and the United States, in their recent agreements to develop their scientific and technical cooperation, have rightly placed at the top of the list of problems which they feel require joint action, those of town planning, the fight against pollution, and transport planning. By developing cooperation which does not, of course, involve any exclusivity, our two countries will set an example which I hope will be followed. 

On several occasions during this journey, I have already mentioned the extraordinary epic of your astronauts who set out to conquer the Moon. Among the images that television broadcast on that occasion, none struck me as much as that of the Earth, seen for the first time from interplanetary space. Shrouded in vapour, adorned in impressionistic colours, the Earth appeared to us as an island lost in the midst of immensity, but which we know to be endowed with the fragile and perhaps unique privilege of life.

What better vision than this one (the planet Earth seen from the Moon), strange and yet familiar, could make us aware of the precariousness of our terrestrial universe and of the duties of solidarity involved in safeguarding the home of man.

To be listened to in the strong and distinctive voice of Georges Pompidou.

Thank you to the Georges Pompidou Institute for having kept this speech in memory.

The history of this famous and defining photograph

In 1968, the Americans, pushed by the Russians, precipitated the preparation of the first man on the Moon. They had to go on a scouting mission to map the surface of the Earth's satellite and find the best place for the future moon landing. This was the task of Apollo 8, the first manned mission to the Moon, which was to orbit the Moon to make observations (10 rotations were to be made). The crew is composed of Frank Borman (left), the command module pilot, James Lovell the navigator (right), and William (often called Bill) Anders, the lunar module pilot and photographer (centre).

The picture was taken on the fourth rotation with a Hasselblad camera. " Oh my God! Here is the Earth rising. How beautiful it is! "exclaimed Bill Anders. He quickly took a black and white picture, but no doubt dazzled by the colours the astronauts scrambled to find a colour film, which Jim Lovell busily searched for in the capsule. When the film was finally in the capsule it was too late, the Earth had disappeared. " We missed it "Bill Anders lamented. But finally a second opportunity presented itself and this time Bill Anders managed to steal that fleeting moment that would become eternal.

The photo was unveiled by NASA on 30 December 1968, three days after the astronauts' return. Other pictures of the Earth already existed, but taken from satellites. This "Earthrise", apart from the perfection of the shot with the lunar surface in the foreground and the planet Earth partly in the dark, seeming to float in the deserted and dark immensity of infinity, standing out because of its bright blue colour, is the first photo taken by a man holding a camera in his hands and looking from the universe at the image of man's home.

Anders would later say of the photo: " We went to explore the Moon, and we discovered the Earth ". If history has mainly remembered Neil Armstrong's "other" sentence pronounced a few months later, we must undoubtedly pay tribute to Bill Anders today for the power of this wise and visionary appeal. The "giant leap for mankind" would undoubtedly be to finally become fully aware of the beauty and fragility of this Earth on which our human destiny depends. 

A photo, and a quote, of incredible and dizzying resonance today, at a time when humanity has never been so aware of the fragility of its mother and host planet. 

This Earth is our only future.

The House of Men