Skip to main content

How you can travel back in time

By Flora Zhang
April 24, 2014 -- Updated 1104 GMT (1904 HKT)
Pafuri baobab tree. Up to 2,000 years old. Kruger Game Preserve, South Africa. Pafuri baobab tree. Up to 2,000 years old. Kruger Game Preserve, South Africa.
HIDE CAPTION
The oldest living things
The oldest living things
The oldest living things
The oldest living things
The oldest living things
The oldest living things
The oldest living things
The oldest living things
The oldest living things
The oldest living things
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Artist Rachel Sussman's book, "The Oldest Living Things," comes out on Earth Day
  • Sussman: When I visited Japan I saw a very old tree that inspired my project
  • She says environment is important, and urges all of us to fight climate change

(CNN) -- Artist Rachel Sussman spent the past decade documenting the world's oldest living things. Working with biologists, she has traveled to deserts and islands, from the Australian Outback to Antarctica, to photograph organisms that are 2,000 years old or older. She has given a TED talk about her project. Her new book of photographs and essays, "The Oldest Living Things in the World," came out on Earth Day, April 22. Follow her on Twitter: @OLTW

CNN asked Sussman about her work in an e-mail interview.

How did you get involved with this project?

Rachel Sussman
Rachel Sussman

Before I got the idea for "The Oldest Living Things," I was searching for something I could really sink my teeth into. That search was both an intellectual one -- pondering ideas about combining art with science and philosophical concepts like deep time -- as well as a literal one. A visit to Japan in 2004 resulted in a surprising and eye-opening adventure to a supposedly 7,000-year-old tree, which ended up being the ultimate catalyst that brought all these different threads together.

Environmentalism also plays a vital role in my work. The ancient survivors I've photographed have weathered thousands of years in some of the harshest environments on Earth, but are now threatened by the climate crisis.

Of all the oldest living things that you came across, what moved you the most?

Rachel Sussman\'s new book, \
Rachel Sussman's new book, "The Oldest Living Things in the World."
Capturing environmental impact from above
Skeptical environmentalist & a scientist
Young environmentalist makes impact
What's happening to Great Barrier Reef?
Turning workouts into watts

It's hard for me to choose, but I was particularly moved by some of the most diminutive organisms. We expect to be awed by the grandeur of Giant Sequoias, and they are indeed moving. But it was the little beings -- the ones that you'd have no idea are old at all -- that I found to be the most compelling. Examples of this include the map lichens in Greenland that grow only 1 centimeter every 100 years, and the spruce tree on the cover of the book, which, despite its spindly appearance, has been growing clonally for 9,950 years.

If there's one place in the world that one must see before one dies, where would it be?

This is a tough question, as I think we should weigh the environmental impact of our travels against the potential for cultural and personal enrichment. Developing clean energy sources to get us to places should be a global priority.

What that in mind, some of my travel experiences -- like visiting South Georgia Island in the Antarctic Convergence -- felt more like traveling back in time than visiting a remote location. It is stunning, and I'd love everyone to be able to see through that window back into deep time.

However, some of the last pristine locations on Earth have only remained so because of lack of human contact. I urge everyone to travel responsibly, and remember the Girl Scout motto to always leave a place in better shape than when you found it!

What are a few things that one can start doing today to become more environmentally conscious?

My suggestion is to get involved with Al Gore's fantastic organization, the Climate Reality Project. Whether you spread some truth to the naysayers about climate change, reflect on the things you love that are made possible by a healthy climate, or choose to apply to become a member of the Climate Realty Leadership Corps, Climate Reality is building community and momentum around the global fight against the climate crisis.

Who inspires you?

In no particular order some of my favorite people are: David Foster Wallace, Werner Herzog, David Lynch, Ernest Shackleton, the women of art and science that history overlooked or forgot, risk-takers, climate crusaders, makers of eye-opening art, boundary breakers, fighters of injustices, and anyone forging a connection where one didn't previously exist.

I believe everyone should follow and cultivate their curiosity -- because you never know where it will lead you. There is so much to see, know and do in the world, and I hope that we can all get out there -- in our own ways -- and do some good.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 1952 GMT (0352 HKT)
Danny Cevallos says the legislature didn't have to get involved in regulating how people greet each other
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2312 GMT (0712 HKT)
Marc Harrold suggests a way to move forward after the deaths of NYPD officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos.
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 1336 GMT (2136 HKT)
Simon Moya-Smith says Mah-hi-vist Goodblanket, who was killed by law enforcement officers, deserves justice.
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 1914 GMT (0314 HKT)
Val Lauder says that for 1,700 years, people have been debating when, and how, to celebrate Christmas
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2027 GMT (0427 HKT)
Raphael Sperry says architects should change their ethics code to ban involvement in designing torture chambers
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 0335 GMT (1135 HKT)
Paul Callan says Sony is right to call for blocking the tweeting of private emails stolen by hackers
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 1257 GMT (2057 HKT)
As Christmas arrives, eyes turn naturally toward Bethlehem. But have we got our history of Christmas right? Jay Parini explores.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 0429 GMT (1229 HKT)
The late Joe Cocker somehow found himself among the rock 'n' roll aristocracy who showed up in Woodstock to help administer a collective blessing upon a generation.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2115 GMT (0515 HKT)
History may not judge Obama kindly on Syria or even Iraq. But for a lame duck president, he seems to have quacking left to do, says Aaron Miller.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 1811 GMT (0211 HKT)
Terrorism and WMD -- it's easy to understand why these consistently make the headlines. But small arms can be devastating too, says Rachel Stohl.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 1808 GMT (0208 HKT)
Ever since "Bridge-gate" threatened to derail Chris Christie's chances for 2016, Jeb Bush has been hinting he might run. Julian Zelizer looks at why he could win.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 1853 GMT (0253 HKT)
New York's decision to ban hydraulic fracturing was more about politics than good environmental policy, argues Jeremy Carl.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 2019 GMT (0419 HKT)
On perhaps this year's most compelling drama, the credits have yet to roll. But we still need to learn some cyber lessons to protect America, suggest John McCain.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 2239 GMT (0639 HKT)
Conservatives know easing the trade embargo with Cuba is good for America. They should just admit it, says Fareed Zakaria.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 0112 GMT (0912 HKT)
We're a world away from Pakistan in geography, but not in sentiment, writes Donna Brazile.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 1709 GMT (0109 HKT)
How about a world where we have murderers but no murders? The police still chase down criminals who commit murder, we have trials and justice is handed out...but no one dies.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2345 GMT (0745 HKT)
The U.S. must respond to North Korea's alleged hacking of Sony, says Christian Whiton. Failing to do so will only embolden it.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 2134 GMT (0534 HKT)
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1951 GMT (0351 HKT)
Jeff Yang says the film industry's surrender will have lasting implications.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2113 GMT (0513 HKT)
Newt Gingrich: No one should underestimate the historic importance of the collapse of American defenses in the Sony Pictures attack.
December 10, 2014 -- Updated 1255 GMT (2055 HKT)
Dean Obeidallah asks how the genuine Stephen Colbert will do, compared to "Stephen Colbert"
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1734 GMT (0134 HKT)
Some GOP politicians want drug tests for welfare recipients; Eric Liu says bailed-out execs should get equal treatment
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1342 GMT (2142 HKT)
Louis Perez: Obama introduced a long-absent element of lucidity into U.S. policy on Cuba.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 1740 GMT (0140 HKT)
The slaughter of more than 130 children by the Pakistani Taliban may prove as pivotal to Pakistan's security policy as the 9/11 attacks were for the U.S., says Peter Bergen.
ADVERTISEMENT