Skip to main content

How you can travel back in time

By Flora Zhang
updated 7:04 AM EDT, Thu April 24, 2014
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
updated 4:08 PM EST, Sat December 13, 2014
The NFL's new Player Conduct Policy was a missed chance to get serious about domestic violence, says Mel Robbins.
updated 12:40 PM EST, Tue December 16, 2014
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.
updated 11:00 AM EST, Wed December 17, 2014
The Internet is an online extension of our own neighborhoods. It's time for us to take their protection just as seriously, says Arun Vishwanath.
updated 4:54 PM EST, Tue December 16, 2014
Gayle Lemmon says we must speak out for the right of children to education -- and peace
updated 5:23 AM EST, Wed December 17, 2014
Russia's economic woes just seem to be getting worse. How will President Vladimir Putin respond? Frida Ghitis gives her take.
updated 1:39 AM EST, Wed December 17, 2014
Australia has generally seen itself as detached from the threat of terrorism. The hostage incident this week may change that, writes Max Barry.
updated 3:20 PM EST, Fri December 12, 2014
Thomas Maier says the trove of letters the Kennedy family has tried to guard from public view gives insight into the Kennedy legacy and the history of era.
updated 9:56 AM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
Will Congress reform the CIA? It's probably best not to expect much from Washington. This is not the 1970s, and the chances for substantive reform are not good.
updated 4:01 PM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
From superstorms to droughts, not a week goes by without a major disruption somewhere in the U.S. But with the right planning, natural disasters don't have to be devastating.
updated 9:53 AM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
Would you rather be sexy or smart? Carol Costello says she hates this dumb question.
updated 5:53 PM EST, Sun December 14, 2014
A story about Pope Francis allegedly saying animals can go to heaven went viral late last week. The problem is that it wasn't true. Heidi Schlumpf looks at the discussion.
updated 10:50 AM EST, Sun December 14, 2014
Democratic leaders should wake up to the reality that the party's path to electoral power runs through the streets, where part of the party's base has been marching for months, says Errol Louis
updated 4:23 PM EST, Sat December 13, 2014
David Gergen: John Brennan deserves a national salute for his efforts to put the report about the CIA in perspective
updated 9:26 AM EST, Fri December 12, 2014
Anwar Sanders says that in some ways, cops and protesters are on the same side
updated 9:39 AM EST, Thu December 11, 2014
A view by Samir Naji, a Yemeni who was accused of serving in Osama bin Laden's security detail and imprisoned for nearly 13 years without charge in Guantanamo Bay
updated 12:38 PM EST, Sun December 14, 2014
S.E. Cupp asks: How much reality do you really want in your escapist TV fare?
updated 1:28 PM EST, Thu December 11, 2014
Rip Rapson says the city's 'Grand Bargain' saved pensions and a world class art collection by pulling varied stakeholders together, setting civic priorities and thinking outside the box
updated 6:10 PM EST, Sat December 13, 2014
Glenn Schwartz says the airing of the company's embarrassing emails might wake us up to the usefulness of talking in-person instead of electronically
updated 5:33 PM EST, Fri December 12, 2014
The computer glitch that disrupted air traffic over the U.K. on Friday was a nuisance, but not dangerous, says Les Abend
updated 12:40 PM EST, Fri December 12, 2014
Newt Gingrich says the CBO didn't provide an accurate picture of Obamacare's impact, so why rehire its boss?
updated 7:40 PM EST, Fri December 12, 2014
Russian aggression has made it clear Ukraine must rethink its security plans, says Olexander Motsyk, Ukrainian ambassador to the U.S.
updated 7:46 PM EST, Thu December 11, 2014
The Senate committee report on torture has highlighted partisan divisions on CIA methods, says Will Marshall. Republicans and Democrats are to blame.
updated 1:33 PM EST, Thu December 11, 2014
It would be dishonest to say that 2014 has been a good year for women. But that hasn't stopped some standing out, says Frida Ghitis.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT