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The Margin: ‘We saw all of California covered by a cloud of smoke and flames with the naked eye’: French astronaut describes climate change from space

French astronaut Thomas Pesquet used a video call from the International Space Station Thursday to rouse action below to slow global warming’s impact.

The recipient of that call, French President Emmanuel Macron, relayed the details as part of the U.N.’s climate-change summit, known as COP26, an ambitious effort currently under way in Glasgow, Scotland. The conference so far has kicked up loose commitments on cutting coal use and a plan to tap big companies like Amazon
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“We see the pollution of rivers, atmospheric pollution, things like that,” Pesquet said, according to the Associated Press, which was reporting from Glasgow. “What really shocked me on this mission were extreme weather or climate phenomena.”

“We saw entire regions burning from the space station, in Canada, in California,” Pesquet continued, according to the AP report. “We saw all of California covered by a cloud of smoke and flames with the naked eye from 400 kilometers (250 miles) up.”

This is Pesquet’s second mission to the space station. He also spent 197 days in orbit in 2016-2017. He suggests Earth has visibly changed in the interim, which he linked to human activity.

Macron said the goal for negotiators at the Glasgow conference must be to speed up humanity’s response.

“There is still a huge job ahead of us, and I think we are all aware of that,” the French president said.

Another space traveler had a similar reaction about climate change from a slightly different vantage point.

Jeff Bezos, Amazon founder and creator of the Bezos Earth Fund, flew to suborbital space with three other civilians in July on the first crewed mission ever launched by his spaceflight company, Blue Origin. 

Read: Climate hotshots in hot seat over private jets and other habits expanding carbon footprint at COP26

“The most profound piece of it, for me, was looking out at the Earth, and looking at the Earth’s atmosphere,” Bezos said during a post-mission press conference at the time.

“That life-giving shell of air seems sizable from the ground. But when you get up above it, what you see is it’s actually incredibly thin. It’s this tiny little fragile thing, and as we move about the planet, we’re damaging it,” he said, referring to greenhouse-gas pollution. “It’s one thing to recognize that intellectually. It’s another thing to actually see with your own eyes how fragile it really is.”

Bezos also attended the Glasgow summit and allocated some of his already pledged $10 billion for climate-change efforts to forest restoration and other efforts.

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