So rarely is a picture actually worth a thousand words. But in international photographer Yann Arthus-Bertrand’s newest book, Home: A Hymn to the Planet and Humanity (Abrams, $16.95), each image he captures lives up to that saying.

Touted as a “globe-spanning exploration of the planet,” Arthus-Bertrand’s collection of inspiring (and sometimes disturbing) environmental images from more than 50 countries truly encapsulates the current state of the planet in all its beauty, as well as its slow destruction.

Like so many books recently published, Home is clearly calling for better environmental management and increased sustainable development, but it avoids the genre’s all-too-common pitfall of thoroughly depressing readers with doomsday information by including a well-rounded mix of strikingly beautiful and alarmingly upsetting images of the Earth that simultaneously illustrate both what’s at stake and what we can do to avoid further damage to the planet.

As readers flip through the 84 full-color illustrations, they’ll see that the author left no area of the globe untouched — from the blue-green marine sanctuary of the Great Barrier Reef in Queensland, Australia, to the image of a single shack surrounded by floodwaters in Dhaka, Bangladesh, after the country was devastated by mammoth floods in 2004.

With his wide range of images, the author’s message is as clear as a high-resolution photo: global warming and environmental degradation affect all of us, not just the iconic polar bears.

Beside each powerful image is a short rundown that puts each photo in context. This information is drawn from research by GoodPlanet, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting sustainable development.

Though the content varies according to the image, each summary typically includes background information on a specific problem, like landfill waste, which is illustrated with a picture of a man scavenging waste in the Mbeubeuss landfill in Senegal, a hunting ground for those who gather as many recyclables from the dump as they can while exposing themselves to heavy metals and diseases like salmonella.

To keep readers from throwing the book down in disgust, many of the illustrations include solutions to these environmental woes — if there are any — which can be or are being used to mitigate them.

One image in particular speaks to the many possible solutions available. It’s a photo that spans rows of solar-powered houses in Vauban, a sustainable district of Freiburg, Germany, that was the site of a former French military base occupied by squatters for several years. In the ’90s, residents banded together to transform it into a sustainable district, and today it has 5,000 residents who use the energy from rooftop solar panels to meet their energy needs.

Another image, a typical feedlot in Bakersfield, Calif., uncovers the cruel conditions that cattle are subjected to when they’re packed together like sardines to be fattened for meat. It’s only after seeing this picture of hundreds of white, black and brown cows crammed onto one farm that you truly start to realize that the way we rear livestock is not healthy for the planet or for us.

But the solution the author provides is easy: reduce the amount of meat you consume — a task that shouldn’t be too difficult to handle after seeing how these animals are raised.

After all, seeing is believing, and if there’s one thing that Arthus-Bertrand accomplishes, it’s putting a face on the problem.

MNN homepage photo: loops7/iStockphoto