Since the beginning of human history the perception of its home planet Earth has always influenced the way humanity has formulated its beliefs and conducted its affairs. When Earth was perceived of as the entire universe it gave rise to myths and religions that permeate and influence society into the present time. Space exploration has provided humanity a perception of the “Whole Earth” – a blue sphere defined by its atmosphere floating in the vast expanses of the cosmos. This perception has catalyzed the globalization of its cultures and defines many of its present activities. Perhaps even more significantly, humanity discovered the Overview – a view from the unique perspective of astronauts – an awareness that our planet is a sublimely beautiful vibrant living organism.
In the middle of the 20th century humans began to investigate ways to penetrate the atmosphere. Today, a communications apparatus installed beyond the atmosphere permits us to remain in constant touch with each other from any place on the planet. Orbital outposts are providing the information to enable human beings to adapt to this new environment while scientific instruments placed in this area are exploring the depths of the cosmos and investigating the state of the environment on the planet below. National security systems have placed monitoring devices that track developments and movements of opponents making surprise attacks less likely. Indeed, the functioning of contemporary society is totally dependent on these technological resources orbiting the Earth and without them modern civilization would no longer function.
In the past sixty years, these activities beyond the atmosphere have effectively expanded the territory of planet Earth from its solid dimensions of 12,756 kilometers to a diameter of approximately 84,328 kilometers which encompasses that of Geostationary orbit. As the 21st century unfolds, humanity finds that it needs more room and more resources to sustain its numbers and to maintain its thirst for further development and progress. The finite planetary resources that have contributed to the current state of civilization are now being irrevocably exhausted to unsustainable levels resulting in severe ecological and geopolitical consequences. As it is presently unequipped to occupy and transform a neighboring planet to meet its growing needs, humanity’s next logical step will be to discover and inhabit the last reaches of its own planet – to expand its activities to Earth’s true cosmic boundaries as defined by the laws of physics.
All celestial bodies of significant concentrated mass exert a field of gravitational attraction around their cores which extends to the point of tangential intersection with other celestial bodies. Earth’s gravitational influence extends 1.5 million kilometers in all directions from its center where it meets the gravitational influence of the Sun. This Sphere of Influence (SOI) has 13 million times the volume of the physical Earth and through it, passes more than 50,000 times the amount of solar power which is available on the surface of the planet. In addition to energy, within this sphere of 3 million kilometers are enormous amounts of other resources, including the Moon and occasional passing asteroids. Like the territorial waters surrounding nations, these resources naturally belong to our planet and should be used for the ultimate benefit of the human species and all life which has also originated here. As it has throughout its history, humanity must now once again refine its perception of the home planet in order to recognize and embrace the perception of a greater, richer and more sustainable Earth.
This new perception is called Greater Earth. Within its boundaries our species will find the necessary room, resources, opportunities and inspiration that it will need to survive and prosper in the current millennium. Awareness of Greater Earth unites the immense potential of space development with the critical terrestrial issues of ecological sustainability, environmental restoration, clean energy generation, global prosperity and international security. Occupying the area of Greater Earth will enable the Overview Effect (*) to permeate throughout society making humanity universally conscious of its responsibility to all life sharing its home planet and of the crucial role of the human species in the evolution of life on Earth and beyond. This transformation will reveal humanity’s ultimate purpose in the universe.
Arthur Woods, February 2018
*Frank White, The Overview Effect: Space Exploration and Human Evolution, 1987
An earlier version of this article appeared in Leonardo, Vol. 50, No.1, 2017