By Frank White
“You can’t see the boundaries over which we fight wars, and in a very real way, the inhabitants of this Earth are stuck on a very beautiful, lovely little planet in an incredibly hostile space, and everybody is in the same boat.”
—Former Astronaut Don Lind, in The Overview Effect: Space Exploration and Human Evolution.
“We have realized that we are on the same boat, all of us fragile and disoriented … all of us called to row together, each of us in need of comforting the other.”
—Pope Francis, delivering the Urbi et Orbi address to an empty St. Peter’s Square (NPR, 3/28/20)
As I have mentioned in earlier blog posts on this subject, the message that “We’re all in this together,” or “We’re all in the same boat,” is something of a mantra by astronauts when they return home after seeing our planet from space and in space. From orbit or the moon, they experience the interconnectedness of all life on Earth and realize that we cannot ignore this connection. It is real and it has real implications. This is the essence of the Overview Effect.
The message is coming through to us with great clarity now that we are threatened by the coronavirus. It’s ironic that we have difficulty absorbing the information from our fellow human beings, but an invisible co-inhabitant of the planet has gotten through to us loud and clear.
The astronaut mantra has now become everybody’s mantra, from Pope Francis to People magazine. Although there have been tensions between countries and even among the various states in the US, it has been heartening to see how people have come together to face this crisis and to “row together,” in the Pope’s words. We can only hope that some of the spirit of unity persists once we move to a more “normal” system state at some point in the future.
Similarly, the global lockdown that has reduced travel dramatically has had an impact that can be seen clearly by satellites in Earth orbit. As just one example, the pollution that represented a major health hazard in China not long ago, is noticeably absent in pictures taken during the pause that has emerged in response to COVID-19:
As we know after centuries of experience, war is something to be avoided. However, there are moments, like this one, when it is necessary. As with any conflict, though, the lessons learned are almost as important as achieving the necessary victory.
What are we learning from this battle? How will we use it to forge a better future on Earth and in space?
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