We’re All in this Together: Part One

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By Frank White

“You looked down and you could see how incredibly thin the Earth’s atmosphere is and realize the if we pollute it, we all breathe it together, and if we are so dumb as to start a thermonuclear war, we all go together; there is no lifeboat, and everybody is in it together.”

Former Astronaut Don Lind, in The Overview Effect: Space Exploration and Human Evolution

Having interviewed 41 astronauts for my work on the Overview Effect, I have heard one thought expressed frequently, which is: “We’re all in this together.” By this, the astronauts mean that when you look at the Earth from orbit or on a lunar mission, you see that it is a whole system in which everything is interconnected. There are no borders or boundaries, and whatever happens in one part of the planet will eventually have an impact on the rest of the world. 

I have thought about this sentiment and quoted it often. I have also cited it in arguing that we need to adopt “Overview thinking” if we are going to tackle the multitude of challenges that face humanity as we move through the universe on our own Spaceship Earth.

While my listeners usually nod and agree with this idea, I know that it is still somewhat abstract because the global problems we are discussing rarely seem immediate. However, all that has changed with the arrival of COVID-19. As I have listened to the radio and watched television coverage of the pandemic I have frequently heard the comment that “We’re all in this together.” Most recently, the Surgeon General of the United States said it during an interview.

Suddenly, we realize experientially what we know intellectually: COVID-19 has no interest in borders or boundaries and considers all of this planet its habitat. COVID goes wherever it wants to go and does whatever it wants to do. It does not care whether you are an actor, the wife of a prime minister, a government official, a healthcare worker, a plumber, or a retiree. As far as COVID is concerned, your body is a place for it to visit without asking permission. Homo sapiens has absolutely no immunity or defense against this invader and all that our very best medical people can do is support us through it and hope our immune systems are strong enough to resist the attack.

We are strong people and we have overcome many challenges in the past. I feel confident we will do so once again. My hope is that we will learn some lessons from this situation and adopt “Overview thinking” as the norm and not in response to the crises that will surely face us in the future.

Copyright, Frank White, 2019, All Rights Reserved

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