The Amazon rainforest is burning, wiping out whole species by the hour. Australia burning; people seeking sanctuary on the beaches, huddled together like the frantic individuals who once tried to flee Pompeii. Antarctica melting, carving off ice shelves the size of France. There is talk of tipping points, serious predictions by experts that human civilization could collapse within 30 years. While some of those in positions of power prefer to deny what’s happening, others search frantically for solutions. Could it be that what we really need is a fresh perspective on the planet we call home?
“Every single part of the earth reacts with every other part. It’s one thing. Every little animal is important in that ecosystem,” said astronaut Karen Nyberg after her first return from orbit. “If I could get every Earthling to do one circle of the Earth, I think things would run a little differently.”
The view from space
Nyberg isn’t the only person who believes that seeing Earth from space can change perspectives. It’s a common sentiment among astronauts and it’s even inspired the launch of a charity, Dylan Taylor’s Space For Humanity, which aims to take a diverse group of everyday citizens into space to encourage them to value Earth more. The idea is that they will then go back into society and share what they’ve seen, acting as ambassadors who can persuade others of the fragility of our ecosystem and why it’s worth fighting for.
What about those of us who never get the chance to leave the planet? Here, other innovators and creative spirits are coming to the fore. Virtual reality experiences are enabling people to get something of the experience of those stunning orbital views from inside art galleries and museums, as well as plunging them into dramatic natural environments they might never have the chance to visit. It’s much easier for a stockbroker in Manhattan to understand why the plight of the Amazon matters after spending half an hour surrounded by the sights, the sounds and even the smells of it. These approaches recognize that simply explaining facts to people is not enough. To bring about change, it’s necessary to reach them at an emotional level.
A can-do attitude
For years, those making money from industries that damage our ecosystems have told people not to make a fuss because the damage isn’t as bad as it seems. Now those same people are encouraging the belief that there’s no point in doing anything because it’s too late and we’re unable to change what is happening. In both cases, apathy is the enemy. Now a new wave of innovators and communicators are working to drive home the message that we can do something – that there are lots of little ways all of us can act, and that even now we can change the fate of our planet. instead of showing more degradation, films like The Serengeti Rules and Anthropocene: The Human Epoch are revealing how the natural world can be revived and enriched by human action, empowering people to take control of the future.
Forward, not backward
One of the approaches commonly taken by people trying to protect the Earth is to say that we need to use less of everything, not more. While this is true in some cases, it’s certainly not true of technology. Climate change is too far advanced for a return to pre-industrial lifestyles to resolve everything. We certainly couldn’t support anything remotely the size of our current population that way, and it would leave us unprepared to meet future challenges. Instead, focusing on increased scientific research and technological environment offers our best hope of a cleaner, greener, happier future. Buzz Aldrin has said that he wishes people would think about the Apollo missions and remember what they taught us – that when he really try, we can do things that once seemed impossible.
The secret Earth
Part of the process of moving forward involves deepening our understanding of the past and, in particular, of Earth’s ecological history, which most people know little about. For instance, there’s an ancient root system spread beneath 7% of the world’s surface on the continent of Africa, the remnant of an ancient forest, which farmer-managed natural regeneration is gradually bringing back to life. With careful irrigation over two to three years, fresh trees emerge, and as these form into new forests they attract rainfall, which provides further irrigation. Simple techniques like this only require knowledge to unlock and they can then be driven forward even by the Earth’s poorest people. If they can be sustained, projects like this could make the Earth as seen from space look very different a decade or two from now – in a good way.
In the end, it’s all about perspective. This is just one little world floating in the vastness of space, but it’s our world, and if we value it enough, we can only bring it back to life – we can see it thrive.