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Shouldn’t we treat the planet as if it’s the only one we have?

“Once a photograph of the Earth, taken from the outside, is available, a new idea as powerful as any in history will be let loose.” – Sir Fred Hoyle, 1948

in Ideas

The Earth From Space
Sir Fred Hoyle, the British astronomer who coined the term “big bang,” uttered this hopeful, but sadly not very prophetic, statement 65 years ago.  Hoyle’s “new idea” was seeing the human species as a single entity—the “family of man.”  He assumed that seeing the Earth from space would shift our perspective from nationalism to globalism, placing the interests of the world above those of individual nations.  A little more than 20 years later, in 1969 the astronauts of Apollo 8 took the first color photos of the Earth from outer space.

Viewed from within, the Earth is a complex network of 193 countries frequently at odds with each other and almost constantly at war over issues of religion, political ideology, territory, economics, and natural resources.  But viewed from outer space the Earth is a single entity.  And as the dramatic Apollo 8 photos showed, our planet appears as a fragile and isolated vessel drifting in a vast cosmic sea.  No disrespect to Sir Fred, but the real “new idea” he should have hoped for was that these photos would cause us, forever more, to treat the planet as if it’s the only one we have. 

Imagine Yourself in a Canoe
Imagine yourself alone in a canoe.  Now imagine that it’s the only canoe on the ocean and the only thing between you and treading water for your life.  The canoe sustains you.  It is your home.  It is the platform from which you feed yourself and it captures rainwater.  Without it, you would perish.  Wouldn’t you do everything in your power to care for your canoe so it can in turn care for you?

From the perspective of outer space, the Earth IS a canoe.  Being one of 7 billion people on an isolated planet drifting in an infinite universe is like being on a canoe in the middle of the ocean by yourself.  And if you can keep this in mind you will make fundamentally different choices with respect to the environment.

The ahupua’a system of natural resource management nurtured man and the ‘aina in equal parts.  It struck a natural balance—it was pono.  Contemporary conservation practices that regenerate the land does the same thing.  They are natural, proper, and balanced.  They reflect pono stewardship, they nurture the land.  Extractive and wasteful development and environmental practices are literally unsustainable.  Continue down this path and our canoe, along with all of us, will perish. 

Imagine that the Earth is the only canoe you have. It’s really not that difficult.

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