The unexpected discovery of Earth on the way to the Moon
What has been dubbed one of the most important environmental photographs of all times, wasn’t actually scheduled. Overwhelmed by the beauty of what he saw, it was taken by astronaut William Anders on December 24, 1968, during the first manned voyage to orbit the Moon, and shows planet Earth rising above the lunar horizon. Four years later, the first full-view photo of Earth was taken at a distance of about 45,000 kilometres by the crew of the Appollo 17 spacecraft.
On the 40th anniversary of the famous “Blue Marble” photograph, a moving short documentary was released last month, documenting the stories of astronauts seeing the Earth from space. This experience is unanimously described as having a life-changing impact, often called the Overview Effect.
As David Beaver, a co-founder of the Overview Institute, explains at the beginning of the 19-minute film, one of the astronauts said that “When we originally went to the moon, our total focus was on the moon, we weren’t thinking about looking back at the Earth. But now that we’d done it that may well have been the most important reason why we went.” According to philosopher David Loy, “the focus had been ‘We are going to the stars, to other planets’ and suddenly we looked back at ourselves and it seems to imply a new kind of self-awareness.”
Without doubt one can agree with Frank White, author of a book on the Overview Effect first published in 1987 and one of the other co-founders of the Overview Institute, that “This view of the Earth from space, the whole Earth perspective, is the true symbol of this age.” The feeling of interconnectedness, wholeness and of the fragility of Earth as it travels through the black void of space reported by astronauts is probably a sudden breakthrough of planetary consciousness in the most literal sense. Profound implications for the political world view are obvious. The awareness of One Earth implies the realization that there is just one humanity as well. “After all,” says Frank White in the movie, the Earth perspective is “key to our survival, we have to start acting as one species with one destiny. We are not going to survive if we don’t do that.”
Today’s reality still is that the political world is divided into so-called “sovereign” nation-states. Humanity has not yet achieved the unity it requires to live in harmony and peace with itself and the planet. As the Spanish law professor Rafael Domingo put it in his recommendable book “The New Global Law” which I just read these days, the state-centeredness that continues to shape the international system is a “nominal totalitarianism” as it deprives the human being, the world’s citizens, any role at the international level and makes them mere objects of the state.
The political consequence of a matured planetary consciousness are truly planetary institutions, that is, institutions that transcend present national boundaries. This implies, among other things, the recognition of world citizenship and the dignity and equality of every single human being. I am convinced that the single most important step into this direction is the development of a democratic world parliament.