“Nations will revert to their natural tendency of hiding behind their borders, of moving towards protectionism, of listening to vested interests, and they’ll forget about transcending those national priorities,” said Christine Lagarde, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund back in 2013.
The problem is that, nowadays, nation-states can’t even think of solving the world’s problems on their own. The most pressing challenges for the humankind are obviously transnational and so complex that no country has enough resources to tackle them by itself.
But even in the case of issues that apparently affect just a single country, solving them always requires the conjoined effort of many states. Technology entangled the world in a web of relations and there’s no way back.
However, it’s evident that in Europe, and in the Western hemisphere in general, nationalism is making a comeback and there’s an increasing number of people that find it difficult to think beyond the boundaries of their own country. This is literally a quite limited horizon. If we want to deal with global issues such as climate change, we need to start thinking of the Earth as a single entity, beyond the narrowness of national borders
Of course, nation states will not disappear any time soon. But if we start thinking beyond them, we might come up with more effective solutions to the world’s problems. In other words, what we need is a view shift.
However, if changing idea is already a daunting task for our stubborn minds, changing our world’s view (again, quite literally) sounds like a desperately tough endeavor; how can a person that grew up in a world divided by rigid borders, forget all of a sudden about them?
After all, the only people who truly experience the Earth as a single entity are astronauts. From space, astronauts can contemplate the planet as a minuscule dot, lost in the sea of nothingness. From up there —astronauts say — the Earth looks like “a fragile ball of life, hanging in the void, shielded and nourished by a paper-thin atmosphere.”
Viewing the planet from the space changed many astronauts’ perspective on the planet itself and on other earthly matters. Among the many spacefarers who reported this cognitive shift in awareness — that is known as “overview effect” — there’s the Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield who said that, while orbiting Earth, he felt more connected to the people on the planet than ever before. Unfortunately, as of June 2018, only 561 people made it to the space and experienced the Earth as a single environment.
But what if we could make experience the “overview effect” to hundreds of thousands of people? What if we could all have the chance to see the Earth as a fragile ball of life nourished by a paper-thin atmosphere? Even better, what if every child had this chance? After all, a child’s mind has not yet been molded and made rigid by decades of news about wars over borders and similar matters.
A generation of children who experienced the “overview effect” would probably become a generation of adults more prone to see the Earth beyond the narrowness of national boundaries and interests. It would probably be a generation better equipped to front global challenges such as the climate breakdown.
In a way, this is the goal of a newly established Dutch organization called Spacebuzz. Few days ago, while ruminating over these issues, I bumped into their website. Their mission statement is to become “an educational project to inspire children worldwide to become ambassadors of our planet through the experience of viewing Earth from space like an astronaut.”
In particular, they want to visit schools with a custom-made immersive VR experience and make children between the age of nine to 12 experience the overview effect as if they were astronauts hanging on in space. The project, that is encouraged by real-life ESA astronaut Andre Kuipers, is still in its launch phase but it already looks like a promising stride in the right direction. And that direction is up, to the stars, from where the Earth looks like a little fragile ecosystem.
As astronomer Carl Sagan said describing the “Blue Pale Dot”, a photograph of Planet Earth taken by space probe Voyager 1 in 1990 from a distance of about 6 billion kilometers: “Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity – in all this vastness – there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves. It is up to us.”
It is up to us to (try to) stop climate change and find sustainable ways to grow and develop. And it’s up to us to solve these problems cooperating together, beyond outdated national borders. A project like Spacebuzz might definitely help.