BY NATALIE LYNNE QUEALLY
It’s no secret that the planet is suffering under the weight of seven billion humans. At the start of the Industrial Revolution, we set in motion a massive flux of CO2, an important greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere. Greenhouse gases are not inherently bad—they trap heat on the planet, and without them we would freeze! But like so many other good things (In-N-Out, Oreos, Netflix), you can definitely have too much of it. Increasing CO2 causes a rise in global temperature, and an average temperature increase of even a few degrees can have massive consequences for us, including more severe climatic events like flooding, heat waves, wildfires, and higher intensity storms in the United States alone (U.S. Global Change Research Program).
Aside from climate change, humans are causing massive problems for the planet because there are just so many of us. We’re all after the same resources—water, crops, timber, fossil fuels—and we’re using them at a rate that can’t be sustained for much longer. This has resulted in ugly things like habitat loss, extinctions, water shortage, and pollution. With so many problems knocking at our door, it’s really hard to try to find a course of action that can actually improve the current situation, let alone one that people can agree on.
In the meantime, one man is suggesting an approach that’s out of this world… literally. How do we tackle global issues? Send people to space.
…This is a joke, right?
Surprisingly, it’s not.
In 2004, business magnate and billionaire Richard Branson founded Virgin Galactic, the world’s first commercial spaceflight company. For the small price of $200,000, patrons will eventually fly just above the atmosphere. Some people who have already signed on include Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt, Justin Bieber, and Stephen Hawking. The first flights were planned to occur in 2009, but the technology hasn’t quite caught up with the idea yet, and flight dates are consistently pushed further and further back for safety reasons.
So how does Justin Bieber in a spaceship relate to our fragile planet’s many problems? Well, simply put, seeing the Earth from space results in a well-documented, fundamental shift in perspective called the Overview Effect. Experienced by many astronauts over the years, the Overview Effect may result in “a feeling of awe for the planet, a profound understanding of the interconnection of all life, and a renewed sense of responsibility for taking care of the environment” (NASA).
Could we come together just by shifting our perspective? Branson’s plan may seem far-fetched and wildly expensive, but maybe we need something extreme to get people to finally understand that our lifestyle is threatening our only conceivable home in the galaxy. Is viewing the globe as a whole rather than in parts, as a solitary planet blooming with life while surrounded by black nothingness, something that could inspire creativity, resourcefulness, and concern in global solutions? Maybe it’s time to reassess your perspective—how do you view planet Earth?