The term “overview effect” was coined in 1987 by Frank White, who wrote a book called The Overview Effect – Space Exploration and Human Evolution. The overview effect is a shift in awareness that some astronauts and cosmonauts have felt during spaceflight, when they viewed Earth from orbit or from the surface of the moon. It is the experience of seeing the earth as a planet hanging in space, and realizing how small it really is compared with the vastness of space, and how fragile it is in terms of its ability to support life. It is a recognition of the oneness of humanity with the planet that we live on, a recognition that what happens to the planet will also happen to us. If we destroy Earth, we will destroy ourselves. The astronauts are all very clear on the need to protect the planet for future generations.
Space travelers have been particularly moved to see how thin is the atmosphere that protects the planet and all life on the planet from the harshness of space. Although the lower layers of the atmosphere that actually support life rise some 25 kilometers from the surface of the planet, the astronauts almost universally describe it as a “paper-thin” layer, when viewed from space. Seen from space, national boundaries vanish, as do the various conflicts that tear humanity apart.
The sense of oneness with the planet and with all life is a concept that seems foreign to many of us in modern Western societies. It is much more common in the worldview and spiritual traditions of the peoples of the Orient, as well as Native Americans/First Nations peoples of North America and other indigenous peoples throughout the world. When we think of earth in terms of a seamless whole that includes all of humanity, especially during a powerful emotional or spiritual experience, our worldview is altered and our behavior is affected. We see the urgent need to end our dependence on fossil fuels, to find sources of clean energy. We realize the importance of using farming and fishing methods that preserve the natural balance of the soil and water. We understand how vital it is that we stop polluting the air, water and soil with our mining and manufacturing methods. We commit to finding ways to live in a sustainable manner that leave as light a footprint on the earth as possible. We find ways to preserve the creatures of the earth – including ourselves – from extinction. We recognize that doing violence to one another is the same as doing violence to the natural world, and we work toward finding solutions to human problems so that they do not become Mother Nature’s problems. 🙂