Tomorrow is Earth Day, the one day of the year we have anywhere close to a critical mass of people actually thinking about maintaining our life-support systems.
Here are a few things you wouldn’t do on a spaceship:
1. Disassemble it in order to create jobs and have a robust economy
2. Pack it with more people than it can sustainably support
3. Consume more food or water than its stores can supply for the duration of the voyage
4. Smoke, fart, urinate or defecate beyond the processing ability of its systems
5. Pay attention to its maintenance just one day a year
We get a complete passenger safety briefing (often by video) before takeoff whenever we fly. This is because mistakes at 30,000 feet can be deadly. Flying through space is even more unforgiving, yet we passengers and crew on Spaceship Earth never get a passenger safety briefing. Until now:
SPACESHIP EARTH PASSENGER SAFETY BRIEFING
I thought the term was originated by Buckminster Fuller, since he wrote Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth in 1969. It turns out he was but one of many writers, thinkers, and even economists who have, over the years, compared our planet to a spaceship. In 1879 political economist Henry George used the term in Progress and Poverty. British economist Mary Ward wrote a book titled Spaceship Earth in 1966.
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Collectively, humankind is not treating planet Earth like it’s our spaceship. Economists and technological cornucopians are convinced we’ll invent new technologies to solve the serious problems created by our NOT following the safety briefing’s recommendations. Some billionaires and scientists are busy making plans to abandon ship, thinking we’ll just find a new one once we’ve finished spoiling the one we’re on. Kenneth Boulding, in his 1966 essay, The Economics of the Coming Spaceship Earth, introduced me to the interesting phenomenon of uncertainty-discounting. We can’t be sure that technology and innovation won’t solve every problem we’re exacerbating in our growth-obsessed civilization, so we’re disinclined to change our ways and behave more sustainably.
All this strikes me as betting on very long odds. Seems the simpler, safer thing to do would be to just take really good care of the craft we’re on.
Dave Gardner directed the documentary, GrowthBusters: Hooked on Growth. He blogs periodically at www.growthbusters.org, comments on the media at www.growthbiasbusted.org, and writes a column at Shift magazine.
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