One day last summer, as I was enjoying my final week of warm weather and freedom before classes began, I decided to participate in one of my favorite evening activities: watching the sunset from the rooftop of my current West Philadelphia residence. As I climbed the ladder going up, my face peeked over the black-tar top and I was hit with this breathtaking view:
Sitting there on the roof in a late-August summer stupor, with nothing but the faintly tar-and-grass-scented breeze and the rumbling of the occasional trolley passing by, I felt, for a moment, incredibly disconnected from the outside world. The roof was my bubble, a safe place for me to sit and collect my thoughts – quiet and isolated from the happenings on the sidewalk three stories below me. As I observed the city from a distance, I saw the buildings in center city springing up like a growth of crystals juxtaposed against the Earth’s landscape. I was reminded of one of those futuristic alien cities that you sometimes see in movies, showing off the power and beauty of human innovation and technological progress. And yet, I could also see the tops of the trees in the park next to my house, and the birds flitting around back and forth between their branches. I could see the pink sunset sky reflecting off of the enormous and powerful-looking buildings in center city, and I was struck by how beautiful and majestic Earth is, and how connected we are to it. I realized that, no matter how high we might build our towers, their real beauty ultimately comes through in how they reflect the sky at sunset. In that moment, I felt an overwhelming sense of love and gratitude, and a profound appreciation and realization of how lucky I was to be able to sit here, on Earth, alive, well, and connected to this living, breathing planet that we call home.
Although I felt elated, I also suddenly became very conscious of the privilege I had being able to experience this moment in comfort, in my bubble. Not everyone around the world has the opportunity to feel so grateful. More than 700 million people on Earth still live in extreme poverty. More than 700 million people are struggling to fulfill their most basic needs – such as health, education, and access to water and sanitation. I wondered – if we have the capabilities to build civilizations such as we have, why are so many people in the world still hungry? And why are we still using up the Earth’s resources in such a way that would eventually harm what makes the Earth so beautiful?
A number of months later while I was preparing my courses for winter term at Drexel, I was presented with an interesting opportunity. I came across Earthrise 2068, a project spearheaded by a man named Ron Garan – a former NASA astronaut who had lived for months at a time collaborating on the International Space Station. The project, in essence, calls for the introduction of a world-wide collaborative effort to crowd source a vision of what our future on Earth should look like by 2068 – the 100th anniversary of the first viewing of Earth from space. The project is a movement – a movement to encourage people around the world to take a “total systems approach and regard our planet in a comprehensive way that can lead to healing interpersonal conflict and yield a new conscience for the planet’s care and protection.” The main idea is that we on Earth are one people, traveling on one planet toward a common future. Earthrise 2068 will help provide the road map to get there
It seemed like a lofty goal, and when I first registered for the class, I won’t lie – I felt a bit cynical. How could we achieve worldwide collaboration, with the amount of poverty and war happening in our world? How could we get people from around the world to collaborate when in the United States we can’t even seem to get our own political parties to agree on basic and seemingly solvable issues?
In his book, Professor Garan talks about something he calls “the orbital perspective.” Seeing the Earth from space, he described feeling a great disconnect from Earth up in space, but he also felt the true beauty of the planet that we live on. “There was a realization that we are all living on a precious, fragile planet, that we are all in this together, and that together, we have a great number of challenges to overcome.”
Immediately I was reminded of my own experience from the past summer, sitting on my roof, when I became aware of the “sobering contradiction between the beauty of the planet and the unfortunate realities of life on the ground for the majority of its inhabitants.” And I realized that this project wasn’t about being cynical about all of our problems. It’s about shifting our perspective.
You don’t need to go to space to experience the orbital perspective. I did, sitting on my own roof one summer evening – though I didn’t realize it at the time. Imagine if everyone on the planet could just stop for a second. If people could know and understand the undeniable realization that regardless of our constructions of borders, economics, and politics, humans are fundamentally interconnected with each other, our planet, and all other living things that we share this planet with. Now imagine the type of power this shift in perspective, if presented through the force of collaboration, could have in crafting a better image of our future as people on Earth.
Earthrise 2068 asks us to do just that. It’s got lofty goals, there is no doubt in that. But by accepting these lofty goals, we set the bar for something positive to be done. It creates a jumping off point for crafting a positive future. This is a grassroots movement. It’s a way to develop collaboration from people all around the world, the type that comes from accepting the orbital perspective.
I know that I am just a normal, typical college student just trying to get through the stress of work, exams, figuring out my future, and life in general. But I realize that, as a passenger on planet Earth, that my future will be impacted by the goals outlined in this project, as they impact the rest of us around the globe. I highly encourage you to think on it, and to contribute any ideas, stories, or feelings that you might have on the project. What is your orbital perspective? Feel free to share your stories here, or on the official Earthrise 2068 Facebook page, which can be found here.