The Wikipedia entry on “Spaceship Earth” (here) is a good starting point for tracing the early use of the metaphor. It cites the first use of the concept as 1879. But it was in the 1960s that the term gained widespread currency at a time when I was starting my teaching career. As a geography teacher, then teacher educator, I was significantly attracted to thinking at the global scale about human-natural world interaction, by three writers in particular – Barbara Ward, Kenneth Boulding and Buckminster Fuller. All three had a wide influence at the time leading up to the Club of Rome’s “Limits to Growth” and the first UN Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment, both seminal events happening in 1972. Biographical background and some key ideas of these three influential figures is provided here by means of edited extracts from Wikipedia with hyperlinks to articles in the Encyclopaedia of the Earth.
In the global economy corporations wield great power and their impact on the global socio-ecological system as well as their influence on national politics is enormous. A new book by Nicholas Freudenberg reviewed in the New York Times here looks at the consequences on public health in the USA of the drive for corporate profit. The book – “Lethal but Legal: Corporations, Consumption and Protecting Public Health” – coins the phrase ‘corporate consumer complex’ to capture how profoundly the values of the US are now permeated with the notions of consumers’ “rights” to eat junk food, to smoke, to buy and carry guns, to drive SUVs and so on. These rights contradict other rights for healthy diets, heathy lungs, safe streets and clean air. A Spaceship Earth perspective raises the issue of corporations’ rights to pursue profit while, with minimal regulation, using the planet as a free dumping ground for waste with little concern for the health of the planet’s passengers. It is clear that any attempt to address the exponential threats to our ‘spaceship home’ has to incorporate corporate power as Paul Gilding among others, argues in “The Great Disruption” (see his TED talk).
Lovelock’s Gaia Hypothesis that the Earth was a super-organism maintained by the web of life was at first seen as a maverick notion but since he framed it in the 1960s, it has seen its status raised to that of a Theory. It is highly relevant to the “Spaceship Earth” metaphor that also promotes a ‘big picture’ view of our planetary home. A recent article in the British newspaper the Guardian here was based on an interview of the nonagenarian Lovelock who has now written seven books on his Gaia Theory. His predictions have become progressively more pessimistic and, as the article reports, he now anticipates a major planetary crisis in around 20 years’ time.
There are a number of key concepts that are essential for a proper grasp of how to ensure a sustainable future for Spaceship Earth. The hardest for many is ‘exponential growth’ which has been the accelerating feature of the impact of human activity on the planet since the industrial revolution. The impact of the exponential growth of human population + economic productivity and its waste products + debt within the credit-based financial system + technological innovation is threatening the resilience of Spaceship Earth’s life support systems. These exponential (repeatedly doubling) trends produced by the ‘Machine World’ inevitably reach limits on a finite planet. This link –> offers an introduction to the concept of resilience.
This extract from Jeremy Williams’ blog offers a description of five basic perspectives that people hold about a sustainable future and how it might or might not be achieved. Which perspective most closely resembles yours? Williams’ source for these perspectives is a recent report from The Simplicity Institute “The Deep Green Alternative: Strategies for Transition”. Williams’ regular ‘makewealthhistory’ free blog is well worth accessing for a rich and current supply of relevant information and links on sustainablilty issues relevant for CASE.
A NEW AGENDA ON CLIMATE CHANGE: FACING UP TO STEALTH DENIAL AND WINDING DOWN ON FOSSIL FUELS – Jonathan Rowson, RSA Social Brain Centre, Dec 2013
With comments by David Oldroyd regarding CASE’s contributions
A new Report from the Royal Society of Arts based on research in Britain about why we fail to act effectively on the ‘wicked problems of climate change and decarbonisation of our economy’ – extracts from the Executive Summary
‘Denial is due to a surplus of culture rather than a deficit of information … To a greater or lesser extent, we are all climate deniers.’This human response to climate change is unfolding as a political tragedy because scientific knowledge and economic power are pointing in different directions