Serving Spaceship Earth

Buckle your seat belts and hold tight, consider for a moment that we’re living on Spaceship Earth, hurtling through the Milky Way in an enclosed capsule at 70 000 mph.

What do we know about the spacecraft? Well, know its beauty is astonishing; pause for a moment and think of some of the places and landscapes you love, maybe a favorite spot from your childhood, a view that awakens in you a deep sense of awe, a place you feel safe or where treasured memories were created.  And consider for a moment some of the other wonderful plants and animals that we share this spacecraft with: which are your favorites? Would it be playful dolphins, delicate butterflies, majestic redwoods, the wren, the robin or the rook or a pet dog?

We also know that this ship will provide everything that we need to survive and thrive; our food, the air we breathe, water for all of us and materials we can make into shelter, clothes, tools, comforts. Everything is provided by the Earth.

The spaceship is intricately designed, in fact so intricate is the design that no one person knows how it works, and there is no blue-print we can find.  This fact is also one of the downsides, we are traveling through space aboard a vessel we don’t fully understand and can’t control. There are a couple of other factors we want to beware of too. There are no refueling stations where we can take on more provisions, our only external source of energy is the unending stream of sunlight coming our way from its source 93 million miles away. And let’s be clear, there are no life-rafts, and even if there were, no other habitable place to which we could escape. So we need to make sure Spaceship Earth remains a viable support for us, our children and their children too, on this epic voyage through space. 

Some news just in;

  • there are now 7 billion people on the spaceship, a number that has doubled in just the last 46 years and is still rising
  • on August 19th of this year we had used up the entire year’s provision for 2014 (food, water, other resources) and from this date until the end of the year we are, in effect, eating into the craft herself, thus reducing its capacity to provide for us next year
  • the other 8.7 million species that share our space ship and play some unknown role in balancing the ship are dying off at an alarming rate, we may well have lost half of them in the next 50 years, a catastrophe with little or no public knowledge
  • its getting warmer everywhere! And here in California we are in extreme drought
  • lastly, the controls of the ship have been assumed by a small group of very wealthy passengers with a radical agenda that protects their own interests but risks the well-being of 99% of us and the safety of the craft itself

This is sobering news, if we were able to peek inside the control room we’d see a multitude of warning lights flashing red. As we consider this there seems to be one important question for each of us to ask: am I a passenger on the spaceship, or am I crew? The implications of the answer we choose are fairly clear: as passengers we are just along for the ride and willingly surrender any influence over how the space ship is run, and our fate, to those who are in control. If we are crew we have work to do, managing affairs aboard ship.

If we are willing to be crew, to be in service, we need to decide what needs our attention right now. Perhaps there are two key places to focus, the first of which is solving the many urgent problems we face with our deteriorating and poisoned habitat, the huge tears in the social fabric caused by inequality: there are plenty of problems calling for solutions.

Our second major task must be to return us to what I’ll call the original operating instructions, a way of being here on Spaceship Earth that is sustainable, essential if we are to avoid simply relating our mistakes in new forms.  We can think of these as the instructions for safe space travel, the fundamental principles that can guide us and keep us safe. There are many  but here are three to consider right now:

  • Protect the craft at all costs - this means that whatever we do we need to make sure the integrity of the space craft is maintained, we shouldn’t allow anything that threatens this.
  • Honor its complexity - if we don’t understand how the space ship works or what affects it we should consider extreme caution before introducing any risks to the delicate balance that maintains livable conditions here.
  • Keep everyone on board happy - in an enclosed space we need to get along with each other. Outbreaks of violence amongst the passengers and crew are going to threaten our safety too.

This instructive metaphor came to prominence in 1965 when Adlai Stevenson spoke to the UN;

“We travel together, passengers on a little space ship, dependent on its vulnerable reserves of air and soil; all committed for our safety to its security and peace; preserved from annihilation only by the care, the work, and, I will say, the love we give our fragile craft. We cannot maintain it half fortunate, half miserable, half confident, half despairing, half slave—to the ancient enemies of man—half free in a liberation of resources undreamed of until this day. No craft, no crew can travel safely with such vast contradictions. On their resolution depends the survival of us all.”

In our work as the Pachamama Alliance we’ve learned something about the original operating principles from our partnership with the Achuar, a forest dwelling people in the jungles of Ecuador. They know exactly how to protect the Amazon rainforest, their part of the spaceship, an area we sometimes refer to as the lungs of the planet. In their culture and way of life there is profound respect for the balance of life in the jungle, honoring the complexity of it and, crucially, seeing themselves as part of that balance, not apart from it nor user of its bounty.

Inspired by our partnership we are at work in a few key ways. Firstly we are supporting the Achuar in protecting their part of our vessel, partnering with them to stand up to the threats of extractive industries that would begin the irreversible process of destroying that habitat.

At the direct invitation of these same crew members we are at work in other parts of the spaceship enlisting passengers as crew, and, aiming to raise consciousness such that the original operating instructions are reinstated. This is articulated in one of our best known goals, to bring forth an environmentally sustainable, spiritually fulfilling, socially just human presence on Spaceship Earth.

If you are not already crew, applying your unique talents and caring heart to creating this future, please come join us.

Excerpted from a talk to the Lions Club of Burlingame by Jon Symes in October 2014.