Monday, March 15, 2010

Our Little Blue Planet

The symbol for the environmental movement has long been our blue planet Earth as seen from outer space- and I think it's a damn shame. It seems to me the Earth is too large and abstract, too big and impersonal, too dis-embodied, to really love. Not that people can't develop a strong personal connection with a large and abstract entity- take God for example. In religion, love is awe: the love of God is big and mysterious and unknowable- and we must return that love based on faith rather than anything we might receive through our senses. To me, that’s the opposite of what love of nature really is. In love of nature, we come to love through our senses- through our experience of our bodies touching the world around us. Sure, the Earth is a powerful symbol, but disturbing as well. It symbolizes of the meaninglessness of our little lives. It sums up all the great patchwork mess, the geological and biological diversity of the planet, in a single one-ness. But environmentalism to me is expressing a love for a little piece of the Earth, not the planet as a whole. I’d prefer a smaller, more human-scale symbol for my environmental movement. Maybe a child growing a seed in a Dixie cup. Or an old man sitting on a tree stump, deep in thought. Or a kid catching a frog. The Earth-symbol somehow represents to me the environmentalism that treats science as a religion, that treats the word of James Hansen as the word of God. Let’s move towards a more populist environmentalism, and embrace the multitude of environmentalists. The farmers, the gardeners, the landscapers, the hunters, the trappers, the fishermen, the naturalists, the pigeon-fanciers, the ghost dancers, the spirit healers, the shamans, the holy men.


  1. I agree that the blue-earth-from-space leaves something to be desired, but rather than "too large and abstract, too big and impersonal, too dis-embodied" I see those images as evoking earth's smallness and fragility. You might dislike that too, but I think it's useful.

    And while I love your image of multitudes of self-starting individual environmentalists, your previous post points out that given enough choice we tend to act self-destructively. Even if it is creepy and depressing to think of the earth's one-ness (and therefore our own individual insignificance), maybe it's necessary once in a while. Maybe it's also briefly necessary to act as one human population.

    This is an embarrassingly contemporary-art thing to say ("More blue is bluer than less blue") but it might help if we only ever made images of the whole earth that were at least, say, eight feet in diameter. That's big enough to make people uncomfortable, and small enough to remind us that we are capable, in aggregate, of screwing the place up.

  2. Thanks for the comment, Glen! I understand your point, but I will continue to advocate the other side because I enjoy debating with you...

    I'm still uneasy with the concept that the earth is small and fragile. We only have human eyes and human perspective, and my senses and intuition tell me that the earth is enormous- of a magnitude I can barely comprehend. The farther we step away from the earth, the smaller she looks, of course. But the fundamental human perspective is from within the earth system. The earth is a part of us, and to gaze at her from space is a disconcerting form of personal disembodiment. My point is that I would prefer a more humble environmentalism that first acknowledged our human-ness - our human perspectives and limitations - and then attempted to explore how we may sustainably meet our human needs and preserve the aspects of the earth system that we value.