“The Overview Effect” was a term from the 1960s to explain the dramatic cognitive and emotional shift astronauts experienced when from their space capsule they watched the earth rise over the horizon of the moon. As those photos were beamed back to Earth, we too saw for the first time our world as fragile ball of life, hanging in the void, shielded and nourished by a paper-thin atmosphere.
I can still feel the childhood goose bumps from that first TV image, and all my life I’ve believed this Overview Effect would help me to make better choices. But last week that perspective wasn’t enough to override my best intentions of consuming less and putting the planet first. For, while shopping for my son at REI, I bought a bicycle jersey I didn’t need.
Two years ago I had bought my dream road bike — a mint-green Bianchi — and at the time I had fruitlessly searched for a jersey to match. In retrospect, I was glad I hadn’t found one. Because after reading much of Brené Brown’s work, including her best-seller, “Rising Strong,” and learning how our image-based culture suffers from unworthiness and how shopping was one way to numb the pain of shame, I wondered how much of my desire to look good on the outside was driven by not feeling good about myself on the inside. But that day in REI, as I held up the mint green jersey to the mirror, neither this awareness nor the Overview Effect stopped me. Yet, back home when I put it in my overstuffed dresser drawer, I felt miserable.
Fortunately, I had just started to read “A God That Could Be Real: Spirituality, Science and the Future of our Planet” by Nancy Ellen Abrams. It has taken 13.8 billion years for the human species to evolve, but only 200 years for 1 billion people to explode into more than 7 billion. I crunched numbers. I felt compelled to understand what that looked like. I created my own image of population growth from the Big Bang to now: If someone started at sea level and walked day and night around a smooth globe, in 264 days they would slowly gain a few thousand feet, but in their last step to return home they would suddenly shoot up to the height of Mount Everest or today’s population.
Startled, I researched what our consumption of material goods would look like. Today the world devours about 112 billion cubic meters of resources per year, or about the volume of Mount Everest per year.
Wow! Though I could now visualize these two forces and how combined they could push us to extinction, those images didn’t carry the power I needed. A new perspective must help not only in our outer struggles but in our inner struggle for worthiness.
So I read on. Scientists now know our universe is composed of 95 percent dark energy and dark matter. That stardust is only 0.01 percent of the density of the universe, and that our bodies are 90 percent stardust by weight. It has taken almost 14 billion years to make from this extremely rare stardust, the even rarer human consciousness inside each of us. Or as Abrams said, “We self-conscious Earthlings are like diamonds inside Tiffany’s — we look around and assume diamonds are common. But if we open our awareness to the (entire universe) outside the store, we are struck by how rare and precious diamonds are.”
With those words, I felt the awe and surprise of a new view. We are exquisite, far beyond anything we could ever buy.
Kathy Walters is the mother of a teenage boy, works for Kirkwood Mountain Realty and lives in Gardnerville. Currently,
she is working on her memoir “Enough.”