planet Earth as a point of light between the icy rings of Saturn

The Quadra Project: Passenger or Crew

The famous Canadian media guru, Marshall McLuhan, when commenting on Buckminster Fuller’s seminal 1969 book, Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth, said, “There are no passengers on Spaceship Earth—everyone is crew.” Like so many of his insightful comments, McLuhan managed to encapsulate a complex and comprehensive understanding in a few simple words.

We, and the planet on which we live, have been redefined by space exploration. However, all journeys outward have a remarkable propensity to also become journeys inward. Two amazing photographs are dramatic illustrations. The first was the 1968 “Earthrise” image taken by Bill Anders as Apollo 8 was orbiting the Moon. The second was captured by the space probe, Cassini, in 2013, which, after travelling 1.2 billion kilometres, was able to photograph the pale blue dot of Earth through the rings of Saturn.

As with all such experiences, we are just beginning to process the profound impact on our collective consciousness of seeing ourselves from such distances. Delicate, fragile, precarious and ephemeral are some of the words used to describe our home in the hostile and inky void of space. Life on our planet, in all its tenuous diversity, has suddenly assumed a meaning that was once available only to mystics.

Earth is no longer so big, according to McLuhan’s thinking. Instead of “exploding” into disconnected fragments as Columbus confirmed in 1492, it is “imploding” into interconnected elements. Our newly evolving experience of Earth is not of disjointed parts, but of one integrated whole, with each piece belonging as a rightful and essential member of a single living system.

This, of course, is the language of ecology. Our perspective of the whole has imparted meaning to the importance of the parts. Indeed, the whole cannot exist without its parts, and the parts cannot exist except as a whole. The large and the small are inseparable. Subject and object are each other. We both diminish and endanger ourselves by thinking otherwise.

This was not the intended purpose of sending humans to the Moon or rocketing space probes to Saturn. But it was the unintended result. The same dynamic occurred with international trade, travel and communication. While it homogenized the planet into a “global village”, it also identified each part as distinctive yet necessary.

This is the contradiction at play on Quadra Island. We are part of the living vitality that distinguishes Earth from every other known place in the universe, but we also have a uniqueness within the “global village” that makes us special. Without the larger perspective, we would be oblivious to our distinctive qualities.

The Quadra Project stems from this contradiction. Being part of a whole but also being distinctive is not an awareness that we usually articulate, or one that we even consciously consider. But it affects our attitudes, motivates our behaviour, and directs our expectations and planning. What are the distinctive qualities of life on this Island that have brought us here and keep us here? What do we want to preserve and cultivate to sustain our inherent uniqueness? And how do we do this? The perspective from space and a closeup of ourselves coalesce into a single and powerful contradiction that we want to recognize, protect and encourage.

Experiences in other parts of the world and prognostications from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change are warning us about what can happen elsewhere, and we don’t want it to happen here—indeed, some of us are already refugees from the speed, stress and wreckage that has occurred and is occurring where we formerly lived. This lesson is the deeper impulse motivating The Quadra Project. We know what we don’t want to become, and we are aware of some of the general and specific objectives that are worthy of our attention and effort.

We won’t necessarily agree on all issues and methods, but we all became crew when we decided to reside on Quadra. If we don’t take the initiative of shaping our Island into the image of our best aspirations, then we defer to be the victims of happenstance. Moralists have called this lack of initiative “the sin of inadvertence”. It is better to steer than drift, better to be a hammer than a nail.

Circumstances are changing quickly and irrevocably. Humanity’s security, civilization’s stability, and our planet’s ecologies are unravelling moment by moment. This is not an exaggeration. By the measure of geological time, our impact on the life systems of Earth is almost as instantaneous as the massive asteroid strike of 66 million years ago. We no longer have the luxury of procrastinating. The alarms are screaming, and all crew are being summoned to their emergency stations.

Ray Grigg for Sierra Quadra

Top image credit: NASA’s Cassini spacecraft captured this view of planet Earth as a point of light between the icy rings of Saturn on April 12, 2017courtesy NASA

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