A Letter On Earth Observation And Global Awareness

By Paul Racette, posted on July 25th, 2010 in Earth Observation, Letters, OpEd

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Greetings,

As the Editor, I look at Earthzine’s logo tagline and wonder what Fostering Earth Observation and Global Awareness means. Here are some musings of my wonder.

In October 2006, I was approached by Drs. Jay Pearlman and Albin Gasiewski of the then newly formed IEEE Committee on Earth Observation (ICEO) and asked to lead the development of a new online magazine as an IEEE contribution to the intergovernmental Group on Earth Observation (GEO) and its 10-year plan of establishing Global Earth Observing System of Systems (GEOSS). The ICEO supports GEO and the development of GEOSS in providing Earth information needed to address challenges such as global warming, biodiversity loss, resource depletion and other barriers to sustainable development. GEOSS is envisioned to be the global infrastructure required for effective utilization of Earth information derived from the vast amounts of data from existing and future observing remote and in situ sensor systems. One year later, www.earthzine.org was launched.

Earthzine fosters Earth observation (EO) by supporting the development of GEOSS and publishing articles pertaining to the GEOSS nine societal benefit areas, Agriculture, Biodiversity, Climate, Disasters, Ecosystems, Energy, Health, Water, and Weather. Earthzine hosts seasonal themes that highlight the social benefits of EO and explores how EO can address such challenges as Meeting the New Millennium Development Goals. Earthzine’s student essay contests bring together students from around the world in discussions about EO and sustainability. Providing our youth with an international forum for sharing views and discussing solutions for our most pressing issues makes good sense. In addition to seasonal themes, Earthzine distributes a Newsletter on the full moon. If you don’t already, please subscribe; it’s free!

And so how does one foster Global Awareness? It seems that fostering EO for the benefit of society fosters Global Awareness.

It is through observation that we become aware. This is true for the monk who through prayer and meditation observes One’s magnificence, the astronomer looking through the telescope across time who sees the structural evolution of the universe, and the mother who keeps vigilant watch for danger to her offspring. From the source of the Big Bang to our most inner sense of spirituality, the deeper we look in any direction, the closer we come in realizing our universal existence is just but One Life.  We each have our unique sense for what it means to be alive and globally aware; and it’s within the collective of all our senses that Global Awareness emerges as a life form of its own.

Dreams are born and die as part of the cycle on which hope carries us forward. For the first time in Earth’s history, humans are aware of our species’ capacity to adapt and modulate Earth’s life-sustaining cycles on a global scale. Urban sprawl, unabashed thirst for energy and resources, and the use of toxins in our industrial processes have discernable and often deleterious effect on human life and environed ecosystems. Just look around and we can see human impact on Earth in the form of our cities and large agricultural estates where we harvest our nourishment. We see merciless killing in ideological wars that scar the planet. Atomic, biotech and other horrific weapons give us the ability to self-annihilate. There’s little uncertainty in that humanity’s explosive population growth over the past hundred years has transformed the surface of Earth and its life-sustaining ecosystems from local to continental scales. In a million years from now what awareness will there be of Life on Earth?

Global Awareness is recognizing that Life on Earth is what we must protect.

We protect the life of our young as well as the spirit in the fire. To protect Life is to value and care for that which warms our heart during the cold night’s torrent of rage against all life, Death, … so that we may wake to a new dawn with all the splendor that Life has to offer.

How well can we protect another if we do not first protect ourselves? Protecting life begins with valuing and caring for one’s own; in this way our interdependency leads us to understand the need to give so that others, too, may live. And therein lies the wisdom in developing GEOSS for the benefit of society. The collective answer lays within the recognition of humanity’s role in stewardship of the Earth and our awareness that human activity affects all life on the planet. For this very important reason we must care for our own kind in all forms. For where ever humans suffer, so does Life on Earth.

Life is different for everyone thus making every life unique. Life is many things not the least of which is living present in the joy of knowing that we are but one life in many experiencing the joys of Life’s living.   Hmmmm…:)

My daughter experiencing the joy in discovering herself in the mirror for the first time.

My daughter experiencing the joy in discovering herself in the mirror for the first time.

With rockets we send humans and sensors to space that return to us images of Earth with a background of cosmic proportions.  And in our pictures we see that decisions made at the individual, local, regional and global scale all affect the life that exists on Earth. Through our observations we are just beginning to comprehend Earth’s regulatory processes that have served to support life up to the point in which we now live, and what it means to be aware that the future of Life on Earth is forever shaped by human activity.  How do we as the human species move forward in a way in which Life may prosper?

Therein lays the potential of Fostering Earth Observation and Global Awareness. Observing the Earth includes collecting data with sensors that detect and record Earth’s biogeophysical processes and understanding the benefits of those observations and the utilization of Earth information on the global community. Global Awareness entails looking beyond the discerned effect being observed to the impact of the observation on ourselves and others. Earthzine probes these complex issues through interviews with leaders in the EO community and articles that explore GEOSS’ broad objective for societal benefit. We each observe the Earth and have a unique perspective. I invite you to share your views by posting comments, submitting an article or writing an opinion essay.

We today see images of friends, family, colleagues, acquaintances and strangers from around the planet we all share. ‘Hey you! You’re on the same planet as I am.’  That we are, and One of many in Life!

Blessings my friend,

Paul Racette, DSc
Editor-in-Chief

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5 comments
Howard Ross
Howard Ross

Paul, Thank you for this beautifully written reminder that our own consciousness is only available to us when we are willing to observe ourselves and that the same is true for our collective "self" and the planet. Please keep writing!

Lynne Slater
Lynne Slater

Paul What a wonderful dialogue you’ve started--such a unique and valuable perspective. I was thinking the other day about perspective: some of the citizens of Montgomery County were complaining about PEPCO – the slow response following the storms and apparently some intermittent power outages they have been experiencing. I can understand how that is frustrating and improvement is needed. However, when one speaker compared their situation to living in third world country, my hackles went up. Visually, I saw the tent and tarp city in front of the presidential palace in Port au Prince, refugee camps in Sudan, and the devastation following a flood I lived through in the mid-west. In this country we have the infrastructure to recover our standard of living so quickly – and our baseline is so extreme in comparison with the much of the world. What does this disparity and our blindness to it mean to our future sustainability?

Elise Mulder
Elise Mulder

Mr. Racette, You offer a passionately stated reminder that by retaining a sense of responsibility for our planet, asking questions, and sharing knowledge we can help to mitigate negative environmental impacts. Sharing knowledge especially is crucial in empowering people to take action. I believe that one reason many people are unwilling to admit the degree to which humans are capable of changing our planet is that they are overwhelmed. Although individual actions are indeed important, acting alone can seem insufficient and insignificant. By reaching out to one another for ideas, we can find the reassurance and help that we need to be effective stewards in our individual lives.

Daniel Ziskin
Daniel Ziskin

I greatly appreciated these sentiments and wonderfully poetic language. It is important to give MEANING to what we do, and the glorification of life itself is as good a reason as any I've heard so far. The essay asks, "How do we as the human species move forward in a way in which Life may prosper?" Certainly, building a vast interconnected database of Earth observations is one way. A far simpler and more immediate way exists that will take us a giant step forward. Namely, we must end the horrific practice of factory farming of animals. If we really hold that life is sacred and we are interconnected to all living beings, the cruel ways in which we treat other sentient beings to satisfy our appetites for meat make a mockery of those ideals. Remember that nearly every dollar spent on meat brings us further from our goal of universal reverence for LIFE.

Beth Racette
Beth Racette

Beautifully said Paul. I especially like your emphasis on understanding our interdependence. We mistakenly think of our human selves as autonomous beings -– through observation we can see some of the ways that we are dependent on each other and other creatures. Biological science now knows that humans are like walking spaceships of microorganisms ~500 different types of benevolent microbes symbiotically live in each human body. SO HOW do we learn to care for all humans and all species? When you said “all of our unique perspectives are important” it made me think that yes, the awareness of each individual, each culture and each species brings a part of the intricate puzzle to our collective knowledge of life on this beautiful planet earth – and to OBSERVE, look and listen with respect and learn from all the variety of life forms; including ALL humans – of all economic backgrounds, nationalities, ethnicities, ages, spiritual traditions, genders etc. Your comments also reminded me to be courageous (root of the word courage means “with heart”) and speak the truth of my observations. This is important for everybody to do. In many ways we are taught to be silent. Collectively we need everyone’s intelligence engaged. And we need to learn to see and listen to each other, and see and listen to other species. I see you! I hear you! Did I hear you correctly? I’m so glad we’re living on the same planet!