Today marks the 45 year anniversary of the landing of the last human beings to visit the moon. They are unlikely to remain the last human beings, but so far, it has been that long since we’ve sent anyone beyond the orbit of the Earth.
The 7th UU Principle of the UUA is to affirm “the interdependent web of life of which we are a part”. We have this one planet, seemingly shrinking every year. It is the only one capable of sustaining life based on current technology. This is our home, and our only refuge.
That is largely because while we can take breathable air to other hunks of rock, Earth’s planets and animals are attuned to certain amounts of light, certain gravity, certain humidity. Plants are pollinated by insects or birds and those animals rely on careful balance of elements to reproduce. That web of existence that we are part of is crucial for sustainability.
We’ve imagined a lot of ways to recreate just enough of that web to make other rocks livable. We once had a collective dream of building domes where planned ecosystems, with a little technological help, maintained breathable air and soil capable of growing crops. It isn’t beyond us, but we know now that it will be hard. What we have here is complex and powerful. Replicating it, even partially, will be a marvel.
I am sad that we aren’t still harboring these cultural hopes, because the drive to learn how we might live on other worlds has taught us so much about our own ecosphere. It has expanded our understanding and respect for the web of existence and how pulling ourselves free would be nearly impossible. We would have to carry sections of it with us. We would have to possibly deepen our respect for the interconnections before we could ever execute such a plan.
As far as we know, the Earth is unique. We don’t know why, but we have no cousins on any known world. What we do have is a family, descended from the same primordial slime. It is made up of plants and fungi and insects and birds. We are all one family of organisms, sharing the water and the air in cycles which are millennia old. Your breath has been breathed by dinosaurs and Neanderthal and cycled through plants over hundreds of millions of years.
The web of all existence is not just a thing that exists now, but it stretches back to the beginning of time, when all matter existed in one place, and then burst out to create the Universe. We need to consider how it stretches into the future, too, because we can effect it more deeply than any other species we know has ever lived. We have to respect the web much more deeply, because we are taking many other species with us, whether that is to the stars or to extinction.