Astronaut William Anders took a photo of Earth in 1968, a blue and white ball floating in black space, describing his experience as, “We came all this way to explore the moon, and the most important thing is that we discovered the Earth.”

The photo had an immediate impact. Although everyone knew we all live on the same round planet, there was something about seeing it floating in a vast blackness that for the first time made it clear that we all share the same home. It was a unifying moment. Maps of the world generally distinguish nations from one another by borders, black lines that define territory.

One couldn’t but notice that there were no black lines in the photo, just a blue orb with a thin layer of white clouds. The photo was hailed as a turning point, away from thinking of ourselves as separate countries but instead sharing a common home. It was a hopeful moment. Perhaps it would kickstart cooperation among nations in seeking common purpose.

Here we are a bit over 50 years later with a lot more confrontation and conflict than cooperation. We find ourselves with the idiocy of a nuclear arms race. Our bombs are bigger than your bombs. We are divided between the haves and have nots, the fat and happy and the hungry and starving. Perhaps topping the list, conflict between economic ideologies seems more like children on a playground arguing about the rules of the game, but on this playground the sabers are real, and the rattling often results in war, or at a minimum massive misery and dislocation.

Religious leaders seem no better. Our god can beat up your god. Political leaders, almost uniformly men, hyper-propelled by testosterone, strive to obtain and exercise power, to be the top dog. Perhaps we need more women leaders. 

Frankly, it appears that leaders, those vested with power to set policy and make decisions, are, instead of confronting and solving problems, leading us off a cliff, and not a little cliff; it’s a long drop. Instead of embracing “globalization” as a path to cooperation and mutual benefit, a realization that no country can be completely self-sufficient, that that photo of our blue planet floating in space does really communicate our inter-dependence. We are instead stuck in ancient, outdated and dangerous paradigms.

 I’m tired and frustrated that humans, the creatures on this planet with big brains, the ones that can create, innovate, understand problems and opportunities, seem hellbent on conflict and confrontation.  

A recent article in Bloomberg Businessweek asked the question, “Who Owns the Moon?” This is an example that describes our predicament. We’re elevating the mistakes we’re making on Earth to the surface of the moon. Harking back to what started this column, the picture of Earth from the Moon, we are switching to a picture of the Moon from Earth. It is also a singular object floating against the black void of space, thus far without black lines outlining who owns what.

It’s a blank slate, an opportunity for unity. But there’s a stampede to see who can get there first and exploit whatever minerals might be mined and claim strategic advantage over everybody else. Many countries, or countries with private businesses (U.S., China, Russia, India, Israel, Japan, Luxembourg, United Arab Emirates, the European Space Agency, New Zealand, etc.) look at the moon and see dollar signs. Thus far there’s no operational and enforceable Moon Agreement. In which case those black lines will soon appear, and, hooboy, there will be big trouble if anyone crosses those lines. 

So, as regards the climate crisis. Here we are, in need of global cooperation, or even competition without conflict, of mutually effective globalization but nations are still siloed and pursuing self-interest. As an example, the rush is on to corner the market on lithium. We are without an effective mechanism to bring all these interests to the table and rationalize action to benefit everyone. I’m sorry, but the Paris Agreement and the Conference of the Parties talks a big game, but the results are not impressive, or at least too slow and ineffective to build confidence. 

I’ve been reading, “How the World Really Works” by Vaclav Smil. An extraordinarily detailed, cogent and compelling book, notwithstanding its self-important title. Paraphrasing one of the book’s conclusions, we will fail to effectively respond to the climate crisis unless, for the first time in history we manage to put together a global, binding, serious accord among at least the top five countries responsible for 80 percent of emissions. 

The word “sustainability” gets bandied around a lot. Even at the local level. Our city. Our county. But it’s absurd to think any nation, state, county, or city can exist in isolation, grow all its own food, produce its own fertilizer, steel, and concrete. We can’t recycle what we use without overseas markets. We can’t mine the lithium and cobalt necessary for our cars and devices. The interconnections are global. So, leaders, get it together. We need you to shut up about the conflicts. Think, and do, something about global networks that make the planet safe for everyone.

Think globally. Act Globally. Please.

John Mott-Smith is a resident of Davis. This column appears on the first and third Wednesday of each month. Please send comments to

Originally posted June 6 2023