Spaceship earth revisited: The co‐benefits of overcoming biological extinction of experience at the level of person, place and planet

VIVO Planetary Health of the Worldwide Universities Network (WUN)

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


Extensive research underscores that we interpret the world through metaphors; moreover, common metaphors are a useful means to enhance the pursuit of personal and collective goals. In the context of planetary health—defined as the interdependent vitality of all natural and anthropogenic ecosystems (social, political and otherwise)—one enduring metaphor can be found in the concept of “Spaceship Earth”. Although not without criticism, the term “Spaceship Earth” has been useful to highlight both resource limitations and the beauty and fragility of delicate ecosystems that sustain life. Rene Dubos, who helped popularize the term, underscored the need for an exposome perspective, one that examines the total accumulated environmental exposures (both detrimental and beneficial) that predict the biological responses of the “total organism to the total environment” over time. In other words, how large‐scale environmental changes affect us all personally, albeit in individualized ways. This commentary focuses the ways in which microbes, as an essential part of all ecosystems, provide a vital link between personal and planetary systems, and mediate the biopsychosocial aspects of our individualized experience—and thus health—over our life course journey. A more fine‐grained understanding of these dynamics and our power to change them, personally and collectively, lies at the core of restoring “ecosystems balance” for person, place and planet. In particular, restoring human connectedness to the natural world, sense of community and shared purpose must occur in tandem with technological solutions, and will enhance individual empowerment for personal well‐being, as well as our collective potential to overcome our grand challenges. Such knowledge can help shape the use of metaphor and re‐imagine solutions and novel ways for restoration or rewilding of ecosystems, and the values, behaviors and attitudes to light the path toward exiting the Anthropocene.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1407
JournalInternational Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2 Feb 2020


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