The overview effect is a change in awareness that some astronauts feel while witnessing Earth from space. Seeing our planet as a small and delicate place in the universe brings up existential feelings and makes national borders seem insignificant. In 2013, filmmaker Elizabeth Forbes Wallace created the short film The Overview: Beyond Borders in collaboration with former BISW teacher Chris Horton and his students. The film covers the topic of the overview effect and encourages audiences to consider seeing the world through this lens of compassion. The film premiered at the 2013 Inspiration of Astronomical Phenomena (INSAP) conference in the Hayden Planetarium, and since then, many classrooms have shown it around the globe. On March 14, a viewing of the film helped kick off the first annual Overview Effect Film Festival (OEFF) hosted by Dr Frank White, author of The Overview Effect.
As part of the festival, Forbes Wallace asked BISW Year 7 students to think about how they would feel looking at the Earth from space. Students reflected on this thought and watched the film. After contemplating Ms Forbes Wallace's work, our students had compelling conversations and discussed the film's poignancy in light of the political conflicts in many places globally today. Some students expressed thoughts about the fragility of the ecosystem and the impact of climate change. They recommended that people focus on helping Earth and engaging in diplomatic efforts while making advancements with space exploration.
"I believe students' voices must be seen and heard outside the classroom—elevated and resounding in places usually reserved for adults. That was one of the aims for the 2013 short film The Overview: Beyond Borders," explained Ms Forbes Wallace. "Members of the First Annual OEFF audience and I were doubly moved by the reactions of the current [BISW] Year 7 students to their predecessors' work. It was inspiring for everyone to see how quickly, imaginatively, and eloquently the students answered the prompt: If you could see Earth in space, how would you feel?"
Forbes Wallace's goal with the film was to inspire students of all ages to create works of art that help them envision ways that compassion and empathy help people reimagine the world around them. She invites anyone who would like to learn more about bringing the overview effect to Earth to join discussions on the topic. For example, she hopes to hear additional youth voices at the second annual OEFF, and she would like to see more films and panels by young people.
"Listening to your words is not enough," Ms Forbes Wallace said. "It is crucial to take the next steps to facilitate students' ideas. If you want to hold adults accountable for solutions, keep talking. I, for one, am listening."
See the film at the link below, and read on to see a selection of the responses from BISW Year 7 students who answered the question “If you could see Earth in space, how would you feel?”
“If you could see Earth in space, how would you feel?”
Alec V: I would feel small.
Camille C: If I were in space, I would feel amazed because it would look super different and nice.
Charlotte N: If I could see the world from space, I would feel wobbly at the legs and notice the little things the world cherishes!
Cliona M: If I were to go to space and see Earth, I would feel shocked. I would feel that we are all something bigger than ourselves, and I would feel as though I had conquered the world and knew what would happen next.
Danica D: If I went to space, I would feel lucky and special to look at the planet I live on.
Ema K: I would feel a little overwhelmed but also amazed at how my whole world would look like it could fit in the palm of my hand.
Esme P: If I looked down upon the Earth from space, I would feel extraordinarily small and inconsequential. Nothing that I did or would ever do would matter at all. Everything that humans do would have no effect whatsoever on this huge and constant Earth.
Halac H: It would feel surreal, as going into space is not something you always do, and it is just a completely different environment. I would feel exceptional because going to space is not a thing just anyone can do anytime.
Harriet P: If I were to see Earth from space, I would see what life was like and its power from afar rather than being caught up in it all. It would be true peace.
Joshua P: If I saw the world from space, I would be almost scared to be dropped down to Earth. I would feel afraid that I had been locked out of Earth, so I might feel scared if I saw the world from space.
Kavan W: If I saw Earth from space, I would feel surprised by how the Earth looks from the outside.
Kristina J: Space is like an endless void that goes on and on for eternity without any start or finish. The Earth sticks out as it is the only living thing in the universe, so it would be special to see our bright blue planet.
Livia P: If I could see the world from space, I would feel special and amazed. It would take my breath away, and I would feel so far away from humankind. It would make me feel light and weightless, carefree and without troubles.
Mia L: If I were looking down on Earth, I think it would feel weird because I would be seeing the place where I had grown up and lived my life. Seeing it as a floating ball in space must be weird.
Mucyo G: It would feel like it is in the palm of your hand, and for once, you see the world in its true beauty with no noise and no distractions to disturb you.
Osha A: If I saw Earth that way, it would blow my mind.
Smith Abraham Lanning: If I were to look back at the small, distant Earth, my planet, I would forget everything just for a moment and enjoy the beauty of our planet. I would not be on the grass or near anything green. There would be no ice, rock, street, or concrete. Instead, it would be the lifeless vacuum of space.
Sofia R: If I could see the Earth from space, I would be in awe and have a reality check on how big the universe is and how irrelevant we humans are even to one another.
Vesper Y: If I were so fortunate even to be able to skyrocket into space, I believe looking down at Earth would be utterly surreal and overwhelming. The sight would leave me breathless. It would be the experience of a lifetime.
Viola H: Of all the things I have seen in my life, the Earth is dangerously beautiful. Try to imagine seeing all that beauty at once.