The Earth as an Egg

This cushion-for-error of humanity’s survival and growth up to now was apparently provided just as a bird inside of the egg is provided with liquid nutriment to develop it to a certain point. But then by design the nutriment is exhausted at just the time when the chick is large enough to be able to locomote on its own legs. And as the chick pecks at the shell seeking more nutriment it inadvertently breaks open the shell. Stepping forth from its initial sanctuary, the young bird must now forage on its own legs and wings to discover the next phase of its regenerative sustenance. —Buckminster Fuller, Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth

Good writers changes your perspective through their choice of words. Buckminster Fuller did this by calling the planet “Spaceship Earth,” which immediately alters the imagery — now, thanks to his words, we’re flying through space. His analogy of the earth as an egg does this as well, and it’s beautiful and frightening at the same time.

It’s a very Goldilocks sort of view — everything is just right. We’ve been given all that we need to hatch humanity into perpetuity like the chick that consumes the nutrients until it has the strength to peck its way out of its shell.

And as we wrestle with renewable energy and increasing food demands, the analogy is even more fitting. Fossil fuels are the nutrients that have propelled us thus far. The biosphere — a thin, fragile ribbon around the earth — is our yolk. It encompasses all life as we know it and stores all of the energy we have. The atmosphere is the shell that traps all of the sunlight we need and protects us from harmful rays and errant asteroids. We are encapsulated and safe.

However, the egg analogy also suggests an end, that the clock is ticking — we have to make sure that we don’t consume all the nutrients before we have the strength to break through. But what does this mean, this breaking through? With a renewed interest in space travel, maybe it means leaving the planet, that we’ve been given enough nutrients here to build a machine to take flight and explore.

It’s a beautiful thought to me that the universe is full of millions of little blue eggs, incubated by distant suns, waiting to hatch their inhabitants into space. But the fact remains that someday our sun will be no more, and then what? Do we break through to a new world, a new existence, or do we wither away to nothing within the shell?

 

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