Perspective Shift

words by willow defebaugh

Welcome to The Overview, a weekly newsletter in which Editor-in-Chief Willow Defebaugh offers an expansive look at the latest events in climate and culture—and how it all fits together.

Hi there! You might have noticed that my weekly newsletter has a new name—the origins of which I wanted to take a moment to explain. If you are a longtime subscriber, you might recall that I once wrote about “the overview effect.” Coined by Frank White in 1987, it refers to the cognitive shift in awareness reported by astronauts after viewing the Earth from space. It is often described as a perspective of oneness and an overwhelming urge to protect that oneness.


It’s this perspective that I hope to cultivate even a fraction of with this newsletter each week, so it felt like a fitting name. We’re also going to be launching another newsletter in the coming weeks, so we needed a way to differentiate (more details on that soon!). While I work with the rest of the Atmos team to close our next issue, I thought I’d devote this week’s edition to sharing the points of view of those most familiar with the overview effect, as told to the Planetary Collective in a brilliant short film that you can watch on Vimeo. Keep scrolling to read.


If consciousness is indeed connected, then what if the overview effect that occurred in the minds of these individuals rippled outward? What if it triggered a transformational shift, causing many more to wake up to the worldview that—as White points out in the words that follow—so many Indigenous and Eastern cultures have been aware of all along? What if that evolution is taking place right now?

“Anyone living in a space settlement… will always have an overview. They will see things that we know, but that we don’t experience, which is that the Earth is one system. We’re all part of that system, and there is a certain unity and coherence to it all.”
—Frank White, author of The Overview Effect


“We have this connection to Earth. It’s our home. You look back at it [from space], and it’s placed perfectly from the sun to take care of us, and you take that reverse role on, like Okay, well we need to be taking care of it too, so that it continues to do that for us. And I don’t know how you can’t have a greater appreciation for it after you see it that way.”
—Nicole Stott, astronaut


“On a grand scale, we’re all living in this one ecosystem called Earth. And everything that you do on one side of the ecosystem affects the other side, and that’s a new way for living for most of humanity.”
—Ron Garan, astronaut


“Many of the great wisdom traditions of the Earth have pointed to what we’re calling The Overview Effect. That is to say, they have realized this unity, this oneness of all life on Earth and of consciousness and awareness.”
—Frank White, author of The Overview Effect


“As you go into your mind in a contemplative way, the living reality of the planet becomes obvious. You become more in tune with the natural world. This is very akin to the direct perception that the astronauts have. So it’s no wonder that many have likened the overview effect to a spiritual or meditative experience.”
—David Beaver, co-founder of the Overview Institute


“We’re seeing very clearly that if the Earth becomes sick, then we become sick. If the Earth dies, then we are going to die. People sense that something’s wrong, but they’re still struggling to go back and find out what the real roots of the problem are. And I think what we need to come to is that it’s not just fixing an economic or political system, but it’s a basic worldview, a basic understanding of who we are, that’s at stake.”
—David Loy, philosopher

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