WORDS BY WILLOW DEFEBAUGH
Blue is a central color for both our planet and politics. In our conflict-driven world, it reflects the emotions a lot of us may be feeling.
“Blue is the only color which maintains its own character in all its tones. It will always stay blue.”
What comes to mind when gazing up at azure skies, the enveloping shroud of navy at midnight? What feelings are conjured while watching the caress of cobalt on coastlines, the cerulean sea lapping the shore, the impregnable indigo deep? We often talk about the great green Earth, but our planet is more a vibrant sapphire than it is viridescent. So, as a follow-up to last year’s edition on green, this week we’re looking at environmentalism’s other favorite color: blue.
Around one billion years ago, complex algae-like organisms emerged from the ocean and made their way on land. These creatures are among our earliest ancestors, making the ocean our common origin—what we share with almost all life on Earth. The deep blue sea is not only our history, but a symbol of unity; in fact, oceanographers even have a campaign to say “ocean” instead of “oceans.” Water envelopes our whole world, why would we divide it? As for why its waters have the hue they do, it’s because water absorbs red light, leaving blue behind.
What is perhaps a more common question pertains to nature’s other favorite canvas to paint: the sky. So, why is it baby blue? The sun scatters its light in every color of the rainbow, but blue light has shorter wavelengths so it scatters and reaches our eyes the easiest (at sunrise and sunset, the blue light scatters before it can reach us, allowing other hues to). If blue represents our shared past, it also represents the potential of the future—the color of optimism and infinite possibility. Who doesn’t feel a sense of hope when looking up at a bright blue sky?
In the human world, blues carries a number of connotations that seem to draw from these natural inspirations. In the United States, blue leans liberal. It is the color of the Democratic party, which stands for diversity, social equality, and just opportunity. A blue vote is a vote to create the future we urgently need, rather than cling to conservative and outdated ideals. It’s supposed to be a vote for climate as well, but this week saw Democratic President Joe Biden demanding an increase in U.S. oil and gas production, when climate science is consistently insisting on the opposite.
The U.S. is experiencing a moment of solidarity after years of division, The New York Times reported this week. People across the political spectrum are standing for a common cause—another country that claims blue as one of its colors: Ukraine, whose flag is blue over yellow to symbolize azure skies above golden wheat fields. Ukraine, where 3 million refugees have already fled. And yet, as climate director Yessenia Funes asked on The Frontline this week, where is the same solidarity for the other 23 million refugees that the UN estimates exist? Why does the world only pay attention when those displaced by war are white?
It’s been impossible not to feel blue reading the news recently. And while red has a claim to anger and green to envy, blue embodies a more complex spectrum of emotions. To have a case of the blues is to be in a state of sadness. On the other hand, blue creates peace; researchers at the University of Granada found that blue light makes us relax faster than other colors. Blue lights installed at 71 train stations in Japan between 2000 and 2010 contributed to an 84% decrease in the number of suicides by train. Perhaps we could all use a little more blue in our lives.
Blue is the blood in our veins. It’s our common origin, the history of humanity—a reminder that we all come from the same waters. Blue may be bottomless despair, but it’s infinite hope as well. It’s the optimism of a clear sky, the promise of a better day. It’s a call for peace in troubled times. To be alive on this planet is to be asked to hold all of it, to remain committed on our quest to protect this bright blue dot and all the beauty that it holds. Blue asks us to stay true.