Issue 7

Photos by Robert Fischer Words by Thomas Mandl

We need unity

We need to act, and we need to act now. Our blue planet, the only spaceship we humans have in this vast universe, is in danger and we –the human family–need to act as one in order to tackle the challenges that already confront us today. It is clear that we have to change how we treat our planet in order to prevent a resource or humanitarian crisis and to secure a future for my generation, the generation after us and the generations to come. Climate change is something no nation or region can deal with alone and threatens everyone equally, no matter whether we live in New York or Mumbai. What we need in this situation is togetherness in the human family, and this unity on Earth needs a symbol–something we can display to show we feel united with this planet, a symbol that gives a sense of belonging and hope to the people flying or waving it. A flag, an Earth Flag, a Blue Planet Flag, a One World Flag.



1st One World Flag

The first known flag for the world was designed by John McConnell, an American peace activist and founder of the Earth Day, who drew an abstract picture of the earth with a mix of clouds, land and oceans against a dark blue background. He later updated his original flag design from 1969 and replaced the earth drawing with the famous Blue Marble photo shot by astronaut Jack Schmitt of Apollo Mission 17 in 1972. This image was the first photo taken by a human from space that showed the earth fully illuminated. Schmitt was instructed by NASA’s chief of photography, Richard Underwood, about the precise point of the flight to the moon when he would be able to take the perfect shot of Earth. It is due to his efforts and his passion for space photography that this image of our planet was created, generating an awareness of Earth unequalled by any other photo in human history.



Blue Marble and the overview effect

Blue Marble became a symbol of the fragility of our planet for us as humans and created an awareness of Earth as a whole, a sense of unity and oneness as no image had done before it. Since we don’t have the chance to put a giant mirror into space, the feeling of complete unity and oneness that many astronauts have experienced in space when gazing at our blue planet will be limited to a small number of space travelers. The phenomenon is named the overview effect and has been described by many astronauts observing our world from space. Apollo 14 astronaut Edgar Mitchell was one such, and described the experience as developing an instant global awareness, a focus on people and an intense dissatisfaction with the state of the world when seeing the blue planet from space. Many interesting ideas and thoughts on our planet and on humanity in general have come from astronauts after they had had the chance to step back from our usual very narrow perspective on the earth and see the world as a whole.

German astronaut Alexander Gerst made a powerful statement from space before his return to earth. He said that he had always been attracted to space as a special and exciting place in the universe—and yet his time in space had made him realize the opposite. He stated that the only special place in the universe, the only spaceship that we humans have, the only fragile place, is Earth itself, and that we have to take care of it. Many studies have investigated the overview effect; a recent study from 2016 has identified the feeling of gazing at the earth as that of awe, one of the deepest and most powerful emotions in the whole of human experience. George E. Vaillant from Harvard Medical School stated that the wholeness of the earth makes it a symbol of almost all that is meaningful in human life. Seeing it from a distance—disconnected physically, yet connected emotionally—evokes thoughts of home, of the entirety of one’s world, and of humankind as a whole. Many astronauts have returned to Earth with the will to change things; the term astronaut-politician was coined to describe them since so many entered politics after their journey into space. Astronaut Nicole Stott has wondered how astronauts could possibly come back to Earth and not be changed in some way after gaining such a deep connection to Earth, their home. The closest I came to experiencing an overview effect myself was during the total lunar eclipse, visible in Europe in summer 2017. As the shadow of the earth moved slowly across the moon, I had a feeling my own shadow became part of the earth’s shadow cast over the moon. This experience gave me a profound confirmation of the existence of the earth and my own self within the universe, witnessed with my own eyes. I would love to fly into space and experience the overview effect for myself, but I have accepted that space is not a playground for us humans and as long as I would neither contribute to science nor save humankind by my space travel, I will stay on planet earth.




Only a few national borders are visible from space, like the border between South Korea and North ­Korea by night. Photos from space show the south of the Korean peninsula brightly illuminated, whereas the north is mainly pitch-black. But most borders are not visible, and other aspects such as fanatical religious, national or ethnic beliefs are likewise hard to grasp by looking at Earth as a whole. New world maps are drawn by climate change and rising sea levels, which do not distinguish between social classes nor care about carving out borders. The fact that no single nation-state alone can cope with the global risk of climate change creates a new understanding that the principle of independence and autonomy is an obstacle to the survival of the human race. What we need as humankind is a new understanding of interdependence and cosmopolitanism, the awareness that all humans belong to a single community, that every human is a citizen of the world. Humankind accepted the fact that Earth is not the center of the universe as recently as the 16th century, and in the same way that Earth is not the center of our solar system, the nation-state is no longer the center of the earth. Sociologist Ulrich Beck, famous for his global risk theory, gave this new circulation of the nations around the world the name of cosmopolitan turn and provided plentiful evidence and examples of a cosmopolitized world in his posthumously published book, The Metamorphosis of the World. National elections are organized in a cosmopolitan way when parties need to secure the votes from their citizens abroad. Developers have to think globally, arranging for cheaper foreign labor in order to succeed; the poor have to become world-mobile to avoid the risk of getting poorer, while the rich have to act globally if they want to save money by avoiding taxes. Anti-Europeans have to enter the space of a cosmopolitan Europe and sit in the European parliament if they want their opinions to leave a mark. Even radical fundamentalists and terrorist groups like Boko Haram have to use global digital channels in order to shock the world with their inhuman world-views. Even people that have never left their village enter a cosmopolitan world by using a mobile phone and becoming malleable consumers for global transnational companies.

Humankind is connected nowadays as never before throughout its history. Today almost everything works at global level. The Internet is the perfect example of this cosmopolitan turn, and modern individuals seeking to be successful have to act globally, in ways such as communicating by email or using the Internet to find information. Cosmopolitanism is also visible in a host of institutions such as NATO, the International Court, the World Bank and the United Nations. Although the United Nations flag has much potential to become a symbol of unity and a flag for the world, not every state–and, therefore, not every person on this planet–is represented by the UN. Furthermore, the daily business of the UN involves veto rights and partisanship rather than focusing on unity. In other words, the flag of the United Nations is not neutral or inclusive enough to become a One World Flag for all people.



The EU—More than just one nation.

Another good example of cosmopolitanism and internationalism between many nations within an entire region is the European Union. The EU is the first prototype of a cosmopolitan system, where nation-states that once fought each other over centuries now live together in unity as one Europe. In fact, the EU is a miracle when we think about the fact that enemies have become friends and that the peace created in Europe by unity is the longest the continent has ever experienced. Of course, there is no doubt that not everything runs perfectly within the EU—a very open space for some, but at the same time a very closed-off space for others. The EU should focus less on economics and become more socially focused and direct in order to enable citizens to get involved. Shouldn’t the EU open up for other countries to join, and find a way to welcome more people from other parts of the world that long for peace as well? Is it acceptable how Frontex handles refugees in the Mediterranean Sea from a humanitarian perspective? The EU is still young and leaves a lot of space for improvement, but when we zoom out and look at the bigger picture of Europe, it seems logical that this prototype of peace through cosmopolitanism and internationalism is not self-evident and needs to be protected. The EU has proven that unification of different nation-states can work and that people are able to identify with a greater region than their country alone. The EU flag has succeeded in becoming an identification symbol for many citizens from different nations, and a symbol of unity of an entire region. For citizens of the EU, the blue flag with the yellow stars has become a way to communicate a feeling of unification with other nations. A lot of my contemplations about unity on earth and a One World Flag have emerged from the perception of the European Union as a miracle of peace, but at the same time the longing for unity on a bigger scale. Another root of my longing for peace on this earth comes from a state of inner peace, which I have experienced—especially in troubled times over the years—and also just before I had the idea for this project. Back then, I constantly had difficulty falling asleep, kept awake by many questions on my mind. What flag would one display in order to show a sense of unity with other countries not belonging to the EU? What flag could someone wave that was not a citizen of the EU, but felt a sense of unity with other countries, or even with the concept of the world? Why is there no symbol to display if we feel united with the region of the world as a global citizen? Ronald Reagan made a remarkable speech to the UN General Assembly in 1987 in which he remarked that often people forget just how much unites all the individuals that make up humanity. He wondered if humankind perhaps needed some external, universal threat to make it recognize this common bond, and contemplated how quickly our differences worldwide would vanish if humanity were facing an alien threat from outside this world. And I have thought about this as well. If humankind were to face an alien threat, I am certain that a symbol of unity would be one of the most ´googled` searches and a design for a One World Flag would be chosen right away.

Climate change—Threat and opportunity for humanity

I am pretty sure that there are no aliens out there, and even if extra-terrestrial life were to exist, I am convinced that humankind doesn’t need an alien threat in order to unite. The EU is evidence enough that peace and cosmopolitanism can work without a threat from outside. But if humankind really does need an inner threat, in the same way that Europe was afraid of yet another great war on the continent, climate change may be the answer. Perhaps it’s the common threat of climate change that gives us humans the chance to come together and unite in order to tackle this great challenge. Greta Thunberg was absolutely right when she said that once you really understand the threat of climate change you can’t take yourself out of it. It’s a lot about understanding and knowledge of climate change. We can’t afford to ignore the risk of climate change, and isolation is outdated in an era when we depend on each other to tackle future challenges and to save our planet—and, indeed, our own species. We are connected as never before in the history of this planet, and we are in an era when every voice can be heard. We need a symbol of unity on Earth in order to give Earthlings a possibility to demonstrate their identification.



Just a blue dot

Many attempts to create flags for the world have been made since John McConnell, but the simple fact that we never see any of them flapping in the wind anywhere was reason enough for me to reactivate the conversation around a flag for the world. Even John McConnell’s Earth Day Flag has not succeeded in becoming this universal symbol, as it only showed what one part of the world looked like when the photo was taken. Since humankind has a deep connection to the symbol of planet earth and our world is the only place where our species can survive, the symbol of the blue planet alone felt the most logical to me as a symbol for unity. From the beginning, my design consisted of a blue dot as the central element. But I realized quickly that it was impossible to fly a round flag, and that this is the reason that all national flags on this planet are rectangular. Even the flag of Nepal—the only exception, consisting of two triangles—has a straight-line segment allowing it to be flown. I understood that my blue dot also needed some sort of background. It took me a long time to come up with the right solution, since every color has a meaning and black, the most logical color, is too dark and evokes too many negative emotions. The answer to this problem was transparency. The semi-transparent nature of the flag means it is always changing, like our planet; we can see a changing world through the flag. Flying the flag enables us to see our common home, the blue planet, as well as our own home on Earth through the transparency. A flag for the world is probably one of the most challenging flag designs, as it is probably the most important identification symbol humans will ever have to find. If my flag design helps to find a symbol for unity on Earth I will be more than happy. My wish is to achieve unity through diversity on Earth, and this is also the driving force behind my flag design. The first step towards unity on Earth is an increasing awareness of unity amongst us earthlings, and a common symbol and identification can help creating this feeling of belonging. Let’s develop a One World Flag, as humankind needs a positive approach for the future. And it doesn’t need to be my One World Flag design: if there is a better flag design that we can agree on, let’s fly it high!