OL.20.002 – As the astronaut flies: a direct path to sustainability education

Route: The origin of life - on earth and in the universe

Cluster question: 140 As human beings, what are we capable of knowing about ourselves, God, and our place in the cosmos, and to what extent can science help us in this respect?

It has become clear that human actions worsen the conditions for life on Earth. Scientists, politicians, and activist groups alike urge a change in human behaviour towards a more sustainable society, but society’s response and change in behaviour of individuals is sluggish. From a human perspective, the Earth, its resources, and its biosphere feel endless and enormous, and our personal impact on it minimal. For astronauts, however, who have seen the Earth in its entirety from space, the biosphere feels like a delicate, vulnerable, and endangered thin veneer that supports all life we know of. As experienced by astronauts this shift in awareness, the Overview Effect, is a very effective mechanism to understand the urge for a more sustainable society. Here, we propose to generate an Overview Effect-like learning experience for school children using our knowledge of our Solar System. Primary school children at the age of 10-12 start understanding difficult concepts and are not yet separated over different school systems. Planetary and Solar System scientists will provide the content for this experience, humanities scientists and art schools will build the bridge between this content and society, and education scientists will develop the most effective way to communicate to our 10-12-year old audience. We will co-create our learning experience with our audience and their teachers. Our Overview Effect-like experience will provide children with the insight in and perspective on the delicacy of our environment for them to use a basis for building a more sustainable society.


arts, astronomy, overview effect, planetary sciences, primary school education, sustainable society


Organisation Utrecht University (UU), Department of Earth Sciences
Name Dr. ir. I.L. (Inge Loes) ten Kate
E-mail i.l.tenkate@uu.nl