The value of Earth Observations, Science and Services – about to skyrocket.

“I can feel guilty about the past, apprehensive about the future, but only in the present can I act. The ability to be in the present moment is a major component of mental wellness.” – Abraham Maslow[1]

“Let people realize clearly that every time they threaten someone or humiliate or unnecessarily hurt or dominate or reject another human being, they become forces for the creation of psychopathology, even if these be small forces. Let them recognize that every person who is kind, helpful, decent, psychologically democratic, affectionate, and warm, is a psychotheraputic force, even though a small one.” – Abraham Maslow

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What is the worth of Earth observations, science and services? The world wants answers to this question, and is poised to step up its efforts.

Compelling forces drive this new interest. We’ll examine this in a later post, but first we need some background. A good place to start is the mid-20th-century work of the psychologist Abraham Maslowe, and his groundbreaking “hierarchy of needs.” The relevant material from Wikipedia serves to give you the idea. Here are some excerpts, taken verbatim:

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is often portrayed in the shape of a pyramid with the largest, most fundamental levels of needs at the bottom and the need for self-actualization at the top. While the pyramid has become the de facto way to represent the hierarchy, Maslow himself never used a pyramid to describe these levels in any of his writings on the subject.

The most fundamental and basic four layers of the pyramid contain what Maslow called “deficiency needs” or “d-needs”: esteem, friendship and love, security, and physical needs. If these “deficiency needs” are not met – with the exception of the most fundamental (physiological) need – there may not be a physical indication, but the individual will feel anxious and tense. Maslow’s theory suggests that the most basic level of needs must be met before the individual will strongly desire (or focus motivation upon) the secondary or higher level needs. Maslow also coined the term “metamotivation” to describe the motivation of people who go beyond the scope of the basic needs and strive for constant betterment…

Physiological needs are the physical requirements for human survival. If these requirements are not met, the human body cannot function properly and will ultimately fail. Physiological needs are thought to be the most important; they should be met first.

Air, water, and food are metabolic requirements for survival in all animals, including humans. Clothing and shelter provide necessary protection from the elements. While maintaining an adequate birth rate shapes the intensity of the human sexual instinct, sexual competition may also shape said instinct…

…With their physical needs relatively satisfied, the individual’s safety needs take precedence and dominate behavior. In the absence of physical safety – due to war, natural disaster, family violence, childhood abuse, etc. – people may (re-)experience post-traumatic stress disorder or transgenerational trauma. In the absence of economic safety – due to economic crisis and lack of work opportunities – these safety needs manifest themselves in ways such as a preference for job security, grievance procedures for protecting the individual from unilateral authority, savings accounts, insurance policies, reasonable disability accommodations, etc. This level is more likely to be found in children because they generally have a greater need to feel safe…

…After physiological and safety needs are fulfilled, the third level of human needs is interpersonal and involves feelings of belongingness…

…All humans have a need to feel respected; this includes the need to have self-esteem and self-respect. Esteem presents the typical human desire to be accepted and valued by others…

… the perceived need for self-actualization… refers to what a person’s full potential is and the realization of that potential. Maslow describes this level as the desire to accomplish everything that one can, to become the most that one can be. Individuals may perceive or focus on this need very specifically. For example, one individual may have the strong desire to become an ideal parent. In another, the desire may be expressed athletically. For others, it may be expressed in paintings, pictures, or inventions. As previously mentioned, Maslow believed that to understand this level of need, the person must not only achieve the previous needs, but master them.

Whew! A lot to absorb. Of course Maslow’s work and writings merit a fuller look, and in their original published form. It also should be said that his work has had its critics, and that the scholarship of these subjects has moved on. But the criticism has largely focused on particulars of the hierarchial levels, especially the ones at the top of the pyramid. What you see here is sufficient for our next step.

Maslow was a psychologist. He was writing and thinking about individuals. But perhaps it’s not too great a leap to see that his hierarchy would apply to societies, or to the world’s population of seven billion people. We would discover that taken as a whole, humankind’s primary needs are air, water, and food, and then safety. The story of human success over the past ten thousand years, and especially the past century or so, is that after hundreds of thousands of years of trying, we moved past this point up the hierarchy, to reach the point where the hierarchy could even be articulated, much less appreciated and debated and refined.

Most of us in the developed world now take these foundational needs for granted. We spend most all of our time and energy operating at the various higher levels of the hierarchy. Only a relative handful in our economy are needed to take care of the essentials: grow our food, maintain adequate supplies of potable, inexpensive water, ensure that energy supply is reliable, and so on. The rest of us can develop and profit from the information explosion, virtual reality, and production of all manner of goods and services that matter only at this higher plane. Accordingly, we’re creating wealth and expanding possibilities at an unprecedented rate.

Today, however, that ample, reliable, inexpensive supply of breathable air, potable water, and food that is essential foundation for all of human aspirations and endeavor is under threat. Earth observations, science, and services form critical infrastructure for navigating this problematic future.

More on this in the next post.

[1] Abraham Maslow was a veritable font of great quotes. For a larger sample, look here.

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