Sunday, February 18, 2007

Pale Blue Dot

I hear the right wing talk radio people continually denigrating the idea that we need to take steps to act against the possibility of global warming. These people claim that humans cannot possibly harm the planet, that we are seeing normal cyclical climate change, and basically let's just use up our resources without regard for our children, grandchildren, and future generations.

Some people who think this way are just ill informed. Others are fundamentalists who are convinced the apocalypse is to happen within their lifetime, so it's okay to abuse the environment; just another danger of extremist religious views. You would think that the Biblical mandates to be good stewards over what God has provided would give these folks a different view. One would think that even if it is proven that we are seeing normal cycles of the climate, that such changes can have catastrophic outcomes for humanity. Yes, the earth will survive, but it could be without our species. Even if one doubts the reality of global warming, is it prudent to ravage and pollute the only place we have to live; our home, the planet Earth.

I am reminded of the profound words of Dr. Carl Sagan, who spoke about seeing a 1990 photo of our planet taken by Voyager I from 6.4-billion kilometers away; a tiny pixel of blue floating like a speck of dust in a sunbeam. These words have been well publicized, but they bear repeating. Dr. Sagan said:

We succeeded in taking that picture [from deep space], and if you look at it, you see a dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every "superstar," every "supreme leader," every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there — on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors, so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light.

Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves. The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand. It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known.

Words we would all be wise to ponder.

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