11 April 2010
Pale Blue Dot
Sometimes you read something that says things so much more clearly and beautifully than one could ever hope to do oneself. And I have recently read one of those - it comes from Richard Dawkins' brilliant anthology of science writing called "The Oxford Book of Modern Science Writing" and it's a passage by Carl Sagan called "Pale Blue Dot" from "Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space".
For me, it sums up so much better than I can ever explain why I think that we should all come from the stewardship angle regarding our relationship with the earth and nature rather than to exploit it for the here and now. It comes from a deeply-held philosophy that stems from earth as my home and everyone else's home, as well as the home of all creatures and plants and microbes past, present and future. We are but briefly passing through for the tinest fraction of time and we must be careful of our impact as the world is a unique, beautiful and very blue place in a universe full of cold, dark, black and dead nothingness.
"Look again at that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you have 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", "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 its 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."