Pale Blue Dot

I saw this YouTube video containing an excerpt from Carl Sagan’s writings over on Perceiving Wholes recently. It’s a little cheesy, but it contains a strong and important message – that we humans are our own custodians on this planet. Whilst the way Sagan goes about making this point is understandable from is background as an astronomer and astrobiologist and the context of the image he discusses, I think there’s a more salient way to think about our position within the universe.

Sagan talks about out insignificance [text of video here], about the miniscule size of this plant and our short time upon it. I think that misses the pale blue point. More importantly, we need to recognise that this world is finite. In both size and resources. Just as Silent Spring kick-started the environmental movement, another image taken from space a decade later and almost two before Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot, ‘The Blue Marble‘ highlighted that the blue planet in our solar system is not the infinite horizon it may seem from the surface.

Sagan is probably right, we are alone for now in this part of the universe to solve our own problems. But we can’t prove that (which is quite a cool thought eh?). What we do know for sure, by looking at images from space for example, is that this planet is finite and that many of the resources we require to survive here are not infinite but are most definitely exhaustable.

Sometimes, as an individual sat atop a mountain ridge surrounded by miles of forest it may feel as though we are so small that we would have an insignificant effect upon the landscape. But we are now over six and a half billion individuals and that is no small number. Upon the Geologic scale and relative to the size and age of the known universe our number and time here may well be insignificant. Upon the scale of our finite pale blue dot however, the global population is now of such a size that in all likelihood our actions are having a significant effect on our capacity to survive.

Just as we might remember our insignificance in the Grand Scheme of Things, we might also remember our significance in the smaller scheme of things too.

Addendum 31st Jan 2007: An editorial in this week’s Nature takes a similar view with regards looking at Earth from space (rather than turning our attention to the moon).

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