Pale Blue Dot

Earthrise. Mike Maltais/QCH

Pale Blue Dot. Courtesy

In our house we have a place we call the Blue Room named for its sky-blue painted walls. My writing desk is there, and a large bay window facing the eastern sunrise fills the space with light. The other day the clouds were oriented such that a shaft of light slanted through the window and when I paused to look closer at it, I noticed a speck of dust dancing in its path.
The scene reminded me of one of my two favorite photos from the age of space exploration. One is Earthrise, that iconic look at our planet captured by astronaut William Anders from his 1968 lunar orbit aboard Apollo 8. A copy of that photo rendered in needlepoint hangs on the wall above my computer screen.
The other, Pale Blue Dot, was taken by Voyager I in 1990 when, some 3.7 billion miles from the sun, the spacecraft was instructed by NASA to snap a photo of Earth. It was a last look back at its point of launch as Voyager left the solar system on its journey into interstellar space. In it, the Earth appears as a mere pixel caught in a shaft of sunlight and it is arresting to see the magic place we depend on for our existence appear so tiny and vulnerable.
About that blue dot the late astronomer and cosmologist Carl Sagan said:
“Look again at that 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 week I watched the speck of dust was also the week Russia invaded Ukraine. It is one among 27 armed conflicts going on around the world as I write this. So, I looked again at that dot…
The late Jim Morrison – Mr. Mojo Risin’ – songwriter and lead singer of The Doors once said: “No one here gets out alive,” later used as the title of a biography about his life. The quote by itself is more than a little prescient.
Time, like the planet’s resources, is a commodity we once treated as though there was an abundance of it. Now, we are running out of both. For the first time in our history, we are face-to-face with the real prospect that we will not leave a better planet, only bigger problems, for our children. The threat from climate change is real enough that more than one set of parents is debating whether they want to bring a baby into the world what awaits it.
Journalist David Wallace-Wells wrote an essay titled “The Uninhabitable Earth” for New York magazine in July 2017 that became the most read article in the publication’s 54-year history. If you read it online ( you will understand why.
On Feb. 28 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its most alarming report yet which says, to sum up in a sentence, climate degradation is accelerating faster and with greater consequence than previous studies indicated. And those previous were troubling enough.
If our species continues its genocidal diversions that consume our energies, humanity, and destiny there will come a period when, as Thomas Rainwater of the Broken Rock tribes predcts in the popular series Yellowstone: “Someday this planet’s going to shake your world off its back like dirty water.”
Should that come to pass we will all become refugees, but this time on a planetary scale, with no place left to run, no place to find safety and sanctuary.  

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