The Pale Blue Dot
A wise man once said, “Astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience”, perhaps because of the enormous scale of the observable universe and the countless number of stars and galaxies, planets and their satellites, asteroids, comets, and meteors around us. Somewhere amongst these billions and trillions of stars lies a planet, which is the only one known to harbour life. The planet we call Earth! Earth is everything we know, the only place we have been able to call our home for generations upon generations. In an iconic image taken by the spacecraft Voyager 1, on 14th February 1990, Earth appears like “a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam”. That is how insignificant we all are! As Dr. Carl Sagan once said in his outstanding speech, “Our posturing, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the universe are challenged by this image. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark”.
Humans have colonised Earth for over 5 million years. This is when the first apes roamed the earth, long after the dinosaurs were extinct. Humans evolved from these apes and in their quest for survival, eventually had the epiphany of “self-awareness”. Since then, humanity has come a long way. Unfortunately, with our advances in science and technology, our ego and arrogance have only increased exponentially. Ideally, the image of the pale blue dot and the insignificance of Earth in the great enveloping cosmos should bring out utmost humility in most of us.
But how many of us look at it in this way? How eager we are to prove our might in the world, how eager we are to show our accomplishments, how eagerly we put others down so that we can reach the top? It is not like we achieve something enormous out of it. As Dr. Sagan puts it, “Only to become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot.”
The reason we keep going back to Dr. Sagan is because we believe that his speech should play out in our minds every time we think of thumping our chests with our achievements, and every time we think we have excelled at something and are the best in the world.
Yes, achievements give our life some purpose and encourage us to go further, but to what extent? Are we destroying our own planet, our only home, in our quest to become the best in the world, to become an insignificant champion of an insignificant speck of dust in the massive Universe? How much further do we have to go before we realise that in destroying Mother Earth, we are actually destroying ourselves? Surely all of us know by now that Earth, so far is the only planet known to harbour life. Yes, the brilliant minds of humans may have found other planets and even sent spacecraft to visit them, but we are yet to discover any planet that is suitable for supporting life. Whether or not we like it, at the moment, we are alone, and we have only our dearest Mother Earth to live with. All this makes the question “Should we take care of Mother Earth?” deserve more introspection.
The so-called advances that humans have made in Science and Technology have shot our self-importance and self-grandeur through the roof. We hear the term “Save the Planet” very often nowadays. The very notion of humans having to “Save the Planet” is the height of arrogance portrayed so defiantly by humanity. We were born onto this planet; we did not create it! The planet is not going anywhere, it will outlive us by millions and billions of years. We are only guests on this planet and not its masters, as we currently treat it. The true master of Mother Earth is Mother Earth herself. She can shake us off like dust if she wishes!
Throughout history, we have seen that extinction of species is common. There have been five known extinctions until now and experts firmly theorise that humanity is carrying out an ongoing sixth. We have seen through the ages that whenever a species is taking things too far and trying to master Mother Earth, she never allows it. Mother Earth always has the last word in her own existence. Perhaps humanity has not reached that stage yet, and perhaps that is why she treats us well. Oh, she throws tantrums, like creating earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, famines, and other natural disasters. But in the end, I believe she feels pity on us and keeps her children alive to survive another day. Humans however, return this favour by dumping toxic waste in her rivers, pollutants in her air, plastics in her oceans, nuclear debris inside her belly and so much more.
Certainly, Mother Earth deserves better than this! Humans have taken her for granted and the ultimate price will be paid by them. Humans can kill all her flora and fauna, pollute her rivers and her oceans without even the slightest amount of worry, but ultimately, we shall be the ones to suffer the consequences. It is about time that each one of us wakes up from this false sense of security. It may not be too late to think about what we are doing. It may not be too late to gradually move back into harmony with Mother Earth, to give her something useful in return for all that she gives us. After all, it is only humans that can do this consciously. As intelligent beings, it is only us who can motivate large swathes of humans to do good things for our planet, the only place we know as home.
Going back to Dr. Sagan one last time, “In all the vastness of the universe, there is no hint that help will come from outside to save us from ourselves.” As Dr. Sagan so poignantly puts it, the enemy of humanity is humanity itself! It is time we realise and understand clearly, “We do not need to save the planet. We need to save ourselves!”