Earth Day Challenges Us To Cherish That Pale Blue Dot
The 'Pale Blue Dot' is a photograph of planet Earth taken on February 14, 1990, by the Voyager 1 space probe from a record distance of 6 billion kilometers.*
"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..." - Carl Sagan, American astrophysicist and author.
Today is Earth Day, when we celebrate the pale blue dot that Carl Sagan was moved to write about after he saw the blurry image from a photograph the Voyager 1 space probe had taken. Voyager 1 was heading farther into interstellar space at the time when this photograph was taken. Shooting these images were not originally planned, but Sagan, a member of the Voyager imaging team at the time, came up with the idea of turning the spacecraft back toward its home for a last look. Voyager 1's gesture was all too human, a kind of final farewell to the planet, which led Sagan, who also created the popular documentary Cosmos in the 1970s, to write an emotional essay about our place in the grand scheme of things. He reminded us eloquently and indelibly that our island home is indeed a finite and limited resource.
This Earth Day, 150 global leaders will sign the COP21 Paris climate agreement, a legally binding and universal accord on climate that aims to keep global warming below 2°C. This historic agreement, said to be the biggest international climate agreement, will begin to start changing the way more people think about their surroundings. It's no easy task to ask a country that depends on oil exports, for example, to sign a treaty condemning fossil fuels. From a business perspective, fossil fuels are affordable and abundant. Attempting to wean our societies off cheap, abundant sources of energy takes fortitude and commitment. It can also be very difficult for a government to enforce a climate agreement because the business of this pale blue dot is business.
Yet there are several encouraging instances of government endeavor. Just to cite an example, the oil-rich emirate of Abu Dhabi built an entire community - Masdar City - in the middle of the Arabian desert to showcase alternative, sustainable energies. I think it's fantastic that an oil-rich country uses some of its wealth to develop wind farms, solar technology, and even green roofs that keep the buildings below them cool, with the vegetation blocking out the sun's oppressive heat. It's been said that if a part of that very same desert about the size of Austria were to be outfitted with solar panels, vast amounts of the Middle East could live off the energy those panels collect.
Recently, Elon Musk, CEO - Tesla Motors, announced that the company has received 400,000 orders for its Model 3, a sedan at USD 35,000, which can reach a range of 215 miles per charge. Thus, showing the world that sustainable transportation is an actionable near- future. In 2014, Tesla had released its patents to public for "the advancement of electric vehicle technology".
I am an optimist and have immense faith in power of the collective - of governments, businesses, influential private citizens, and the common people. While many are skeptical about the symbolic celebrations of various 'Day's through the year, these are bringing about unimaginable consciousness about our planet as well as a sense of the collective. Take the instance of Earth Day itself. It was first celebrated on April 22, 1970 - at a time when 'environment', 'pollution', 'green energy', etc., were discussed only in academic circles. Today, in its 46th year, Earth Day has started a culture of environmental awareness and protection on a global scale. And brought together leaders from 150 countries to put into action a tool to fight climate change - for real.
These are times of great endeavors and optimism for planet Earth. In many ways, we seem to be getting the perspective of Voyager 1 in 1990 - that this Pale Blue Dot is ours, to keep and cherish.
*Image sourced from: http://occamslastrazor.com/2015/carl-sagan-storytelling-and-the-pale-blue-dot/