Thoughts on Carl Sagan’s ‘A Pale Blue Dot’

“This effort will only intensify in the years and decades to come as we go from being space-bound again to even Moon-bound and Mars-bound with our eyes set forward to being a galactic species.”

Carl Sagan’s ‘A Pale Blue Dot’ Speech

As much as we try to ignore it, pay it no thought, or just let it fade into the background of our priorities, Planet Earth is our only current and future home. When I say ‘future home’ as well, I may be met with some skepticism given the exciting recent events in putting man and woman back into space with success. This effort will only intensify in the years and decades to come as we go from being space-bound again to even Moon-bound and Mars-bound with our eyes set forward to being a galactic species.

However, while this excitement is commendable and our goals of being an interplanetary species a revolutionary event that could transform human life, I think we all need to remember that even though this effort to touch down on other planets including Mars may be a decade away, it will be quite a while still where people in large quantities can explore, live, and settle down in a planet not named Earth. You can practically guarantee that by reading this article in the year 2022 that it is very remote that we will be able to see humanity transcend Earth to live on other Earth-like planets in our lifetimes.

While I personally believe that Earth in our galaxy is not the only habitable planet, finding one that is, being able to go there, and then sustaining ourselves there will be the challenges of not years or decades but centuries forward. It is a noble pursuit and one that is likely to occur in the far future. My concern during this renewed era around space travel and interplanetary focus is that we stand to lose our only planet’s hospitable climate while we try to find others like the current one, which we are so blessed to have.

Multiple reports out there especially recently cite that we may be past the point of no return already when it comes to pulling the planet back from the depths of climate change activity already in motion. Our Planet Earth or as the great Carl Sagan would say, the ‘Pale Blue Dot’ is in danger of only having a century or less left where it is hospitable for humans to live there comfortably. Natural disasters are clearly getting worse, droughts, wildfires, flooding, torrential downpours culminating together to create something out of a Biblical prophecy on top of the fact that the Polar ice caps melting has accelerated alongside unseasonably warm temperatures in the Arctic.

While we marvel at putting impressive rockets into space that can land vertically after being thousands of miles away, our planet is going through a stage five fire alarm and basically ringing the warning signs for us to collectively do something about the current climate crisis. We do not know how fast this crisis will accelerate and how bad it will get and when it will be unsustainable for Earth to be a hospitable planet, but we can measure that in decades and not centuries. We race to get to space and to find a hospitable planet other than our neglected and vengeful home of record, but we are at a disadvantage in my view. We do not have centuries to fix our climate crisis, but mere decades or even a decade as some have argued. Our ability to find an Earth-like planet for which humanity would have to relocate in mass would not take place for centuries and not decades.  

I am not writing this article to solve the climate crisis or to illustrate what we all should do to combat it; I believe we know what to do in our lives and what we should tell those in power to implement but rather my fear is that we have lost sight of the importance of why Planet Earth is so precious and worth fighting for. There is no better illustration of the gravity of our current fight to save Earth than the humble video recorded speech of the late famous American astronomer, Carl Sagan, who summed up the sheer importance of why ‘here’ or ‘Earth’ matters so much in the grand scheme of the Cosmos. “That’s here. That’s home. That’s us.”

The ‘A Pale Blue Dot’ speech by Mr. Sagan highlights the totality of how Earth captured the human experience from across the globe among the tens of billions of people who lived on our planet including every hunter, forager, creator, destroyer, king, peasant, mother, father, and hopeful child. Everyone who has existed has lived on Earth on a ‘mode of dust suspended on a sunbeam.’ Mr. Sagan highlights the cruelties and violence that we have committed and continue to commit against each other to control a small part of the ‘pale blue dot’ we call Earth. The delusions of grandeur, the great ego we all struggle with, and how we think of ourselves as greater than the vastness of space and the endless infinity that surrounds us outside of our banal conflicts and glories.

Carl Sagan makes the point that in 2022, “The Earth is where we make our stand.” We can visit other planets like Mars or our own Moon, but we cannot live there yet. Mr. Sagan highlights the need to preserve and cherish ‘the pale blue dot’, which is still the only home we have ever known. To be kind to one another, to treat one another with respect, and to realize that the significance of our lives and of our place in the universe is quite minimal when you consider the vast never-ending spectrum of the cosmos. The Voyager 1 took the photo of the miniscule ‘pale blue dot’, otherwise known as Earth, over thirty years ago on February 14th, 1990, which inspired Carl Sagan’s speech and then book on what it means to see Earth from space to realize how small yet precious it is to have our home in the galaxy, and that it is the only known one we have in our universe.

As much as we try to distance ourselves from the fact that we are quite small and insignificant outside of ‘pale blue dot’, we occasionally should use that photograph to remind ourselves of how significant the Earth is to humanity and how we would not be surviving as a species without it as our home since the dawn of man and woman. If we choose not to preserve and protect for future generations, it will be a sad day with ancestors henceforth will have to leave a dying Earth to hope for a ‘better’ world, which may not even exist for us. All the love, death, goals, hopes, dreams, pain, pleasure of what it means to be human has taken place on our only home of Earth. The speech was a wakeup call to people in 1990 to take our only home of Earth more seriously and it will continue to be that clarion call for 2022 and beyond as the warning signs grow louder and more ominous if actions are not taken to combat the climate crisis.

While the movement to preserve Planet Earth has been around since at least the 1960s with the growth of environmentalism, Sagan’s ‘pale blue dot’ speech has inspired and continues to inspire those of us who realize how grave of an existential threat climate change is to humanity and how vital it is to protect this only home of ours. Sagan would not argue with those people who are trying to get us into space currently and to the parts unknown of our galaxy, but he would also remind us not to neglect our only home, not to abandon it to certain devastation, nor destruction, and to fight to keep it as a hospitable home for future generations. “Every human, who has ever lived, has lived on Earth,” he makes clear in the ‘pale blue dot’ speech and if the Earth is thriving, humanity will also have the chance to thrive too.

See the Stars

“If you are going through troubles in your life, I believe it can be comforting to see the stars not only to realize that while our problems are serious and need to be dealt with, it is also good to realize the beauty in things and nothing is perhaps more beautiful than a clear, night sky where you can see the constellations, the full moon, and even a shooting star if you are lucky.”

One nightly ritual that should make a comeback is to see the stars. A simple yet effective way to remember our place in the universe and how small we really are when it comes to the cosmos. If you are going through troubles in your life, I believe it can be comforting to see the stars not only to realize that while our problems are serious and need to be dealt with, it is also good to realize the beauty in things and nothing is perhaps more beautiful than a clear, night sky where you can see the constellations, the full moon, and even a shooting star if you are lucky.

While not likely under the traditional definition for a ‘meditation experience’, I think that you can definitely get lost in your own thoughts or perhaps stop thinking for a while as you concentrate on the brightest stars or the allure of the full moon. Instead of thinking about your problems and your worries, you can try to map the ‘Big Dipper’ or ‘Orion’s Belt’, which can be a fun activity not just for you but for your loved one as well.

In our modern, fast-paced world, it is increasingly difficult to find places or open spaces where light pollution has not clouded the stars or has kept us from fully appreciating the sheer number of stars, galaxies, and planets out there in the universe. If you live in a major city or even a big town, light pollution as well as other forms of pollution have likely kept you from appreciating the stars in their full capacity. I honestly believe that shutting off the city lights or the town’s lights for just a few minutes for some simple star gazing would ease a lot of people’s anxieties, stresses, and worries as they look to the heavens to see the possibilities of what lies beyond humanity’s reach.

In my opinion, looking at the stars is more humbling than scary, more illuminating than disturbing, and more beautiful than dark. A clear sky on a full night is a precious gift and one for which we should all appreciate in those little moments of peace that we can make for ourselves in our daily lives. Not only is it healthy for you to relax, to grab a chair, and even make a snack over the fireplace while you appreciate the stars above, it’s a great way to bond with your family and your friends.

Sadly, you may need to take a vacation to a rural country home or to a mountain chalet in order to be able to immerse yourself in stargazing. Most of us around the world live in densely populated communities and cities where finding the stars is as difficult sometimes as finding the sky during the day due to the various forms of pollution. However, it’s good in general to go to quiet spots from time to time where the air is fresh, the water is clean to drink, and the stars are bright to enjoy nature in its fullest.

From open country fields to the mountain tops, there are still places out there in the world that are isolated from civilization and where you can really appreciate the stars at night. It may take effort and money to do so but it’s worth it to be introspective and to think about what could be out there, what it could be like to explore those different planets that may be habitable to man, and how cool it would be to be up in space where gravity is non-existent and where you can see how small and unique our little blue planet really is.

One tip that you should consider using to fully appreciate the stars is a really good telescope that can zoom in to see certain constellations and planets at a really high resolution and for which you can eventually become good at making a map over a week or a month of where they are located at in the night sky. Telescopes are the best tool for also seeing shooting stars or seeing what stage the moon is in during its monthly cycle. It can be a worthwhile investment if you live in a rural or unpopulated area where the night sky is always clear, and the stars are abundant to see.

Being able to appreciate the stars is a simple joy and one which is overlooked in a fast-paced world. However, I believe it is good for the soul and for our peace of mind. Looking at a full night sky has different meanings for different people but for me, it is reassuring. It’s nice to know what what we consider astronomical problems here on Earth are actually not that big in the grand scheme of the universe.

We should try to keep our small place in the universe in mind when we consider the scale of our own Earth-based problems. While it’s a definite fact that we must make our own planet more livable, freer, more just, and cleaner, we also have to acknowledge that we are most likely not alone in its great expanse. Our place in the universe and even in our own Milky Way galaxy is so tiny that we can’t help but appreciate what could lie beyond our planet and that maybe one day we will finally be able to find out what’s out there and to reach further for the stars than we did before to find out, once and for all, if we are truly alone in the universe and also what Earth-like planets would be there for us to discover and perhaps live on?  

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