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.

Peace of the Ocean

“Some folks prefer the mountains, others prefer the river, but I prefer the ocean. As the saying goes, “The ocean has no memory.” It doesn’t care who we are or where we come from, it’s just glad that we are there.”

Witness the waves splashing down on the sand, hear the wind swirling throughout the beach, feel the coolness of the water lapping up against your feet, and experience the solitude that you gain from being by yourself at dusk or dawn with a full view of the brilliant ocean. These are just a few ways that the peace of the ocean can captivate us and keep us coming back for more tranquility. Some folks prefer the mountains, others prefer the river, but I prefer the ocean. As the saying goes, “The ocean has no memory.” It doesn’t care who we are or where we come from, it’s just glad that we are there.

In this increasingly fast-paced world based around complex technology that can be both addictive and time consuming, it’s truly peaceful to get away from it all if only for a short while by taking time to go to the ocean. You don’t even have to get in the ocean but by being near it, I believe it refreshes us, it calms us, and allows us to be left with our thoughts and our memories.

Some folks like to swim, some like to surf, others like to fish, while some enjoy lounging on the beach; in all, there are dozens of options on how to interact with the ocean allowing us to find our own peace by being in the ocean or nearby it. The beauty of the ocean is that every time is a little bit different for the person who goes there. The setting may be the same, but you’ve changed as a person and so do your thoughts, feelings, and desires upon coming to the ocean. You grow older, you change jobs, you move places, you bring new people with you, but the ocean and its bounty never truly changes.

How you interact with the ocean may change too and what you decide to get from it will also adapt but nothing that ever changes is that we all seek peace of our own from this beautiful locale. Regardless of the activity involved, the ocean recharges our batteries, lets us relax, keeps us honest, and allows us to leave our troubles behind for a little while. Because of its restorative powers, it is no wonder why millions of people live by the ocean and why billions around the planet seek to visit it year in and year out.

The ocean is such a powerful part of human nature that we bury our dead there at times, that we memorialize people who made a living from it, and that we honor those who preserved peace when wars were fought over access to it. Humanity is always linked to the ocean and if we do not protect and preserve the ocean, a part of our humanity would be lost in the process. The ocean is a living and breathing thing providing us with the oxygen, nutrients, and food that we need to survive each day.

In return for the calm, tranquility, and overall peace that it brings us, we must do our part to keep it clean, keep its inhabitants from becoming endangered, and making sure that it is around for future generations. When we can no longer fish the waters, swim in the waves, or relax ourselves at pristine beaches, we will lose a piece of ourselves, and we will lose our own inner peace that the ocean cultivates in those of us who go there to rejuvenate and restore ourselves each time.

The ocean gives us peace of mind, peace of body, and peace of spirit. It’s only fair that we strive to give back as best as we can by taking care of it and letting it be enjoyed far into the future. Acidification, pollution, loss of natural habits and pockets of floating trash threaten not only the ocean but the rest of the planet too. We will not be able to have as much as peace if the ocean is dying. When we can no longer fish the waters responsibly, swim in clean waves, or go boating with clean energy, we will suffer a true lack of peace. Our minds and our bodies won’t be at ease if the ocean is not at ease.

The climate change crisis is not just about preserving the planet, but it is also about preserving our own mental peace of mind. The ocean allows us to feel better about ourselves, improve our social relationships, and spend quality time away from work or other commitments. If we lose the chance to enjoy the ocean, that lack of peace will hurt us as human beings. If we can no longer enjoy one of our best natural environments, we will lose a great way to relax, rejuvenate, and recharge ourselves to deal with life’s challenges and opportunities. I hope we can do better in the future to keep the ocean beautiful, clean, and vibrant because I enjoy the peace that it brings me in return.

Museum of Tomorrow (Museo do Amanhã)

Camera: Samsung Galaxy J2 Core

Location: Museum of Tomorrow; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

‘First Reformed’ – Film Review and Analysis

Man’s struggle with God can almost be as endearing yet painful as his struggle against man. If there is one way to sum up the excellent film, ‘First Reformed’, that would be it. First Reformed (2017) focuses on the environment, one’s faith, and the struggle to find hope when things seem rather bleak. “Can God forgive us for what we’ve done to the world?”, a troubled environmental activist asks Pastor Ernst Toller and the Pastor replies to his congregant, “Who can know the mind of God?”

While this movie did not receive any Oscar awards, the acting by Ethan Hawke (Pastor Ernst Toller) and also by Amanda Seyfried (Mary) is excellent as well as the cinematography, the adapted screenplay by Director Paul Schrader which helps this film earn its critical acclaim and some Independent Spirit award nominations as well as one Academy Award nomination. I still believe Mr. Hawke was snubbed from getting an Oscar nomination since this film’s performance was one of the best he has ever done and deserved more praise. In many of his films, I find him to be one of the best actors of his generation and able to produce genuine emotion regardless of the situation his character finds himself in.

In ‘First Reformed’, Reverend Ernst Toller (Ethan Hawke) finds himself faced with difficult questions surrounding his faith, morality, the environment in 2017, and what lies ahead in the future for humanity. These are weighty questions for anyone to deal with let alone a pillar of a community like Toller finds himself to be in Snowbridge, New York as the head pastor for the colonial era First Reformed church that dates back to the time of British colonization and the underground railroad movement later on.

This historical church is seen to be losing its membership and interest and Pastor Toller has to resort to touristic gimmicks and a small gift shop to help make ends meet to keep the church going. There is a noticeable parallel to the decline of Christianity in terms of active members of the Christian church in the United States so a fictional movie such as this one has some real-life parallels that seem plausible. The crisis of faith in churches in certain communities has a coinciding similarity with Toller’s own faith in God and in himself. He is an alcoholic struggling to find meaning and purpose in his life at the beginning of the film.

While making the church more touristy, he has also made the church more spiritual as well instead of its Calvinist origins. He sticks more to sermons than to scriptures and has enlisted the financial backing and ownership of an evangelical megachurch in nearby Albany, New York, which is likely to take over the church in the near future much to Toller’s apprehension. As we go through the film, we peel back the curtain on who this pastor is and like any of us, he has his own personal flaws and past sins but has also suffered for them and wishes to make amends in some way.

We find out that Pastor Toller lost his son, Joseph, recently while serving in the Iraq War and feels guilt for having told him to enlist having come from a military background himself as a chaplain. During that difficult time, he committed adultery and started drinking but also found his faith again to then become a pastor at First Reformed after going through grieving his son’s loss. However, a chance encounter with one of his congregants and his wife puts his faith in God and humanity to the ultimate test.

Mary, a devout congregant and believer in God and her skeptical husband, Michael, a stern environmentalist and becoming increasingly radical meet with Pastor Toller separately in their house. Mary has concerns about Michael’s well-being and tells the Pastor they expect to have a child soon. Michael is sincerely struggling with the fact that he will be a father soon when the world’s ecosystems are steadily collapsing, sea levels are rising, and the effects of global climate change are to be felt beginning in the next few decades. For any of us watching this pivotal scene including Pastor Toller himself, there are no easy answers from God or from man either regarding the future of humanity. Ernest finds it difficult to comfort Michael but asks to keep seeing him and to look out for Mary and the unborn child.

This particular scene leads to the rest of the film’s deeper dive into the effects of capitalism and greed on the environment as well as the relationship between big industry and religious institutions. Pastor Toller’s awakening from meeting with Mary and Michael leads him to questioning why the environmental situation is so dire, who is responsible for it, what can be done to stop it, and how far should measures be taken. Because the Pastor has no easy answers for Michael, he starts looking for them and is obviously dismayed by what he finds out regarding the local environmental situation in his community and how greed, industry, and the lack of stewardship for his community have led humanity down towards an unsustainable path.

Without spoiling the film, The Pastor struggles with what he can do as one individual to counteract the forces aligned against good stewardship of the planet and what a person can do to draw attention to the problem. Not only is there a crisis of faith in God but in each other and what is being done to the only planet we have ever known. The Pastor, with certain health issues related to alcoholism, is reconciling with the fact that he is mortal and what kind of impact he wants to leave behind.

He is comforted by the fact that Mary is still a believer in the future and wants to have a child even with the future of the planet looking relatively bleak. Pastor Toller knows however that he has the responsibility now to hold those accountable for their actions whether it’s the Evangelical church, a big industrialist doing environmental damage, or even himself when he strays from helping those in his congregation who need it the most.

‘First Reformed’ poses a lot of weighty questions and it is an extremely timely film in terms of its messages and themes. It is bleak because it has to be and raises a lot of issues that we have neglected regarding the environment and now we may be finding that time to make a difference in this escalating problem is running out. ‘First Reformed’ asks us how an ordinary man of faith yet a pillar of the community so respond to those in his congregation who are in despair regarding environmental damage and destruction.

How far should he go and how radical should he be to get people to listen and understand what is being done? Can love and faith overcome the desire to do harm and take revenge against those who have sinned against the planet? Like any good film, there are no easy answers and the director does not condone or condemn the thoughts or possible actions that Pastor Toller weights leading up to the climax of the last scene.

What this film does an excellent job of is warning its viewers about the consequences of greed, ignorance, lack of stewardship, valuing profits over the health and well-being of people, and the unholy alliance of organized religion and big industries. There are numerous fingers to point at regarding the worsening state of climate change going on in the world currently but perhaps those who watch this excellent film will realize that the finger should be pointed at ourselves first about the damage being done. Perhaps that kind of introspective thinking is what it will take for massive external action to occur and for the worst of the consequences to be avoided.

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