My thanks to Ban T-shirts for the above . . . (and my other favourite one: “A frog does not drink up the pond in which he lives”). Both of which bring me to the latest TV offering for armchair Earth fans, Orbit: Earth’s Extraordinary Journey on BBC2.
Ubiquitous and infectiously bubbly TV presenter, Kate Humble, and her more academic co-host, Dr Helen Czerski, took us on a CGI-enhanced journey around the sun aboard our unique and remarkable planet. We were given an insight into how the wind systems and ocean currents help to make our planet the place it is. Without getting too evangelistic about the fragility of the holistic and interdependent entity that is home to life as we know it, the programme contained at least some passing hints that it can all be so easily damaged through human carelessness.
I came away from the programme thinking about the many words that have been written over the years in praise of this extraordinary orb upon which we all dwell. I have quoted Carl Sagan in a previous blog, but I make no apology for repeating the same piece now, as it says it so well. He was moved to write it after seeing a photograph of Earth taken by Voyager 1 at a distance of 3.7 billion miles.
“From this distant vantage point, the Earth might not seem of particular interest. But for us, it’s different. 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 Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.
Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.
The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.
It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”