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One Pale Blue Dot Suspended in a Sunbeam Paul Mortimer reflects on the years gone and to come

One Pale Blue Dot Suspended in a Sunbeam

Paul Mortimer reflects on the years gone and to come

by Paul Mortimer, Contributor
first published: December, 2023

approximate reading time: minutes

As a New Year dawns, Paul Mortimer asks world leaders, politicians, corporations - everyone - to work for a better world, to give us hope for a happier, healthier, more tolerant planet. All we need is L O V E!

I’ve taken those phrases used as my title from an evocative cosmic observation written in 1996 by astronomer Carl Sagan. In 2024 - well over a quarter-century later - it resonates just as soundly to me as when I first encountered it. That’s all we are, all our planet represents within the vast scale of the cosmos – a pale blue dot, suspended in a sunbeam.

Perhaps the renewal of New Year makes us reflect on the past and look to the future - but I can readily relate to Mr Sagan’s thoughtful, even profound view of Planet Earth, as seen from up there in outer space.

I find Carl’s piece a very moving perspective on how we should (must!) view our planet, our home - the unavoidable responsibility that humankind has unto itself and to all life, the environment, our destiny. Can we change, adapt, improve, reconcile, to build more unity, understanding, and tolerance?

I’ve reproduced Carl’s essay at the foot of this article and hope you will find a similar empathy. Read his essay first if you wish, or carry on reading me; my message only tries to echo and reinforce his observations. Responses may span from desperation and anger, to logic, hope and defiance; please let’s strive for a better world.

Neither Sagan or the rest of us have a clue as to whether anyone or anything out there is observing us! As Carl says: “There’s no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves”.

His message is as vivid as ever, now we find ourselves habituated to horrendous images broadcast live daily, from current conflict zones in Ukraine and the Middle East. Television and the internet have ‘normalised’ a seemingly unending presentation of destruction, devastation, displacement and loss – twisted wreckage, debris and mourning families, in every news bulletin.

Friends know that I relate strongly to music, gigs, records - and at least I have that as an escape from the philosophical and political conundrums of all these heart-rending earthly troubles and tribulations. Music might not change the world but it can alter attitudes, sound the alarms, bring about cultural renewal. Earth-dwellers do have their fate in their own hands.

As I came to think about the scale, scope and distance with which Sagan viewed our troubled planet, it cast me back to when (decades before the internet), the miracle of global television broadcasting was achieved for the first time; when it was a more innocent, enjoyable experience

It’s not such a leap for me (or mankind!) - maybe a small step, to merge Carl’s hopeful treatise with landmark humanistic messages of yesteryear - for instance, when The Beatles shrank the planet in June 1967, singing “All You Need Is Love”, during that very first worldwide television transmission broadcast from London SW13, to an audience of 400 million across five continents.

That performance took place well over half a century ago, which is just a fraction of the blink of an eye in the space-time continuum.  I’m old enough to have witnessed the wonder and mystery of the Fab Four’s satellite broadcast - and then, only two years later, I watched the epochal manned Apollo moon-landing mission, which saw us ‘conquer’ another world. A live broadcast - from another planet!

A space-age technological revolution was under way back then; now we’re ushering in another one. A I is seemingly capable of everything, from reviving and refining John Lennon’s long-lost vocals from a dusty cassette tape, operating countless mechanical processes and minimising manual work, to accurately conducting complex medical diagnoses. Can we control it? Will it control us?

The Beatles’ unstoppable momentum and global appeal, even through the plaintive message of that timeless 1967 song, couldn’t convince mankind to behave better and to treat one another kindly.

Neither has John & Yoko’s later Christmas peace appeal - on ‘Happy Xmas (War Is Over)’ - ever been heeded, after they declared that ‘War is over, if we want it’…

There are so many other resounding messages sent to our leaders – for instance, we had Marvin Gaye’s classic Motown social-eco-conscious classic, ‘What’s Going On?” in 1971. Bemoaning police brutality and poverty, and exposing the fragility of the planet through environmental damage – Marvin’s message is way over 50 years old, as well! “Mercy, mercy me, the ecology” … indeed.

His soul brother, Curtis Mayfield, repeated the warnings a couple of years later in “Future Shock”; yes – another (unheeded) appeal for sanity which is over 50 years old, come 2024:

“We got to stop all men from messing up the land
When won't we understand this is our last and only chance
Everybody, it's a future shock”.

Will (can?) human nature change, or will Mother Nature retaliate and consume us?

Yet, we forlornly await decisions and actions to demonstrate how our glorious ‘leaders’ aim to put an end to the never-ending territorial, economic, political and religious squabbling and the accelerating environmental damage and depletion. They carry the responsibility to look after our home, that tiny blue dot.

It’s high time - in this miniscule moment in space and time - for those vain, greedy, treacherous, self-interested people whom we (sometimes) elect - to look after our best interests, to respect us, and our Earth - our only home. Love is all you need.

Happy New Year!

Below: from Carl Sagan, May 11, 1996:

“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, every 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 spark 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 harbour 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 bigger demonstration of the folly of human conceits from this distance of our tiny world. To me, this 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”.

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