U Thant. Does anyone remember U Thant? Aside from having an interesting and unique name, he was the Secretary General of the United Nations in 1970 when he signed the proclamation observing the world’s first Earth Day. I was ten years old on April 22, 1970 and where I came from (with a view of industrial New Jersey just a block or two from my front yard, and a vast, wooded forest — South Mountain Reservation — literally in my back yard), Earth Day was a big deal. I desperately hope it still is.
In 1990, as the spacecraft Voyager 1 was at the edge of the solar system, it took one last picture, revealing but a speck of light. Earth. It was astronomer Carl Sagan’s idea to turn Voyager’s camera back towards Earth before it sped onward into interstellar space. Referring to our “pale blue dot,” Sagan wrote:
From this distant vantage point, the Earth might not seem of any particular interest. But for us, it’s different. Consider again 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.
Today we have the opportunity and good fortune to reflect on these words, understand our place here on Earth and in the cosmos, and commit ourselves to teach our children to preserve and protect what we have. Today, when I take my dog for his morning walk, I’ll bring an extra bag and pick up the stray pieces of paper and plastic that have been blowing around my neighborhood all winter. Maybe the plastic bag I pick up will be recycled instead of making its way into a storm sewer and eventually into an ocean gyre of garbage. Maybe I can do a small part to make this place a cleaner and better place to be — for me and for you, for my family and yours. Maybe you can do the same for me, and mine.
The choice to appreciate and cherish this pale blue dot is ours alone. Every day is Earth Day, at least as far as Earth is concerned. Earth really doesn’t care what we do to it in the name of progress; it will be here long, long, long after we’re gone. That might be the most humbling thing of all.
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.