Saturday, April 21, 2012

Earth Day: Revisiting that pale blue dot

As we celebrate Earth Day, I thought I’d revisit an article I wrote on October 2, 2009, as we tried to rise above the destruction caused by typhoon Ondoy, and as Pepeng made its way this time to wreak havoc in the mountains of the Cordilleras and nearby low-lying provinces. Here is that article:

“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.”
Carl Sagan said that. He was talking about a photograph taken by that NASA space probe, Voyager 1. The photograph, perhaps unless explained to its viewer, may not make sense at first glance: a dark background with a scattering of tiny specks and a ray of light that runs vertically through the middle, and barely visible somewhere on that ray of light, is a pale blue dot: Earth. That space probe was launched in 1977, originally with the primary intention of visiting Jupiter and Saturn, but currently on an “extended mission to locate and study the boundaries of the universe.” Upon Sagan’s constant prodding, and after completing its primary mission, on Valentine’s Day, 1990, NASA decided to command the probe to turn around for the last time and take a photograph of our home from 3.7 billion miles away. And there was home… “a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.”

It does put things in a different perspective, doesn’t it? Zoom in on that blue planet, zoom in further on the biggest continent in that planet, and zoom in even more on that collection of roughly 7,000 islands – somewhere in those islands, in a place they call Metro Manila, hundreds died and thousands were left homeless.

A weather disturbance that occurs here and there and every now and then on this pale blue dot brought in so much rain which resulted in unprecedented flooding in the area. It was, on that Saturday, Sept. 26, 2009, a great equalizer. It did not spare anyone, it did not choose between rich and poor, good and bad: powerful politicians, celebrities, common folk, it didn’t matter. Everyone was helpless.

You may think so highly of your position in government, or your popularity as a celebrity, but in the eye of “Ondoy,” you’re just one of billions of this mote of dust’s inhabitants, and in that instant your life mattered just as much as your neighbor’s noisy mongrel. So the next time you are deluded into believing that you are so great and powerful, privileged and untouchable, remember that during that one stormy day, you felt the same way everyone else did: small and powerless against the power of… what? Just a combination of some amount of warm and cold air spinning in one direction and coming your way.

After collecting donations and distributing all those relief goods (go ahead, put a sticker with your name on it if that makes you feel good about yourself), after caring for someone other than yourself for one brief moment, and after getting our lives back together again, remember that just some hundreds of meters above and your face cannot be recognized anymore. A few kilometers away from earth and your home cannot be distinguished from everyone else’s. Just a little beyond the earth’s atmosphere and you’re not even a dot anymore. And from 3.7 billion miles away?

Carl Sagan further said, “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… 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.”
There’s something, someone, out there that, who, is so much bigger than you are and will ever be. Call it what you want… I believe it’s God. And if there’s one lesson that can be learned from all this, for me it’s this: Remember your place in this universe. There’s so many ways you can make your short visit on this pale blue dot matter.

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