I Act on Behalf of A Pale Blue Dot

July 29, 2011

by Anne Sjolander, Intern – Advancing Green Building Initiative

(This post is part of a weekly series by the Second Nature team about why we do what we do.)

I act on behalf of A Pale Blue Dot. (Remember this for later)

When I was younger I was always terrible at answering the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

The first time I recall responding to that question was in the 4th grade. At age 9 my school thought it a good time to publish all of our prospective career paths in the year book. I wrote runway model and was greeted by the shrill laughter of my supposed friend sitting next to me. So, not wanting to look like a fool, I panicked and changed my reply to Wheeltor. What, you may be wondering, is a Wheeltor? Well it is a profession derived from a sad attempt to spell Realtor. Needless to say, they did not publish my response.

In high school I decided my future career path would be the anti-career path known as being a nomadic free spirit. Not wanting to disappoint my parents, I decided to complete my college degree before growing dreadlocks and wandering off into a field of sunflowers. So I checked off the undecided major and continued on my path to Boston University.

Once there I attended an array of classes such as archaeology, art history, drawing, world music and yoga classes, but nothing struck me as a topic to dedicate my life to. THEN, I took Astronomy. I didn’t fall in love with the subject, but it provided me with a great sense of perspective. The first week of class I was introduced to the words of Carl Sagan…

In 1990 the Voyager 1 reached the outer limits of our solar system, turned around and took a picture of our planet.

Yup. It’s a small world after all.

Carl Sagan proceeded to enlighten me with his Pale Blue Dot speech. I would summarize the speech, but it is far too amazing for me to describe. So here it goes…

“We succeeded in taking that picture [from deep space], and, if you look at it, you see a dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever lived, lived out their lives. The aggregate of all our joys and sufferings, thousands of confident religions, ideologies and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilizations, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every hopeful child, every mother and father, every 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 in 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 the dot on scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner of the dot. 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. It is up to us. It’s been said that astronomy is a humbling, and I might add, a character-building experience. To my mind, 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 and compassionately with one another and to preserve and cherish that pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”1

Let it sink in.

Pretty epic, right?

These few paragraphs changed my approach to life. There is something truly beautiful about being minuscule. As Carl Sagan points out in The Varieties of Scientific Experience: A Personal View of the Search for God, life and intelligence are most likely commonplace, however when one observes our solar system it becomes clear that life is not so common that it inhabits every world. There may be life on millions of other planets and we may be seemingly insignificant, but we are still unique. Life is an exception in the universe, so, as my fellow intern Adrien said, why not? Why not try to preserve and cherish our planet and our species? After all, what could be a more primal instinct than survival?

I wouldn’t say this is why I work (the word work has always implied drudgery to me ever since I spent my teen years working in a dry cleaners ). However, I would say that this awareness of our world’s delicacy and the marvel of its ability to hold so much passion and diversity is why I persist, explore, strive and love.

I may still not know what I want to be when I grow up, but I do know why and how I want to act. I want to strive every day to live my life in a way that is beneficial and compassionate to our little, speck of a home. I want humans to cherish the beauty of our species’ and earth’s diversity. I want us all to strive to be better people and members of our “mote of dust suspended in a moonbeam”. My path to this goal is in spending my days committing myself to the field of sustainability; a subject that I would say holistically strives to make every part of this world better. For this reason, I respect and support Second Nature’s efforts.