Monday, April 22, 2013

Musical Monday - This Island Earth by The Nylons

Today is Earth Day, first established in 1970 as a collaboration between environmental groups in an effort to work together towards their shared goals, but the tradition of American conservationism goes back much further, at least as far as Theodore Roosevelt who established the first national parks. For Earth Day, I'm choosing the fairly obscure song This Island Earth by the moderately obscure group The Nylons as my Musical Monday selection, because the song makes clear what a precious thing our world is.

No matter where one falls on the political spectrum, it is incumbent upon us to preserve and protect the planet we live on, because there's really nowhere else to go if we screw it up so much that it becomes uninhabitable. Short of nuclear annihilation, we probably can't destroy life on Earth, but we can probably make it so inhospitable that we couldn't live here any longer, and barring some fairly spectacular advances in technology, there no where else that is accessible that we could flee to.

See that dot? That's us.
In my opinion, the fragility of our world is no better represented than this picture, taken by the Voyager I spacecraft from a distance of about six billion kilometers away. In the vastness of space, our Earth which seems in our everyday experience to be to vast and imposing, is revealed to be a tiny and vulnerable speck hanging in a vast and inhospitable vacuum. Earth is so tiny that in this picture, one has to add an arrow pointing it out or the planet gets lost in the background.

To us, the Earth seems immense, but it is not. It is small, delicate, and easily wrecked. I think that Carl Sagan said it best in his book Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space, explaining our place in the cosmos, and exposing the urgent need to treat our only refuge with a little bit more respect than we otherwise might:

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 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. 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.

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.

Previous Musical Monday: The Twilight Zone Opening Theme
Subsequent Musical Monday: Doctor Who Opening Theme (1974-1981)

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