THE SAGAN SERIES - The Long Astronomical Perspective


It might be a familiar progression, transpiring on many worlds:

a planet, newly formed, placidly revolves around its star;

life slowly forms;

a kaleidoscopic procession of creatures evolves;

intelligence emerges which, at least up to a point,

confers enormous survival value;

and then technology is invented

In a flash, they create world-altering contrivances.

Some planetary civilizations see their way through,

place limits on what may and what must not be done,

and safely pass through the time of perils.

Others, not so lucky or so prudent,


This is one reason that in the long astronomical perspective

there is something truly epochal aboutnow”…

This is the first moment in the history of our planet

when any species, by its own voluntary actions,

has become a danger to itself,

as well as to vast numbers of others.

We humans have already precipitated

extinctions of species on a scale unprecedented

since the end of the Cretaceous Period.

But only in the last decade

has the magnitude of these extinctions become clear,

and the possibility raised that in our ignorance

of the interrelations of life on Earth

we may be endangering our own future.

Of course we must keep our planet habitable

not on a leisurely timescale of centuries or millennia,

but urgently, on a timescale of decades or even years.

This will involve changes in government,

in industry, in ethics, in economics, and in religion.

Weve never done such a thing before,

certainly not on a global scale.

It may well be too difficult for us.

Dangerous technologies may be too widespread.

Corruption may be too pervasive.

There may be too many quarreling ethnic groups,

nation-states, and ideologies

for the right kind of global change to be instituted.

However, we humans also have a history

of making long-lasting social change

that nearly everyone thought was impossible.

We have often, despite our diversity,

despite endemic hatreds,

pulled together to face a common enemy.

Our leverage on the future is high, just now.

We seem, these days,

much more willing to recognize the perils before us

than we were even a decade ago.

The newly recognized dangers threaten all of us equally.

No one can say how it will turn out down here.

But this is also, we may note,

the first time that a species has become able

to journey to the planets and the stars.

Sailors on a becalmed sea,

we sense the stirring

of a breeze.

(Renewable Energy Budgets)