Pacific Institute Insights

You are Here. Don’t Mess it Up.

By Peter Gleick, President

July 24, 2013

Floating somewhere in the vast emptiness of space is our little planet. Seen from a distance of nearly a billion miles away, it is a tiny blue dot – hardly noticeable. It appears blue, in large part, because of the presence of vast oceans of rare (in the grand scheme of things) liquid water and because of the way light interacts with the thin film of atmosphere coating the Earth’s surface like the skin of a peach. Without these two vital natural resources, there would be no life as we know it.

Until the last few decades, we have not had the opportunity to see our world as a single, unified whole. The first image of the full Earth was taken from space on December 7, 1972 by the Apollo 17 astronauts and helped change the way we see ourselves. It also helped stimulate a nascent environmental movement by bringing home the stark fact that we are not just individuals, or ethnic groups, or nation-states, but a single, isolated planet.


This week, another photograph brought home — even more starkly — both our cosmic insignificance, and the miracle of life in a largely cold, vast, and lifeless universe. That picture, taken by the remarkable Cassini spacecraft circling Saturn, shows the Earth and Moon as tiny points of light. We are those points of light, and if we don’t take better care of our water and climate, the universe will be an even lonelier place.

Look at the picture. We are here and only here. Let’s not mess it up.


Pacific Institute Insights is the staff blog of the Pacific Institute, one of the world’s leading nonprofit research groups on sustainable and equitable management of natural resources. For more about what we do, click here. The views and opinions expressed in these blogs are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect an official policy or position of the Pacific Institute.

3 Responses

  1. [...] Research notes:  New research by USGS in the Chesapeake Bay watershed has found that created wetlands to very little to improve water quality if they are not connected hydrologically to streams and rivers, researchers in Australia studied the effects of over-extraction of groundwater on the rivers and streams in the Murray-Darling Basin, Sandra Postel writes about the new USGS report on the health of the nation’s rivers which includes a biological assessments, the USGS has released an online national atlas that will allow you to travel the nation’s rivers without getting wet, and that fish you ate for dinner has eaten more plastic than you might think.  And as if that weren't enough to give you indigestion, Peter Gleick wants to remind us how cosmically insignificant we are all. [...]

  2. Peter Gleick says:

    Thanks, Maven. Though my point was not really to highlight our cosmic insignificance — in fact, since we’re the only planet with life that we know of, we’re stunningly significant. The more important point was: we’d better do a better job of taking care of this little point of light in the sky.

  3. Anna Pollock says:

    The work your organisation does is very inspiring. I discovered it through watching a brief film on the Winnemem Wintu web site and the help you are giving to the local indigenous community.

    But I would like to suggest that in this article the terms “lifeless” and “lonely” with respect to space and the notion of our insignificance as humans are not necessarily helpful and possibly not accurate. They do, however, illustrate how deep seated the old paradigm of separation and a dead universe has affected our consciousness.

    Space appears lifeless through the senses we chose to deploy to experience it. Even scientists admit to only beginning to understand 4% of what our senses register – the other 96% being dark energy and dark matter and who’s to say those worlds are not filled with a form of life we simply cannot yet see let alone interact with? That’s why I think the work you do with indigenous people, especially those like the Winnemum Wintu who “we” the white. western world have decided are simply invisible, is so important. Indigenous people help us connect with other ways of seeing that also help us experience the fact that we are not insignificant. Humanity for all its faults is on the leading edge of evolution on this planet at any rate and the choices we make individually and collectively will determine the next stage of evolution of this planet.

    Wishing you continued success with your work. This is not a criticism – just a point of view!!

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