Logic tells us that there must be intelligent life somewhere other than Earth. We are pretty sure that none of the other planets and 175 moons in our solar system currently supports advanced life. However, with recent technological advances, we’re now able to expand our search to planets orbiting distant stars. Scientists have already discovered over 4000 of these worlds, these exoplanets, and undoubtedly there are countless more. Just in our galaxy, the Milky Way, there are some 400 billion stars. Are there planets circling all of them? No one yet knows, but even if only half have planetary systems, that’s a lot of places for life to exist. Then, consider that there are, perhaps, 100 billion galaxies. Mathematically, it doesn’t make sense that our tiny planet is the only place in the universe that supports sentient life.
But, suppose, that’s the case. Suppose we really are alone in the vastness of space. I guess it would be rather odd because there’s really nothing special about our star, the Sun. It’s really very average. And though the Earth is clearly beautiful and diverse, our neighboring planets also fill us with endless amazement. We’re really not that special among the endless celestial bodies. Yet again, since we’ve yet to find civilization elsewhere, and we’ve yet to find a place that has all of the animal and plant life that surrounds and nourishes us here on Earth, maybe we’re as special as can be.
And that’s why it is so disgraceful that we are not doing much, much more to counter the damage we are causing to our global climate. Every month I write about the beauty of the night sky from the perspective of my backyard. But I wonder, if I were so lucky to live somewhere else in space, what would I see if I were able to look back at my home planet, to observe the Earth from Mars, perhaps, or from our moon? Would I notice the disappearing Arctic ice? Would I be able to discern the melting of the glaciers? Could I measure the increase of carbon dioxide and methane in the atmosphere, and the decrease in urban water supplies? I wonder if I’d be able to see how warming ocean temperatures have caused the bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef. Would I have the means to peer through the shrouds of smog that degrade the health of so many? What would I think if I could focus in on deforestation? And, if my astronomical machinery could pick up sound, would I hear the dire warnings that beg the leaders of the countries that are most responsible for climate change to understand that the window to address these issues is rapidly closing?
So, here we are on this very special planet at a very special time. There are probably many thousands of places where life flourishes. But we’ve yet to find proof that is so. It may just be us among the billions and billions of stars. Of all the magical and awe-inspiring places in the universe, we may be the most magical and awe-inspiring. And that’s why, let’s be truthful, as painful as that can be, that it is so heartbreaking that we are wreaking havoc upon our home and upon ourselves. We are so easily and willingly diverted from what we must do. Sixteen-year old Greta Thunberg has said it best: “We are in the beginning of a mass extinction and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you?”
Let’s rejoice in our specialness. Let’s truly appreciate the fact that among everything there is, our planet may very well stand alone. We keep looking for, and finding, new objects in the heavens. We stare at an image of a black hole and marvel at the universe’s endless array of wonders. But we really don’t need to look beyond our own backyards, beyond this tiny planet. There really is no place like home. How dare we not protect it?