Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Happy Holidays & Hope for an Earth, Rising in a Universe of Energy

Dear People: It's actually a rare day when I walk around down town and don't have someone come up and tell me how much they appreciate my work--and particularly these emails to you. Thank YOU all for your warmth, support, questions, concerns, frustrations, and joys. Happy Holidays to you all!

One practical note: There are no meetings that I'm involved in until the new year, so I also won't be having my office hours until that time either--and, be forewarned, they may change, as my schedule changes again with the new school term.

In lieu of a seasonal card, I want to link you to a message of realism and hope in today's New York Times, from science writer Oliver Morton, who asks us to reflect on Major Bill Anders' famous "earthrise" photograph, often credited with spurring the modern environmentalist movement. That photo helped us see our Earth as a small, gorgeous, blue, warm, and fragile cradle in a dark, cold universe. Morton, today, argues that, yes, the earth as a habitable planet is in danger from the effects of human-created/exacerbated global warming. But he also suggests, in beautiful, Ecclesiastical imagery, that a deeper, broader understanding of life and the immense flow of energy that we're a part of--e.g., the fact that "The Sun delivers more energy to the Earth in an hour than humanity uses in a year"--shows us the way forward:

An unending spate of pure luminous energy pours from the Sun in all directions. Eight minutes downstream at the speed of light, part of this extraordinary flux crashes down on the Earth in a 170,000-trillion-watt torrent. Some of it splashes back into space; Major Anders's "Earthrise" captures that reflected light in the brilliant white of clouds and polar ice. Most, though, is absorbed; this is the energy that drives the winds, makes the waves and currents flow, heats the rocks and warms the sky. The Sun's energy flows through the earth system and out the other side, ebbing back into the coldness of space as a tide of infrared radiation.

A very small fraction of this energy is caught, not by rock and wind and water, but by life. That fraction of a percent captured by plants and other photosynthetic organisms flows into and through the food webs of the world. It is this sunlight, endlessly refreshed, that allows the grass to grow, the birds to sing — and you to live. The Sun's energy flows through your breakfast cereal, your morning coffee, your veins and your mind. It animates you as it has animated almost all the Earth's life for billions of years.

We can, if we work hard, use this energy--develop real, sun-rooted methods of fueling our lives. Morton concludes:

"Earthrise" showed us where we are, what we can do and what we share. It showed us who we are, together; the people of a tough, long-lasting world, shot through with the light of a continuous creation.

Recently Japanese astronauts captured this, to me, even more stunning picture of earthrise (the picture I've posted above). Let's take these words and images of our gorgeous, blue, sunlit world forward with us, as icons of hope and responsibility, into the new year.


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