Saturday, January 24, 2009

Our Paradise in the Void

Earth and the Moon from the Voyager 1 spacecraft, 1977.
Image courtesy of NASA

Number 1 in a series
by Robert Burke

Why shouldn't the Earth be the best possible place it can be?

Earth is our bright, shiny Paradise in the Void. As far as we know, the Earth is the only planet capable of supporting human life.

Even though we hear of so-called "earth-like" planets in orbit around distant stars, and may some day confirm the presence of water or organic life on other planets within our own solar system, the Earth is the only habitable planet that is available to us NOW. The Earth may also be the only habitable planet that is EVER available to us.


"There is no magic. The only way to move something from point A to point B is to get up and move it!" --Peter Townsend

The Earth provides opportunities for our survival but does not guarantee it. Survival must be earned. There is no magic. If all of us were to sit on our behinds and do nothing, dehydration would render the bulk of the human race extinct within a week. No angels would appear to provide us sustenance, no furry forest animals would come to our rescue, and no space aliens would come down from the skies to "beam us up" and save us.

The real magic is that life, and intelligent life, exists on this planet. The real magic is that we exist. And we survive not by magic, but by engineering.


Flip a light switch and we have instantaneous light. To persons living a few hundred years ago this would be magic indeed! We take it for granted and expect that it will always be there. Many of us may be so far removed from the source of the technology that we have very little understanding, or appreciation, for how it works.

If the light comes on when we flip a switch, it means that somewhere there is an electric power plant. That power plant runs twenty-four hours a day. It is likely fueled by coal, nuclear energy, or hydroelectric power. A network of transmission towers carries the power from hundreds of miles away to our cities and local communities. Power substations then distribute the power through transformers and power lines to our individual homes.

If there is a break in any part of that grid, then there is no light when we flip the switch. Magic will not supply power to the light. Only engineering will restore the power and keep it running. That's how the world works. It's physics and it's engineering, not magic.

The point is, magical beings will not save us. (1) Wishful thinking will not save us. It is good to have hope for a better tomorrow, but hope in the absence of intelligent, determined action is not a strategy for success.


So how do we solve our problems? How do we solve global warming, pollution, overpopulation, war, poverty, and diminishing resources?

The answer involves suffering. The case is not that suffering is good, but that it is necessary to induce change, for without suffering there is no will to change. Here in the United States, before $5 a gallon gas there was no will to avoid gas-guzzling SUVs (Sports Utility Vehicles) and trucks. High gas prices got out attention.

Economic collapse has gotten our attention. Melting ice caps, glaciers, and extreme weather has gotten our attention. Incompetent political leadership and corrupt corporate management has gotten our attention. And so it goes. Without suffering nothing changes.

Suffering inspires change, and change is necessary because we can't solve our problems by doing the same things we've always done.


For all the problems and challenges ahead of us, the good news is that we have an immense opportunity to make our world a better place.

There is nothing like having a fire under our butts to inspire creativity! There is nothing like a common disaster to bring us to all together. There is nothing like direct pain and suffering to cut through the hubris and noise of our lives. There is nothing like a struggle for survival to focus on the things that really matter.


The Free Dictionary ( defines "paradise" as, "A place of ideal beauty or loveliness." But if you go back to earlier meanings of the word, it means a "garden" or "enclosed park" (Greek) or "a wall enclosing a garden or orchard" (Iranian). (2)

When you look at the Voyager 1 photograph of the Earth and Moon, what do you see? What does our beautiful blue orb look like there in the uninhabitable darkness of space?

Compared to everything else in our solar system and everywhere else we know, the Earth indeed does look like a garden or park! The Earth is an absolute treasure in a very inhospitable universe.

Why shouldn't the Earth be the best possible place it can be? There really is nowhere else to go, no other place for human beings to reside. This is it. And it's the only "it" there is.

So what is an "Earth Paradise?" What would that look like?

It's not a perfect place. Accidents and natural disasters will continue to happen. Strife between people and nations will still occur. It's how we deal with those things that must change.

"Earth Paradise" is a place where the air is safe to breath. It's a place where water is safe to drink, and man-made pollutants of all kinds are kept to their absolute minimal. It's a place where we don't burn fossil fuels to provide energy to our homes and businesses.

"Earth Paradise" is a place where every person is free to become his or her best possible self, and where diversity of culture, ethnic origin, and gender is recognized for the enrichment that it provides to the whole.

"Earth Paradise" is a place where people "agree to disagree" without resorting to weapons of destruction and violence. It is a place where the highest form of opposition is simple non-participation.

"Earth Paradise" is a place where human beings understand the necessity to contribute to the common good. It is a place where we become true stewards of the Earth, not only for ourselves, but for all the bio diverse organisms with whom we share this planet.

Is this all naive, or impossible? No.


Earth can become a paradise for all of its inhabitants. Overwhelmingly, the problems and challenges we face are created by people. People can find solutions to these problems, or find ways to adapt to them, or workarounds to avoid them.

What must change are the hearts of men. The hearts of men will change when the pain of NOT changing becomes greater than the pain of changing.

When change becomes a necessity of survival, people will change. When change becomes the path of least resistance, people will change.

When change becomes the best product for the best price, people will change.

When change best serves personal greed and self-interest, people will change.


We do not have any other choice than to solve our problems. We have to be smart. We have to be determined. We have to work together.

INTELLIGENCE, DETERMINATION, TEAMWORK--these are our opportunities; that's how human beings solve problems. That's how eons ago our ancestors, without fang or claw, survived the long night of the predator on the plains of Africa. There have always been challenges to our survival, and we have always overcome them.

WE WILL SOLVE the challenges of our day. There is no other choice.


(1) Personally, I like to believe in a higher power, and that the higher power has a grand purpose for the human race. I like to believe that angels watch over us and sometimes intervene in human affairs.

Those are comforting thoughts that nurture the spirit and provide balance in a world that sometimes threatens to overwhelm us. Something in us needs to feel that connection to the universe and to something larger than ourselves.

Even so, for the most part I believe the world simply works the way it is supposed to work--that is, the way God intended it; and if there is some problem that needs to be solved, then it's up to you and me to solve it together, also as God intended.

(2) The Free Dictionary,

Copyright Robert Burke 2009

1 comment:

  1. One thing I think you've hit upon here is the idea that people don't change unless their current situtation becomes less comfortable than the prospect of changing (the role of suffering). We learn and grow by failing...and by getting back up to try again.

    And you can't save people from themselves...not your spouse, your kids, your coworkers, your siblings, or anyone else.

    These ideas are at the core of every great hero story. Often, the hero is in a situation they don't want to be in. They face a trial or test, and they may even appear to be defeated. But they don't give up, and eventually emerge victorious.

    So instead of waiting for someone to save us, we need to be our own heroes. We need to lend a helping hand to others. We need to choose the hard path,the road less traveled.


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