Wednesday 28 September 2016

Keep the third rock from the sun tidy

Published 15/08/2016 | 02:30

The Apollo 11 astronauts (L-R) Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Edward
The Apollo 11 astronauts (L-R) Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Edward "Buzz" Aldrin Photo: REUTERS

I always liked the title of the television series Third Rock From The Sun. It tells it exactly like it is. We are one of many living creatures who inhabit this rock which has been hurtling through space for a few billion years and will continue to do so for a very long time whether humans are along for the ride or not. In about five billion years time the sun will well up and devour this planet.

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Very few people have got a good look at the earth by getting far enough away to see the spherical rock that we live on. One of the first was Michael Collins on Apollo 11 which, on 20 July 1969, reached the moon. Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong left the Columbia and went for a walk on the moon while Collins had time to think as he orbited alone. "The overriding sensation I got when looking at the earth was, my God, that little thing is so fragile out there," was the way he put it. A Space Shuttle astronaut, Sultan bin Salman bin Abdelaziz Al-Saud, put it this way, "The first day or so we all pointed to our countries. The third or fourth day we were pointing to our continents. By the fifth day we were aware of only one earth."

How much longer we inhabit this planet depends in part on how well we behave ourselves. We are not very good at really understanding the fragility of our home. Which brings me to the annual Tidy Towns competition. It began life in 1958, more than a decade before we put a man on the moon and long before we even thought about global warming. When I travel around the country I avoid the motorways and amble through towns and villages and each year the standards of how the many communities present themselves gets higher. You see groups of people who take pride in where they live out working early in the morning and again in the evenings. Local authorities are in on the act and these days one roundabout looks more splendid than the next. While some people might think that this is just cosmetic change that does nothing about the larger issues our planet faces, then I beg to disagree.When you get involved with water and plants and insects and birds and slugs and rabbits you must see the interconnectedness of living things. It can only move us nearer to the philosophy of 'leave only a shadow' as our impact on our world.

Neil Armstrong died in 2012. Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk on the moon is 86. Michael Collins who watched from above is 85. All three estimated that their mission had about a 50/50 chance of success. The press releases to announce a tragedy were already written. Three brave men, better qualified than most to comment on the fragility of life.

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