Primary Source Report – KW

Carl Sagan at “Caring for Creation” panel host by the North American Conference for Religion and Ecology

In trying to understand the environmental views of Carl Sagan and how he expressed them I am looking for his presentation of those views from a variety of platforms. Sagan was an outspoken atheist and so his presence at this conference speaks to his willingness to bridge the gulf that sometimes exists between scientific and religious communities. As Sagan is introduced the man providing the introduction describes an effort to unify scientific and religious opinion around the subject of global warming as a “new threshold” and proceeds to describe Sagan as being all about new thresholds, dubbing him “Mr. Threshold.” Sagan begins his presentation by linking nuclear war and global warming as ways in which humans have become a danger to themselves. In short this source does three things for me: provides an expression of Sagan’s views on global warming, links those views to the other existential threat of nuclear war, and expands my knowledge of who Sagan has worked with in his environmental advocacy. In keeping my eye open for what is absent in regards to issues of equity I note that the panel is entirely white and male.

Obituary for Carl Sagan in the journal Nature

Obituaries encapsulate how a person is remembered and what they are remembered for. This obituary recognizes Sagan’s environmental work. It mentions his concerns over global warming and the ozone layer, but primarily focuses on his efforts in regards to nuclear winter. I believe I may be able to draw some conclusions about how Sagan was viewed at the time of his death if I find several obituaries. If I draw those obituaries from different sorts of publications I hope to get an idea of how groups with different interests could have viewed him differently. Obituaries also recount the work of someone’s life and can try to weigh that work. This obituary points to articles in Parade magazine as Sagan’s “greatest public influence.” I was not aware of the scale that he wrote in Parade and had no idea that his output here might be comparable to his over means of communicating his views.

Transcript of Carl Sagan global warming Christmas sketch on SNL

This sketch feels like it positions Sagan as the fun killing nerd archetype. I consider SNL an interesting venue for Sagan’s communication of his global warming concerns, I am conflicted over the presentation of this sketch. It also features Sagan tossing paint on another cast member’s fur and repeating the phrase “fur is murder.” This is a sideline to the main topic of global warming, and I believe it could be indicative of how other environmental concerns were secondary for Sagan.

Carl Sagan’s keynote speech at the 1990 Emerging Issues Forum

Sagan is introduced as a “compelling and influential spokesman” on environmental issues. This is an event organized by the state of North Carolina and is presented on NC public access television. Sagan opens by highlighting the challenge to addressing global warming because of the scale, complexity, and lack of immediacy between cause and effect. He discusses how interplanetary exploration informs science more broadly, and how the lack of evidence for life on other planets highlights the value of our own world. Combined with the evidence for extinctions in the Earth’s past the continued survival or humanity should not be taken for granted. Sagan presents solar power as a solution to reliance on fossil fuels.

Carl Sagan, Cosmos, book and TV series

Sagan, Carl. Cosmos. New York: Random House, 1980.

Sagan, Carl, Druyan, Ann, Soter, Steven., Andorfer, Gregory., McCain, Rob., Wells, Richard J., and Kennard, David. Cosmos, a Personal Voyage. Heaven and Hell, Blues for a Red Planet. Collector’s ed. Studio City, CA: Cosmos Studios, 2000.

Sagan, Carl, Druyan, Ann, Soter, Steven., Wells, Richard J., and Weidlinger, Tom. Cosmos, a Personal Voyage. Encyclopaedia Galactica, Who Speaks for Earth? Collector’s ed. Studio City, CA: Cosmos Studios, n.d.

Cosmos presents Sagan’s concerns for global warming and nuclear war alongside a history of science that is also founded on Sagan’s particular understanding of anthropology and the history of the human species. This combination forms the grounds for Sagan’s philosophy of meaningful cosmic connection that is based on science rather than religion or hazy spirituality. “Heaven and Hell” shows how the study of other worlds informs an understanding of the specialness and fragility of Earth’s environment. The threat of societal destruction recurs throughout the series and book. The collapse of ancient western civilization is set as a warning for the possibility that global civilization could also be destroyed. Sagan lays the blame for the earlier collapse at the feet of an “unjust society” that practiced slavery and did not freely disseminate knowledge. Sagan says that contemporary society is at risk from nationalistic “chauvinism.” Sagan tells his views on extraterrestrial intelligence in the episode “Encyclopedia Galactica”. In considering that intelligent life may be extremely rare he proposes the possibility that societies with the technology of the 20th century may be prone to eradicating themselves through the power of their technology. This possibility is realized in a dream sequence in which Sagan returns from an exploration for intelligent life across the galaxy to find that intelligent life on Earth destroyed itself in a nuclear exchange. The series concludes with Sagan presenting the image of Earth as a pale blue dot, seen by a Voyager spacecraft from beyond the orbit of Saturn. He presents the image as conveying how important and fragile our world is, while it also emphasizes how insignificant or conflicts are. This image is at the least a reinforcement of the whole Earth images of the Apollo era, and perhaps it brings that perspective to a different level by having the Earth exist as an indistinct speck only a few pixels across.

Tags: Nuclear, Global, Air, Environmentalist, Popular Culture