It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.
Carl Sagan, The Pale Blue Dot (1994)
In 1990 the NASA satellite Voyager turned around as it was leaving our solar system and took a picture of Earth. The picture shows our planet as a tiny dot in the middle of an expanse of darkness.
An advisor to NASA, astronomer and astrophysicist Carl Sagan, had suggested that this photo be taken in order for us to gain perspective on our place in the universe. When he later spoke about this picture, he was perhaps unaware of how renowned the speech would become. 20 years later and his words are even more relevant.
It is these words that inspired Darren Hall, Manager of the Green Capital Partnership, to set up a membership group called The Pale Blue Dot Org in January of this year. The phrase “to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot” resonated with his desire to encourage the work being done in Bristol on one planet living, i.e. living within our environmental limits.
The group’s primary aim is to develop community leadership in sustainable development. At the heart of this is a learning programme delivered in partnership with The Schumacher Institute. This course is led by Martin Sandbrook, Director of Education Programmes at the Institute, and is a ‘mini’ version of the MSc in Managing Sustainability and Uncertainty that the organisation offers.
Members of the organisation are invited to join this course to learn about sustainability and, in particular, how everything we do is part of a system that in some way is connected to everything else.
Darren says that he wants The Pale Blue Dot Org to “mobilise and motivate groups of people who want to act together to achieve one planet living. It has been incredible to see our first cohort come together to learn and explore issues as a group, as well as undergo some deep personal developments. I am really excited to see what happens with our second cohort due to start in October.”
“I wanted to know if my own organisation could make a difference in the sustainability field…”
Juliette Randall, Chief Executive of Arnos Vale Cemetery Trust, has worked for civil service for 29 years. Darren invited her to join the course; they had worked together in the past at the Government Office for the South West.
Juliette’s role in Government Office was to support the Voluntary and Community Sector, working with groups to help them develop their voice. In 2011, she found that she could accept voluntary redundancy and decided that this could provide her with the opportunity to move into the voluntary and community sector. She felt that she had gained the skills to make a difference.
Juliette saw the job opening at Arnos Vale and went for it. The site was in her local community and she appreciated the benefit that it brought to the whole of Bristol and wanted to be a part of it.
Juliette decided to join the course as she was quite new to her role at Arnos Vale and was keen to meet other leaders and people with influence in Bristol, especially those in the sustainability movement. She also wanted to know whether her own organisation could make a difference in this field.
She comments: “For me, one of the main benefits of the course was the ability to have conversations with people who have more experience in the environmental sector in Bristol. Hearing the variety of other people’s perspectives was useful, as was beginning to understand other peoples’ worldviews.”
“I came away with a better appreciation of environmental issues and the impact on Bristol, as well as the passion for the green agenda in Bristol.”
Juliette also notes that the course explores leadership in an interesting light:
“Many of the participants were already leaders in their own right so it was not so much about developing these skills as it was about developing a network and exploring what leadership means – you can’t be a leader on your own, you need people around you. A sole crusade helps no-one.
“The Pale Blue Dot Org has enabled me to develop a network of people that I could contact to discuss professional problems and issues.”
She hopes that the course will help individual leaders be empowered in their roles and within the sustainability agenda and that networks form to keep making things happening in Bristol – enabling personal development to help the whole of Bristol.
Darren Hall comments: “I am really pleased that the first cohort came together so well and am looking forward to seeing the second group begin to build these kinds of links and relationships. I am a strong believer in the importance of strong networks for successful leadership.”
By Emmelie Brownlee