Climate Change Necessitates Interplanetary Expansion

By Aashni Rebello and Abhinav Nath Jha | Edited by Nisha Gokhale and Samarth Khanduri

Many people have the wrong impression that inter-planetary expansion is an expensive ‘escape’ from earth’s problems. In reality, it is a way of diversifying human footprint and a long-term means of survival. Space exploration can aid us in solving some of mankind’s largest problems. The technology that we develop in the process of expanding to other planets is advanced and powerful, enabling us to solve various problems on Earth, including climate change and global warming. As Kamala Harris said, ‘Space Activity is climate action.’ Satellites, far above us, were the first to detect changing ocean temperatures and melting glaciers. They made us aware of the rapidly growing hole in the ozone layer. They continue to monitor the level of greenhouse gases (like carbon dioxide and methane) in the atmosphere. This provides us with essential information about a pressing problem and a diverse range of ways to solve it.


It is from space that we are able to monitor forest fires and flooding and in the process, we can increase our preparedness for climate related disruption. Climate and space technologies build off each other such as orbital solar power stations and photovoltaic panels. Therefore, if we really wish to invest in renewable energy, we must invest in space exploration.
Human habitation in different settings and climates rapidly advances science. For example, astronauts have found ways of growing food on the Red Planet, despite extreme conditions. With a rapidly changing environment on earth itself, this knowledge benefits us greatly.
Moreover, as scientists experiment to remove carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases from planets like Venus (in a bid to make them habitable), we can apply the same to Earth as well.

Scientists have numerous theories of how Earth will come to an end and wipe out an entire species; a possible third world war, nuclear weapons or asteroids. If we further expand and colonise other earth-like planets, the possibility of human extinction is almost insignificant. Earth’s problems don’t matter whatsoever, if all sentient beings on it are destroyed. If we are truly passionate about fighting for the issues our community faces, we must do all that is in our power to ensure that there is a community to fight for.

‘We came all this way to explore the moon, and the most important thing is we discovered the earth.’ This statement highlights the most powerful function of interplanetary expansion, ‘as inspiration’. Astronauts report an increased sense of connection and respect for their home planet when viewing it from above. And when tackling a problem as large as climate change, humanity needs a renewed sense of hope. We understand the gravity of the situation here on Earth. We become aware of what earth could become ( when exploring planets with acid rain like Venus), a prospect that shakes us to the core. This strengthens the climate change movement and encourages us to do our bit.

Jeff Bezos proposes another method to tackle environmental pollution and the release of greenhouse gasses. He seeks to gradually transfer manufacturing and other polluting industries to space as a means to protect our planet.

As government funded programmes and private organisations gear up to make humans an interplanetary species, we must support them in their endeavour after acknowledging that in doing so, we aren’t abandoning earth and leaving it to perish; rather we are securing our children’s future. Ferdinand Magellan set sail from Spain with five ships to circumnavigate the world. If he, 500 years ago, had the foresight to look over the seas, shouldn’t we be looking across the stars?

AGAINST

While Climate change is obviously a dangerous phenomenon with its potential to drastically alter the way we experience our natural and biological surroundings, there is also a significant economic cost attached to it. It is estimated that it could take anywhere between $ 300 billion to $ 50 trillion in the emerging two decades to fight climate change. This is a big cost for any Government across the world to undertake. Despite this impending problem, wealthy nations and individuals spend billions of dollars as they try to find ways in which humans could one day inhabit other planets. This occurs even as the climate crisis goes unresolved.

Now many in favor of interplanetary exploration will claim that in the wake of climate change, it becomes necessary for human civilisation to create living spaces on other planets. But, for that assertion to stand true, the premise that the Climate Crisis is non-fixable must also stand true. This is exactly where the quest for interplanetary expansion does not survive the test of logic since climate change can be fixed and evidence shows so. Computer models developed by agencies such as the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency show the possible ways in which global warming can be stopped. The computer simulations were able to offer many routes to achieving zero carbon emissions. The model also showed that if nations stay committed to their publicly declared promises in the Paris Agreement, global warming could be kept under the limit.

Fighting climate change needs earnest and consistent efforts but it can only happen when policymakers are ready to accept that with the right solutions in place, the drastic phases of climate change can be reversed. Yet, if crucial decision-makers in the public and private space refuse to take appropriate steps towards addressing climate change and look at interplanetary exploration as an alternative means of survival, it’s going to benefit only a few people. It is estimated that only the world’s richest 1% would be actually able to afford interplanetary travel. Now, let’s say in a hypothetical situation if climate change remains unacted upon and in decades to come, Earth becomes severely dangerous to be inhabited, only the richest of the richest would be able to jump into their spaceships and look for living spaces on other planets. In fact, in the long run, space travel actually accelerates climate change. The carbon footprint generated by commercial space flights is 100 times higher than a regular commercial flight. A study shows that about 1000 space rockets can generate soot particulate matter that can get collected in clusters at 40 km altitude. The height of this cluster is far higher than in the case of soot generated by regular airlines. As a result of this, the study also found that Antarctica could end up getting warmer by 0.8 degrees C. 

Thus, it is important for powerful individuals and entities to realise that rather than spending resources such as interplanetary exploration that essentially benefits the elites, those resources could be better used to fix the climate crisis and the benefits of such an exercise would not only be advantageous for the current generation in terms of socio-economic benefits but would also contribute to a healthy and sustainable tomorrow for the future generations to come.

References:

Adler, S. (2021, June 9). How much would it cost to end climate change? GlobalGiving. Retrieved from https://www.globalgiving.org/learn/cost-to-end-climate-change/ 

Charles, D. (2021, August 14). Computer models of civilization offer routes to ending global warming. NPR. Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/2021/08/14/1027370891/climate-change-solutions-global-warming-computer-models-paris

Heilweil, R. (2021, July 25). How bad is space tourism for the environment? and other space travel questions, answered. Vox. Retrieved from https://www.vox.com/recode/22589197/space-travel-tourism-bezos-branson-rockets-blue-origin-virgin-galactic-spacex

NBCUniversal News Group. (2010, October 23). New climate change worry: Space tourism soot. NBCNews.com. Retrieved fromhttps://www.nbcnews.com/id/wbna39806493 

 Wattles, J. (2019, July 25). Is the future of space travel just for Super Rich People? CNN. Retrieved from https://edition.cnn.com/2019/07/25/tech/future-space-travel-cheap/index.html

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