The Synergy of Space and Earth
Choosing between environmentalism and space exploration is an illusion.
A perennial discourse on the hellish social media app known as Twitter is the ethics of colonizing space. One of the more respectable concerns, even if ill-founded, is the idea that colonizing space will somehow diminish efforts to solve climate change, by diverting resources and/or making people think Earth isn’t worth saying. This sort of thinking is deeply misguided — rather than work against each other, space exploration and environmentalism are capable of synergy.
Many of the problems are not as dissimilar as people might think. For instance, a Moon or Mars colony would need to be energy efficient to have any remote chance at survival until a more developed presence is established on the planet. The same research into ways to make that possible can be applied to solving the energy crisis here. Better batteries and more efficient solar panels would help humanity no matter what cosmic rock their feet rest upon.
Technologies that help make the harsh environment of Mars more habitable could very easily help rehabilitate the environment on Earth. Scrubbing carbon dioxide from the air is just as useful when it is to reverse emissions as it is to keep a spaceship habitable.
The fundamental question asked by both the climate crisis and space exploration is quite simply: how do we ensure these environments are hospitable to life? Even if in one case it is preventing the worsening of the environment and, in the other, it’s making an extreme environment habitable — it all ultimately is a battle between life, between humanity and the forces too extreme for us to survive unaided.
This precedent is not new, it’s based on actual history. The Space Race represented a time of unprecedented advancement in technology here on earth, thanks to the massive research and development efforts proving useful in more than just the environment of space. More poetically, it was the photos of Earth taken from the Apollo missions that are credited with helping inspire the growth of environmentalism in the first place.
Until the Space Race, we had never, as a global society, looked at ourselves in the mirror. We were all a disparate web of countries, ethnicities, and individuals. But nothing puts it into perspective how in all of this together we all are like the perspective of space — something astronauts have often remarked happens on a far more profound level than even a photo could provide.
The terrestrial benefits of a renewed focus on space would extend far beyond environmentalist ones as well. The Space Race ushered in massive advancements in numerous fields like medicine, communication, and transportation. The satellite, which we take for granted here on Earth when it comes to everything from keeping the world connected to keeping us from getting lost via global positioning satellite, only exists because of the massive investments of time and resources in space.
When the profound technology-advancing technology of space exploration is properly understood, it instead looks less like a distraction and the very literal moonshot we need to take humanity to the next stage of development, both here at home on Earth and through the cosmos.
There are worthwhile discussions to be had about the ethics of letting billionaires like Elon Musk possibly turn space settlement into Neo-feudalist societies, but this should not dissuade us from our pursuits but instead show us the importance of making it a public endeavor we all are inspired by rather than a playground for billionaires.
In so much popular media, young kids are depicted as dreaming of becoming astronauts. While it may be easy to dismiss such a dream as a fantasy of naive children unconcerned with the problems here, perhaps it is an important dream after all — one that could play a part in saving the world, because, as the Space Race has shown before, often the best solutions to simpler problems become apparent when you are forced to solve more complex ones.