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Space Wars: Earth’s Hunger, Climate Change & Conflict to Be Exported to Galaxy?

We are not doing a good job of taking care of the planet we inhabit. In fact, we are doing a spectacularly bad job.

Published
Opinion
4 min read
Space Wars: Earth’s Hunger, Climate Change & Conflict to Be Exported to Galaxy?
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(The Quint brings to you 'Khairiyat', a column by award-winning author Tabish Khair, where he talks about the politics of race, the experiences of diasporas, Europe-India dynamics and the interplay of culture, history and society, among other issues of global significance.)

The excellent Indian novelist, Samit Basu, whose oeuvre embraces science fiction, recently tweeted, “Somehow researching space travel led me to a set of insane videos about Steven Seagal.” It made me think that actually, I belong to the small minority that considers space travel insane by definition.

Not ‘insane’ in the American manner – like ‘awesome’— both words accompanied by the sound of bubble gum popping. But ‘insane’ in the old-fashioned sense of crazy, mad, bonkers, mostly accompanied by a foreboding silence. The last time I made this point I was attacked by droves of human beings who, in 19th-century language full of words like ‘progress’, ‘development’, ‘science’, relegated me to a decade somewhere between the 6th and the 16th centuries. But I persist in my opinion.

I persist to point out that space travel is insane in our world; that is, on the planet Earth. Let us look closely at Earth.

Snapshot
  • About 15 million tonnes of plastic end up in the oceans every year. Almost one out of ten people in the world (8.9 % or 690 million people) go to bed every night on an empty stomach.

  • Surely, we need to set our own house in order before we start grabbing at space with our greasy little fingers.

  • For the rich, space travel offers another adventure and the possibility of a new version of the gated communities from which they dump their garbage all over the earth.

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Plastic in Oceans, No Roof Over Heads

About 15 million tonnes of plastic end up in the oceans every year. Plastic comprises more than 75 per cent of all marine debris and poses great hazards to most marine life forms. While extinction is a part of earth’s history, as is life, we are currently experiencing the sixth mass extinction, when around a thousand species are disappearing every year. This rate is accelerating, and, unlike in the past, it is largely due to “human impact”.

Almost one out of ten people in the world (8.9 % or 690 million people) go to bed every night on an empty stomach. Since 2014, this number has been steadily rising, despite the fact that the earth produces more than enough to feed the entire population of the world. Actually, roughly in the same period, the total production of primary crops increased by 53 per cent, hitting a record high of 9.4 billion tonnes in 2019. Also roughly in the same period, 8 million to 9 million people have died every year from hunger and hunger-related illnesses.

The earth, currently, has at least ten people with individual fortunes of around 100 billion dollars per billionaire. In contrast, it also has, according to the United Nations Human Settlements Program, 1.6 billion people living in inadequate housing, and more than 100 million people with no housing at all.

As 1 billion contains a thousand million, and as the dollar carries a huge weight in Asia, Africa and South America, where most of the homeless live, these top ten billionaires can provide a roof for each one of the 100 million homeless people without spending more than 10 per cent of their individual fortunes.

This is not a practical suggestion, of course, but it helps illustrate the world we live in.

We Have Been Ridiculously Bad at Putting Our House in Order

Wikipedia listed forty ongoing wars and conflicts in the world in 2020, each with deaths of a hundred or more. There were three major wars in 2020: Yemen, Afghanistan, Sudan/Ethiopia, each with more than 10,000 deaths. Now, I suppose, the needless Russian war in Ukraine can be added to the list. Of course, this list is in no way complete: the Mexican Drug War actually had the highest death toll in 2020, with over 50,000 deaths. But it is not classified as ‘war’ as the deaths were murders and gang killings. There are lots of those, too.

I can go on adding to this list. But I think my point is clear. As a species, we are not doing a good job of taking care of the planet that we inhabit. Actually, we are doing a spectacularly bad job. We are not even doing a good job of taking care of our own species. It appears that we tend to litter the earth and use and destroy things without consideration for it or for others. It appears that we are very bad at solving the contradictions of our societies and, to put it simply, at moderating our passions and tempers.

Surely, we need to set our own house in order before we start grabbing at space with our greasy little fingers.

I think there should be a law against a species like the Homo Sapiens taking its dirt, clutter and potential vileness to other planets. It is insane to allow us to leave this earth until and unless we learn to take good care of it.

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Adventure For the Rich, Insanity for Others

But the rich, and those funded by the rich, love to talk about space travel. For the rich, it offers another adventure and the possibility of a new version of the gated communities from which they dump their garbage all over the earth. Science is touted as a defence. But Robert Oppenheimer, the ‘father of the atom bomb’, was by no means the first or the last brilliant mind to be deeply perturbed by the dangers that scientific inventions used for power could pose to humanity.

Yes, I know that the desire for space travel is also human: we all like to gaze at the night sky and admire the stars. Except that with the dozens of satellites already launched and the 1,500 satellites shot out by Elon Musk, with 8,500 due, a lot of what we may now see twinkling in the sky is not a star but a satellite, soon to become junk. We can no longer see a night sky of stars and planets. And that, too, I think, is insane.

(Tabish Khair, is PhD, DPhil, Associate Professor, Aarhus University, Denmark. He tweets @KhairTabish. This is an opinion article and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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