By Dr. David Laing Dawson
Recently our Hamilton Spectator published two op eds side by side. One espoused going back to the moon and staying there (a permanent research settlement), and the other argued for Mars. I pondered the short-sighted craziness of this at the time but it didn’t come into stark relief until I saw the news item that India had just launched a rocket to send a rover to the moon, specifically to one of the lunar poles.
70 percent of the population of India does not have access to toilets. They urinate and defecate in the open. Might not that be a higher priority? Of course the people at greater risk with no plumbing are poor women and poor children, not politicians, engineers and scientists and the CEO’s of the new private space industry.
For humankind to aim for a colonization of the moon and/or Mars implies a great endeavour, a great adventure, requiring enormous resources and cooperation. Presumably this endeavour would be led by NASA, with the help of Canada and numerous private companies. And then one day in the future we can all be staring at our TV screens, this time 55 inch 4K LED screens, when the first astronaut of this century takes that one giant leap for mankind. But we better be watching indoors because it will be too hot and stormy outdoors and we better have strong locks on those doors because there will be millions of people from now uninhabitable parts of this earth trying to get in.
Last night I watched part of a pleasant CBC production telling me how I might reduce my carbon footprint. Right down to how many times I have to re-use a glass bowl before it becomes better than disposable styrofoam. Guilt inducing, quaint, nicely Canadian, but oh so silly.
And then I read an article about how many trees I need to plant each year to cover just my own personal carbon output. There was some disagreement on the numbers but on the low end it almost looked doable, that is if each of us had the space and resources to plant 400 trees with life spans of 80 plus years.
So, it looks like extinction for the human race, and most animals, within a few generations, preceded by years of crises, suffering, and conflict, if we, collectively, don’t reduce and control our CO2 emissions.
And here is the question: Why on earth can we not turn those space travel resources into a “Manhattan/NASA” project to save the world? Bring together all the management skills, engineering skills and scientific knowledge in one place (of course today it doesn’t have to be physically one place) to come up with the best possible comprehensive plan. We are (some would say we have run out of time) running out of time for our grandchildren.
And sure, include world wide education for how each of us can personally reduce our carbon footprint, and of course tell us how we can move quickly to non carbon producing forms of energy, but also take a realistic view of natural sequestration of carbon (trees), and all the proposed and possibly viable artificial means of capturing carbon and either burying it or using it. And in this mix don’t forget population control.
We humans have a very poor track record when it comes to self denial for the sake of the human race, but we can be quite astonishing when we decide to build something, or do something never done before, or repair something, or save something. This time it is the planet we need to save. Let’s get on with it.