NASA-Apollo8-Dec24-Earthrise

SPACE and Environmentalism in The GAIAD

NASA-Apollo8-Dec24-EarthriseI recently had a conversation with an environmentalist author whose mind I very much respect, concerning my assertions on space (and specifically manned spaceflight), and it got me thinking.

Some, who haven’t read The GAIAD yet, might be surprised that space figures prominently in the story. This is certainly my fault—putting the rear profile of a long-haired, well-muscled shirtless man holding an obsidian-tipped spear on the cover. But really, space in The GAIAD is represented as a reflection of my own personal beliefs: we as a species must continue to move outward and explore the ultimate frontier—for the good of ourselves and for the good of our planet.

My friend argued that the space program, with its massive financial and energetic expenditures (as well as the atmospheric pollution resulting from rocket launches), is a luxury that humanity cannot currently afford. I respectfully disagreed with him.

The environmental effects of space-related activities are negligible. They are. Really. The total carbon emissions of SpaceX’s annual launch activities amount to 9/1,000,000,000 (or 9 one billionths) of global carbon emissions. This figure is statistically almost completely insignificant.

The space program represents a shining technological achievement. As I like to mention frequently (including in the book), when people are asked what the greatest achievement of human kind has been, a sizable percentage still answer with, “putting a man on the moon.” As society continues to expand and develop, as all other frontiers have been explored, space remains a beacon and an outlet for something innate and ingrained in us. I remember a film that came out a few years ago, Restrepo by Sebastian Junger and the late Tim Hetherington. The film is a chronicle of a group of young American soldiers in Afghanistan. There is a scene, after a particularly violent combat exchange with the Taliban, in which Junger comments in a voice-over, that the stuff of young men everywhere includes a certain need for adventure, for challenge, for exploits that contain the risk of both glory and death, and that in the past this has expressed itself through war and violence. Junger states that if society is to limit the last two, it will need to find an outlet for this propensity. An expanded effort in space, I believe, could be this outlet.

There is no doubt that the biosphere of the Earth is groaning under the strain of our development. There will come a time when an actual response to the strain is necessitated by us, by our leaders, by everyone. There will come a time when the silence and inaction on the environmental front which is evident today is no longer possible, when the negative environmental effects of our own activities become undeniable and (expensive). Society will then be faced with a choice—to “step back,” shrink back into itself, limit itself, and become a generation of “caretakers,” (as in the film Interstellar), or to move through and forward with ingenuity and effort. The one option is defeatist. The other is a positive expression of the spirit of innovation and creation which are our greatest qualities.

Our pollution of the planet is not a result, specifically, of technological development (of which the space program is an obvious result). Our pollution of the planet is an outward expression of the pollution within. It results from a lack of understanding of the context of our own existence—as the literal progeny of the Earth, our bodies formed from its water and dust. As astronauts frequently say, seeing the planet from beyond it, changes you. When you see it as a finite orb floating singularly in the infinity of the void, simultaneously precious and insignificant, you understand that context; you understand your place in the universe.

Without invoking any specifics that might be considered spoilers, this is ultimately what The GAIAD is about—redefining our relationship with our planet through a new understanding of the context of our own existence. The inevitable conclusion of that context is an expanded human presence in space.


Will Burcher is a former police officer and current author of “The GAIAD,” a story of ancient secrets not quite forgotten and the positive power of global perspective. He lives and works in Colorado, USA.


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