Last week, members of the United States Senate Commerce Committee proposed a bill in support of NASA’s mission to establish a colony on Mars, one that would prevent any upcoming government from interfering with the $19.5-billion NASA authorization package and which calls on the space agency to develop a plan for human space exploration that includes, “a critical decision plan to expand human presence beyond low Earth orbit, including to cislunar space, the moon of Mars, the surface of Mars, and beyond.”
Sponsored by Senator Ted Cruz, the bill has so far garnered bipartisan support and is expected to be passed this week, to the delight of NASA officials. “We’re closer to sending human beings to Mars today than anyone anywhere” has ever been, says NASA administrator Charles Bolden. Said Sen. Cruz, “This NASA reauthorization bill brings us one step closer to reasserting American leadership in space by ensuring NASA has the certainty it needs to continue to grow and improve upon what it does best: lead the world in space exploration.”
Sorry to burst the collective space bubble, but the planet we really should be focusing on is underneath our feet.
Times are critical in the fight against climate change. The price tag for a climate turnaround has been marked at around $40 trillion between now and the year 2050, which means the world community of nations needs to come up with about a trillion and change every year in order to do the job.
Times are critical in the fight against climate change. Experts say that in order to keep global temperatures from rising more than two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, the world’s fossil fuel-based economies need to be completely transformed to low-carbon alternatives within the next few decades, meaning that concerted efforts to tackle the problem need to be ramped up within the next five to ten years.
The price tag for this turnaround has been marked at around $40 trillion between now and the year 2050, which means the world community of nations needs to come up with about a trillion and change every year in order to do the job. Will $19 billion from the United States be enough to count as its share? Not by a long shot.
But that’s not the issue.
The point is that U.S. space exploration serves as a prime example of what can be done when a nation -more accurately, its leaders- gets behind an idea and run with it. At the height of the space race of the 1950s and 60s, the U.S. government poured a whopping 4.3 per cent of its federal budget into NASA programming, all to be the first to get a man on the moon.
Was there objection and consternation over the expense? Obviously. The money got funneled through, nonetheless, and, today, it’s clear that we need the same sort of commitment -from the U.S., but also from Canada and everyone else- in order to turn back global warming. That same 4.3 per cent of the U.S. budget, for example, would be around $160 billion by today’s standards – not fully equal to the U.S.’s share of the climate fix, according to some, but getting close.
While a good majority of mid-20th century Americans supported the general idea of space exploration, only about half of them actually felt that the lunar missions were worth the expense.
Yet, the public appetite for big investment in climate change doesn’t seem to be out there. A new poll by the Energy Policy Institute (EPIC) at the University of Chicago and the Associated Press -NORC Center for Public Affairs Research states that while a substantial 65 per cent of Americans surveyed believe that climate change is a problem that the U.S. government should address -at a rate of 84 per cent of Democrats versus 43 per cent of Republicans- a dismal 42 per cent stated they were not willing to pay $1 extra a month on their electricity bill in order to combat climate change.
The mood in Canada isn’t much better. A poll conducted earlier this year by Innovative Research Group found that while 81 per cent of Canadians said that they cared about climate change, when asked where to rank it among a larger list of important issues, Canadians put climate change seventh -well below jobs and the economy, unsurprisingly, but also less important than honest and accountable government, the gap between rich and poor and the level of taxation.
How can we ask our federal leaders to push through an agenda that seemingly has so light a hold on the hearts and minds of citizens? Look again to the space race, my friends. Contrary to the preferred myth, while a good majority of mid-20th century Americans supported the general idea of space exploration, only about half of them actually felt that the lunar missions were worth the expense. To repeat, the money went through, all the same.
The reality is that the political will to fight climate change may never, in fact, manifest itself – at least, not until it is far too late to make a difference. But countries like Canada and the U.S. need to make big investments in alternative energy-based economies now, and they need to do it regardless of whether their citizens are currently ready to accept the short- and medium-term sacrifices necessary to make it happen.
As far as Mars goes, it’ll still be there in a few decades, anyway.