HUMAN BEING HAVE A VERY SPECIAL RELATIONSHIP WITH THE STARS.
We like to say that we are made of the same material as they are. Countless civilisations have scanned the skies based on the constellations to shape their myths, and even built some of their most symbolic buildings to resemble or homage some of them. The Egyptians and the Mayans are good examples. One might think, perhaps, that this is a thing of the past. However, that would be a mistake.
Our current fixation with the skies is different, less mythical and more material, but the link is still strong.
We have built probes that have already travelled to the far ends of our solar system. Telescoped beyond the limits of our own galaxy. And the mystery, like the universe itself, grows bigger as we learn more.
In the West at least, the fascination with the firmament remains curious to say the least. It is strange to think that we eat thanks to what the soils provide us with – which, by the way, are rapidly degrading due to our voracious and careless way of exploiting them -, that we depend much more directly on them than on the stars, and yet we would surely be able to cite a few astronomers (Galileo, Newton, Copernicus, Kepler…) and no expert on the soil. Soil scientist. Even the word sounds strange to us.
Maybe it has something to do with the fact that the sky has always been related to the sacred, to the gods, and the earthly to sinners, to death. Somehow we become soil when we are buried. While in life we aspire to stardom, to the heights that only a few reach, we all know that, in the end, we will be companions of the earth. That may partly explain our fixation on escaping our inevitable fate, fixing our gaze on the farthest place, the one we least understood.
Curiously and paradoxically, the reality is more complex, and we are beginning to discover it. Ecology professor David W. Wolfe, author of the book The Underground, says:
“there are more creatures in a handful of ordinary soil than there are humans on the entire planet”.There is so much to discover in the soil, we haven’t looked at it enough before. But even so, investment in the study of soils is still very modest compared to that in the study of the heavens, stars and planets.
All this helps to understand why we are still engaged in the space race. In a certainly different one from how it started. A space race 2.0. No longer in the midst of a Cold War between superpowers, but one between the richest men on the planet, desperately looking for something with which to entertain their egos and expand their profits. Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson. Three middle-aged to elderly white males who represent what we should be running away from, and yet we are still fascinated by. Let me explain: we are at a crucial moment for life on Earth. The latest reports from the scientific community leave no room for doubt. It is a defining moment,
either we start to be able to be self-limiting, to mature, to stop needing to grow to keep our economic system functioning, or we are going to crash.
Philosopher Bruno Latour makes this clear in his book “Where to Land”. The fight of the 21st century is not between conservatives and progressives, or between left and right. It is more between moderns and terrestrials. Simplistically, we went too modern, but we must come to terms with it, without falling into nostalgia and traditionalism which only attach us to our own lands and to exclusionary nationalism. The destiny of humanity is common.
We need to curb emissions, not increase them with such megalomaniacal projects as space tourism for a few millionaires.
And indeed, it seems that if there is an answer to at least mitigate the climate problem we have already unleashed, it is in the soil. In carbon capture and sequestration. That is, we need to understand how to meet the challenge of storing as many greenhouse gases as possible in the soil. In that race we certainly are in a hurry to move forward.
And despite the evidence of the need to slow down -in a fast way-, we keep pressing the accelerator, as if there were no limits, as if they were not already close or even had already been surpassed some of them. Although the world’s magnates insist on embarking on senseless projects such as “Earthforming” Mars -when it is most likely that if we follow this scheme we will first “Marsform” the Earth-, these projects of infinite expansion are for the moment inadequate and impossible. There are other priorities. Yet
these three billionaires are only the best representatives of something that is wrong with our modern cultures. The need for perpetual expansion.
An example of megalomania to be avoided: in the Sierra Diablo mountain range, Texas, the magnate Jeff Bezos has invested 42 million dollars in a very unique long-term project. A clock that will run for 10,000 years without anyone intervening. The clock ticks once a year, and one of its hands changes only every century. So the cuckoo sounds only once every millennium. According to Bezos himself, “the clock will outlast our civilisation”. And given the pace of his company’s growth and the degradation of the nature that sustains us, he is probably right.
“I want to thank every Amazon employee, and every Amazon customer because you guys paid for all this,” he said after his last spacewalk.
And it’s actually worse. We’re not just paying for his whims through the purchases we make from his giant company. Both Musk and Bezos are fighting over the grants and contracts that governments and their space agencies can provide. NASA seems to have lately decided in favour of Musk’s Space X project. But it is clear that although the world is too small for all three, at least for their egos, what is not too small for them are the public funds to support their projects.
We cannot afford to idolise the most “expansive”, the limitless ones. They must be taken down from their pedestal, and limited -in short, projects with a high carbon footprint must be taxed. If we want to get to the skies so fast, we will neglect the ground so much that we will end up losing both through greed. And no one denies that we must continue to look to the stars, to research and explore. But it is better to do so without forgetting the state of the ground -the soil- you are standing on. Lest by looking up so much, you trip and fall.