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Does Space Exploration Hold the Key To Climate Change?

Earth observation satellites don't just help us keep a tab on global warming. They also help us fight climate change in other ways too. One way is through monitoring forest fires. Climate change is making wildfires more prevalent.

The naysayers say... space tourism, especially the kind of space travel that will take days to complete – can be a massive threat to the climate as it will emit an unforeseen amount of black carbon and other emissions required to proceed with a rocket launch. Aviation represents about 3 percent of the annual global CO₂ emission. Rockets burn less than 0.01 percent of the fuel that aircraft burn every year and emit less CO₂ than jets do per kilogram of fuel, so rockets emit less than 0.01 percent of the CO₂ than aviation. CO₂ is only part of the story, however.

Fossil fuels – coal, oil and gas – are by far the largest contributor to global climate change, accounting for over 75 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions and nearly 90 per cent of all carbon dioxide emissions. China, the world's biggest emitter of carbon dioxide, produces 12.7 billion metric tons of emissions annually. That dwarfs U.S. emissions, currently about 5.9 billion tons annually. Still, those numbers don't tell the whole story.

Jeff Bezos, the world’s richest man, has said his brief sojourn into space gave him a newfound appreciation of the fragility of our ravaged planet, and that the way to protect it from further pollution is to move all heavy industry into space. As people around the world are already grappling with the deadly impacts of the worsening climate crisis, his suggestion has prompted much eye-rolling.

Journalists have described the relocation of heavy industry to space as the “dumbest idea ever”, and suggested that after the pollution which his company Amazon has generated across Earth, the natural next step is for him to try and pollute space. In an NBC interview immediately after returning to Earth, asked what the trip meant to the wider world, Bezos replied: “Listen, we have to build a road to space so that our kids and their kids can build the future.

“We live on this beautiful planet. We saw this – you can’t imagine how thin the atmosphere is when you see it from space. We live in it and it looks so big. It feels like this atmosphere is huge and we can use it and disregard it and treat it poorly. When you get up there and you see it, you see how tiny it is and how fragile it is.

“We need to take all heavy industry, all polluting industry, and move it into space, and keep Earth as this beautiful gem of a planet that it is.” “Of course, Bezos talks about many decades from now and access to space may eventually become relatively cheap.

“Nevertheless, I doubt it may eventually be worth it. Dr Joan Pau Sanchez Cuartielles, a senior lecturer in astrodynamics and mission design at the School of Aerospace, Transport and Manufacturing, at Cranfield University in the UK, said. "Space manufacturing will certainly be very advantageous to access to manufactured products in space and some industries may find the microgravity conditions of Earth orbit advantageous for some manufacturing processes. Some elements that are rare in the Earth’s crust may feasibly be more accessible in space."

“However, it seems hard to believe that polluting industries may move to space, simply to pollute somewhere else [to] avoid the costs of polluting here.”


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