Opinion: We need climate action, not space tourism | Reviews | DW


I care about the future; therefore, I care about the climate. I belong to the vast majority of the world’s citizens who, as poll after poll shows, care about the direction the planet is heading and understand the urgency and existential nature of the looming climate emergency. Recent catastrophic flooding in central Europe and extremely high temperatures in North America are just a few of the symptoms.

So in my family, we do something. We reduce and save on our carbon budget: we walk or cycle instead of driving our car; we eat much less meat than the average family in industrialized countries; we are skipping this transatlantic trip even if we really want to; we take care not to waste food and we also compost our waste.

And then a rich and dirty dude explodes in space, just for fun.

It’s incredibly selfish, isn’t it?

And it really devalues ​​our efforts to protect the climate – both morally and materially.

Small trip, huge emissions

Sonya Diehn has a proposal for Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson

People’s motivation to take action on climate change diminishes when they see others doing what they want, regardless of the consequences. Beyond this demoralization, there is then the real carbon footprint of space tourism.

Look, I’m not against space travel in principle. In fact, I’m a bit of a sci-fi nerd myself and am very excited about the possibilities of exploring space. And certainly, all tourism, even on Earth, creates carbon emissions. My intention is not to say that tourism should not exist. But the problem with space tourism is the proportion.

Take Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic space flight on July 11. For a suborbital journey of around 100 miles (160 kilometers), the company said the carbon dioxide emissions released were about equal to a round-trip transatlantic passenger jet flight. Based on publicly available information, a trip from London to New York releases around 1.24 tonnes of CO2. To put it another way, that 1.5-hour space trip was equivalent to about 3,000 miles (4,800 kilometers) of driving an average passenger car.

Virgin Galactic space plane explodes upwards

Virgin Galactic’s space plane not only releases CO2, but also soot and ozone-depleting substances

If Virgin Galactic adds 3,000 road miles of CO2 emissions to our atmosphere for a single short trip for just six people, it devalues ​​efforts – both personal and political – to protect the climate. The problem could become particularly acute as space tourism intensifies, as it may soon be: more than 600 people have already made reservations for a Virgin Galactic space flight, priced between $ 200,000 and $ 200,000. $ 250,000 (€ 169,000 to € 212,000).

Branson’s Virgin Galactic is said to focus on environmental sustainability, although what that implies has not been clarified. I find this to be a very dubious claim, especially in light of the carbon footprint of these flights.

At least billionaire Jeff Bezos is giving the environment more than hype, getting rockets for his space travel company Blue Origin to use hydrogen fuel, which produces no emissions of carbon. But let’s not ignore the fact that hydrogen, while it can be produced using renewable energy, is currently typically produced by – you guessed it – burning fossil fuels.

A proposal for space cowboys

It’s ironic: the view of planet Earth from orbit – a gem of life amidst the black void of space – is often seen as the inspiration for the modern environmental movement. And now Blue Origin says its vision is to benefit Earth. That was most certainly the motivation behind selling a ticket on his current flight to an ultra-rich mystery bidder – at $ 28 million (this person has since postponed his participation in a future trip). It’s beyond irony – I’d call it… cynical.

Planet earth seen from space

So beautiful and yet so fragile: the one and only planet Earth

If space tourism companies are serious about making their green claims come true, I suggest the following: For every flight made by tourists in space, let us see these companies invest an equal amount in climate protection. That way these selfish people can still have fun, and we can also try to heal the climate.

Space tourism should only be possible if it is conducted against a mega-offset: one that guarantees a future for this sparkling gem of blue and green and brown. After all, it is the source of our lives – and the only planet that can support us.


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