Why Science & Cosmology Inspires My ‘Greenness’

Written by Peter Handley, Portsmouth Green Party

I wanted to share with you the story of what made me become more green-minded. For me, it isn’t entirely about the politics, though as I’ve got older, my realisation that politics drives so much of what affects everyday life, has increased my interest in this arena.

No, for me, my interest in a Green outlook is driven by my interest in science; physics, biology, chemistry, space and the bigger picture about how all these things are interconnected through the study of cosmology.

Hubble eXtreme Deep Field (XDF)

The Cosmos: Source: Hubblesite.org

The more I’ve learned about the vastness of the Universe as a whole, the more I’ve come to the realisation that the world is a very fragile, insignificant mote of dust, delicately supporting the life that has evolved here. For all we know right now, we are the only life in our solar system, galaxy, possibly even the universe.

 

The Heart of the Whirlpool Galaxy

A Spiral Galazy, Source: Hubblesite.org

I think it is unlikely, given that the ingredients for life are spread throughout the cosmos that the Earth is the only place that life exists. There are billions of stars in our Milky Way galaxy, and billions of planets orbiting around them throughout it. Even our galaxy is relatively insignificant, one of hundreds of billions, each with billions of stars. The universe is so impossibly vast, it’s difficult to conceive it, and even if there is life elsewhere in the universe, we may never encounter it, given thousands or millions of years. However, I feel we have a duty to protect what fragile life we do know exists.

Detail of SWEEPS ACS/WFC Color Composite

Stars from our viewpoint of the Milky Way: Source: Hubblesite.org

Through Climate Change and humankind’s exploitation of the world’s resources – by burning fuels at scale or to making room to grow the food that supports the worlds burgeoning population – humanity is making the life that we know exists in this Universe ever more tenuous. Humankind’s influence on the increase in global temperatures is undoubtedly driving climate change, melting polar ice caps, increasing sea temperatures around the world, and driving ever more unpredictable and extreme weather patterns that cause death and destruction.

The fact that the areas worse affected by these changes are afflicted by poverty, famine and drought – wrought mostly by western industrialised society before the technologies that drove these changes were available in these places – is not lost on me. The fact that those who have contributed the most to these problems are not doing their share to try and resolve these issues, is not lost on me. Worse, the fact that *I* am not doing enough to contribute is equally not lost on me.

My interest in science leads to an interest in technology as well, which is a double edged sword. Technology, done with environment in mind, through renewables, through cleaner technologies has the power to drive some of that change.

Space brought us renewables technology

Space brought us renewables technology

Space exploration has driven a lot of this – NASA and the space programs from other countries have driven advancements in a number of green technologies. This has led to greener energy sources, such as solar, wind and thermal power, as well as playing a key part in producing the measurements that identified beyond any reasonable doubt that climate change is happening.

But equally space exploration is a contributor to these issues too – to get into space at the moment requires burning a huge amount of fuel to break through the atmosphere that surrounds the Earth. There are other ‘everyday’ technologies driven by scientific improvements too.

I drive a car. I contribute to emissions, which is difficult at times to reconcile with my aims to live a greener life. So when I got a new car, I got a hybrid, in an attempt to reduce my personal footprint. I like technology and gadgets – I work online, I am addicted to social media and I am a consumer of things. This is mostly incompatible with my green outlook at present, though the technologies behind them are improving all the time, being more energy efficient, devices are combining so you don’t need so many different ones. That said, I’m aware most of these big screen TV’s, laptops, wireless speakers, the new shiny phones are made by some of the poorest people in the world, and the companies making them are getting ever wealthier.

I’m not a vegetarian, much less a vegan. I’ve watched a lot of documentaries in the last year, things like Cowspiracy and Fork Over Knives have really got me thinking about my consumption and my health. The science that is shared in these films, indicates that human’s ‘need’ (note the inverted commas) for meat based food is an even greater contributor to climate change than all of our fossil fuel emissions combined.

Eating more of these can help us protect this precious earth

Eating more of these can help us protect this precious earth

I conceptually agree with a lot of the goals of vegetarian and veganism. We can feed a lot more people on this Earth, as we have demonstrated through measuring the amount of food and water we give to the livestock that we then eat. Doing this would tomorrow would have a bigger effect on climate change than immediately stopping all air travel immediately. But selfishly, that’s not a step I am ready to take fully yet. Instead, I’ve virtually eliminated the dairy I consume (though I do miss cheese already) and am trying to only eat meat once or twice a week. We are all on our own individual journeys.

As I read and learn more, I share information about these things through social media, as I am always trying to educate myself more about my interests and the impact of them on my own, as well as everyone else’s lives. But I try not to preach to people about how they live their lives. Preaching doesn’t work, in fact usually has an opposite reaction in protest and resistance. I am far from perfect, but strive to improve myself, increase my knowledge and understanding, which leads me to make more informed decisions about how to live my life.

There are lots of little things we can do individually, should we choose to do so. Whilst I don’t want to preach to people about what they should do, the only thing I would nudge people towards doing is to find out more things for themselves and make their own choices about life.

Our exploration of space increases our knowledge, giving us more tools to improve our lives. In particular, I think the more we understand about the universe, the better we’ll understand how to look after the little sliver of rock that we call home. I think we’ll see improvements to renewable energy sources as we try and explore space more and hopefully we’ll be able to develop a technology that can scrub carbon dioxide from the atmosphere at a decent scale. If this can be done with humans learning to live within our means more sustainably, with fairer distribution of the limited resources available to us, then we will end up managing to save the planet before it gets too late.

Thanks for reading, I’ll leave you with this video made from an incredibly moving Carl Sagan speech, which I find hugely inspiring. I urge you to give this 5 minutes of your time 🙂

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