Astroenvironmentalism: The Case for Space Exploration as an Environmental Issue

Article excerpt

Astroenvironmentalism is a concept that applies the values of environmentalism and preservationism to developments in space exploration, commercialization, and militarization. It can be both an umbrella term to describe a variety of issues about space exploration as well as a component of the ongoing public debate about the environment. The most important struggle is to prevent space from becoming a new battleground-we need to keep nuclear energy out of space. This article discusses the responsibility of keeping space free of environmental hazards and debris. A case is made for astroenvironmentalism to be included in the public consciousness on the environment and the establishment of ethical guidelines to avoid environmental disasters in space.

Astroenvironmentalism, an argument to apply the values of environmentalism and preservationism to developments in space exploration, militarization and commercialism, is not a new idea. But recent developments in space exploration suggest this perspective is not widely acknowledged enough by those who envision taking steps to enter space. Environmentalists did not take a stand on these issues over the last few years, which was unfortunate because this was a topical time to argue that space should be an environmental issue. Astroenvironmentalism is an addition to present efforts, but also an umbrella term to describe a variety of related concerns held by many players in the environmental arena. Since mankind made such a mess of this planet and is now paying the environmental price for the damage, this topic is of extreme importance because we must avoid making the same mistakes in space as we have on earth. At issue are the environmental consequences of the steps we are about to take in entering space. The adaptation of environmental concerns to developments in the exploration and commercialization of space fit surprisingly easily. Astroenvironmentalism is another re-formulation of the associated environmental concerns involving a space wilderness to protect, rather than a "frontier" to exploit.

As I have outlined elsewhere (Miller, 1999), some of the concerns of astroenvironmentalism can include:

Keeping the space surrounding the Earth clear of pollution, debris, and garbage. Efforts are necessary so we do not add to the reservoir of human waste and machinery left behind by space explorers. Such debris could cause damage to satellites and the space shuttles.

Remembering and teaching the lessons learned from terrestrial conservation and preservation struggles of the past and applying them to the new frontier of space, that is, considering space and the celestial bodies pristine wildernesses that need to be protected rather than frontiers to conquer.

Tracking and monitoring the environmental damage caused by the fuels used for space expeditions, that is, making space agencies adhere to the restrictions of environmental impact statements. In particular, it would be worthwhile to reduce the amount of plutonium that is being used in case of a mishap that would result in plutonium entering the atmosphere.

Treating the Moon, Mars, Venus, and other planetary bodies as wildernesses that need to be protected, that is, arguing against the idea to "terraform" these celestial bodies. Terraforming introduces atmospherecreating life into the barren celestial bodies in the effort to make these celestial bodies more amenable to human settlement. Terraforming is presently being explored despite the fact that we have not thoroughly explored these planets for indigenous life.

Creating a set of ethical guidelines to protect the life that we encounter elsewhere, that is, study and protect rather than just study. The creation or re-publicizing of ethics applied to these concerns would be welcome.

Creating safeguards to insure there is no contamination of celestial bodies, that is, safeguarding against the introduction of non-terrestrial life to and from celestial bodies. …

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