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The Industrial Space Age

The Soviet Union successfully launched Sputnik I fifty years ago yesterday, October 4, marking the beginning of our use of space for political, military, technological, and scientific ends.

Since then we have launched hundreds of satellites, space probes, telescopes, moon missions, and planetary landers. Now, political scientist Rasmus Karlsson suggests that space could provide us with a sustainable future not possible from an earthbound only perspective.

Writing in the October issue of Inderscience publication, International Journal of the Environment and Sustainable Development, Karlsson, a researcher at the University of Lund, Sweden, explains that over the years, two strands of thought on sustainable development have emerged. They are ecologism and environmentalism. Ecologism offers a solution by emphasizing the need for major socioeconomic reform aimed at a post-industrial era. Environmentalism, in contrast, focuses on the preservation, restoration, and improvement of the natural environment within the present framework.

However, Karlsson, suggests that there is a third approach to sustainable development that has until now been excluded from the agenda - namely a large-scale industrial expansion into space.

He suggests that access to the raw materials found on the Moon as well as unfiltered solar energy could be used to increase dramatically our stock of resources and energy while providing unlimited sinks for pollutants. Such an approach would satisfy two of the most demanding issues regarding sustainability, finding renewable energy sources and the disposal of pollutants.

Resource scarcity, pollution, and dwindling fossil fuels, have become of serious environmental concern in the last few decades. As such, environmentalists have called for massive reductions in energy and material consumption. Seemingly unrelated but running in parallel is that the promise of space exploration has been limited to technological optimists whose economic framework rarely acknowledges any such scarcity. Karlsson suggests that it is time to reconcile the politics of scarcity with this technological optimism and to devise a unified political vision for the 21st century that will allow lead to a truly sustainable planet by extending our reach into space.

Jim Corlett | alfa
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