The Dangers of Crying Wolf

With increasing regularity, I find myself wondering if the environment and its appropriate stewardship has become (fairly or not) the ultimate “Rev. 3:16 issue facing us today – Absolutely No Middle Ground Allowed.

Now, I have never been particularly forceful (or definitive) in my opinions on most non-cinematic topics – “Gray, as far as the eye can see” – and a couple of trips through John Paul II’s speech at the 1990 World Day of Peace (as well as a number of journeys through Benedict’s talk on the 20th Anniversary of that speech ) have strengthened my “fence-sitting” instincts beyond their normal levels. While some of the science behind the “blue-tinged” crowd’s stridency seems suspect, the “reddish” folks are often a bit more dismissive than I am comfortable being myself.

 And then, I read something like this:

 Climate change caused by black carbon, also known as soot, emitted during a decade of commercial space flight would be comparable to that from current global aviation, researchers estimate.

 The findings, reported in a paper in press in Geophysical Research Letters, suggest that emissions from 1,000 private rocket launches a year would persist high in the stratosphere, potentially altering global atmospheric circulation and distributions of ozone. The simulations show that the changes to Earth’s climate could increase polar surface temperatures by 1 °C, and reduce polar sea ice by 5–15%.

Seriously? It’s time to start worrying about what will happen if we spend ten years flying folks into space?  Even with the recent “bombshell” that there may be more water on the moon than previously supposed (as well as continued clearing of some of the technological hurdles), are we really any closer to making space travel more than a thrill-seeking adventure for the uber-wealthy? Commercial space travel needs more than just a “from;” it needs a “to.” And there isn’t one. Yet. (And not for quite some time, I suspect.)

While I’m generally a fan of planning ahead, warning us against the dangers of commercial space flight seems like a waste of time. And, perhaps most importantly, it seems like a waste of pulpit. It’s time to stop crying wolf, so that we can deal with more legitimate (or at least far more immediate) ecological topics of discussion.


Joseph Susanka has been doing development work for institutions of Catholic higher education since his graduation from Thomas Aquinas College in 1999. Currently residing in Lander, Wyoming -- "where Stetsons meet Birkenstocks" -- he is a columnist for Crisis Magazine and the Patheos Catholic portal.

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