TED Conversations

This conversation is closed. Start a new conversation
or join one »

Given the rates of poverty and despair in even our most "advanced" nations and the onset of global warming, is space exploration prudent?

Is it really important to spend our limited resources on space programs while ecosystems are failing here and those same resources could be used to improve the lives of those we share the globe with? Is the carbon cost of space exploration worth the loss of ecosystems and resources it produces? Should developing nations follow more industrialized nations' examples by forsaking their disadvantaged for the amusement and luxury of their affluent?

Some miscellaneous reference:

progress indicator
  • thumb
    May 24 2013: On a world wide scale the carbon impact of space exploration is minimal. It is limited to the energy used to create the stuff. And from a fuel perspective as long as the electricity used to release the hydrogen and the aluminium is green then the whole system is prettty green. The total cost to society is a tiny fraction of that spent on the military. And probably a tiny fraction of that spent on entertainment. I wonder what the carbon impact of human recreation is.
  • thumb
    May 23 2013: Just imagine instead of building armies, weapons and bombs if only countries invested in space programs...
  • thumb
    May 23 2013: For those whose information on poverty may be limited, who have 15-60 minutes to spare for a further understanding of the perspective of my question, I suggest a small dose of Moyers & Company: http://billmoyers.com/segment/richard-wolff-on-capitalisms-destructive-power/

    Moyers' discussion with economist Richard Wolff addresses issues of perpetual growth, sustainable economics, poverty and the limitations of industry in a very clear and practical manner. Support materials found on the Moyers site include:

    Contrary to what some of the earlier comments in this thread may purport, you will note that inequality, poverty and social welfare are not addressed as technological issues; but, rather, as social issues more requiring compassion and cooperation than capitalization and competition. When the Moyers information is considered with the TED talks by Larry Brilliant and Janine Benyus that I referenced in the original post the result is a socially conscious, sustainability focused perspective that counters the exuberance of the Jon Nguyen and Elon Musk perspectives that tout spacefaring as a pleasure we can afford and should pursue.

    Obviously, I am interested in learning more that might logically support or denounce the ideas on both sides of the issue as I have stated it in my original question.
  • Comment deleted

    • thumb
      May 23 2013: Do you really believe that we would never have developed any form of solar power if we were not attempting to use it for space or could it be that aerospace was simply one of many possible routes to solar power?

      If a powerful way to get corporations involved in social good is to allow a select few corporate shareholders and executives to profit from a development that millions of global citizens have to produce and pay for, then we should always allow such an exchange. At least that is what I understand that last sentence of yours as saying. I'm sure early American plantation owners would agree with such an argument as their trade in slavery resulted in many new innovations and improved conditions for masses of people both on and beyond their plantations. Solar panels from space programs are as good as cheap rum from slave plantations, right?
      • Comment deleted

        • thumb
          May 23 2013: Although I am prone to simply agree to disagree with you I can't resist this trivial aside:

          The cotton gin [note that's not a East Indian spirit djinn or jinn) did not end slavery because it was invented in 1793 while slavery in America fueled the civil war there and didn't become illegal in the US until 1865. This obviously ignores the fact that slavery continued in other parts of the world and persists in small pockets even today, though in various forms.

          Your errors in this one thing appear to be typical of your other errors, which seem to be fueled more by emotion than information.

          Naturally you probably think my premise here too is "completely incorrect." So, I'll guess that we are at an impasse that won't spiral into an absurd tangent any longer.

          Thanks for your time though.
  • thumb
    May 23 2013: If the rationale for funding space exploration is to find a new location to replace this doomed one, then yes, it is prudent. I cannot imagine any other rationale which would justify letting one person in seven starve to death while spending billions on space projects.
    • thumb
      May 23 2013: Thanks for your comment.

      Would you say that programs like Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic or the Space X project are using resources efficiently, with the rationale of relocation for survival in mind?
      • thumb
        May 23 2013: What private folks do is their freedom. If my tax dollars are being used then I have an opinion. The USA cannot force underdeveloped nations to teach their people to support themselves because it is considered aggression and imperialism. So we use the money to map Venus and roam around on Mars. As I said, if this planet is doomed, which I don't think it is, then we would be justified in scouting for a new terrestrial ball.
  • thumb
    May 23 2013: Poverty and despair will follow us in space too.

    I am not a pessimist, like to be recognised as realist.
    • thumb
      May 23 2013: Thanks for your consideration.

      I would tend to agree with you. By extension, any problem we create or fail to solve is bound to follow us wherever we go. It would seem most beneficial if we would take care of our current home before we move on to another. At the very least it would be less parasitic of us, don't you think?
  • May 23 2013: If you eat your seed corn, you can save lives in the short term, but more will die later.

    Research and development investments are the seed corn of modern economies. The economic benefits of the USA space program have been many times the amounts spent. Those benefits include more jobs for the poor.

    From a strictly economic point of view, the space program reduces poverty.

    Some of the inventions that were developed by NASA have created whole new industries. Can you even imagine the modern world without communication satellites?

    This question really should not be stated in the form of either space or poverty reduction. It would make more sense to ask, how much should be invested in the future? And, what is the best way to make those investments?

    Another part of this issue is competition. If the USA reduces our investments in space, we could lose out to other countries that are willing to invest more. That loss might be merely economic, but it could also be catastrophic if our enemies develop space based weapons that we cannot defend against.

    Space exploration is prudent and necessary.
    • thumb
      May 23 2013: Interesting arguments Barry.

      I'll address your points in reverse order, for clarity.

      The idea that reducing American space exploration is a loss resulting in a win for enemies of the US would seem to put nationalism above the providence of terrestrial life in general and push human life to a supreme position outside of terrestrial life. Such competition seems petty in face of nature, which knows no national, religious or ethnic boundaries. This is particularly odd when put into the perspective that much of the resources needed to support any single nation's space program must be sourced globally rather than nationally. Surely, the greatness of a nation is not in how well it can bully its rival, yes?

      As to the form of my question, I meant to state it exactly as I did, to frame a topic of query. If your interest in some other topic, so be it. That really has nothing to do with the topic I've proposed and there's really no reason we should quibble over whose topic is most valid. Still, just for the sake of the silliness of it, I have to say, "this is my party and I'll cry if I want to" or at the least ignore tangents that don't fit my interests.

      While it may be true that entire industries have grown from the NASA project, it, by nature, must also be said that the resources and funds supporting that development may have served society equally well elsewhere. As a simple example, I personally would rather the US government have spent the monies used to research and develop freeze-dried rations on feeding K-12 students or developing more efficient farming technologies. Either of those alternatives could potentially have created jobs and new industries while serving practical, social needs. A world without communication satellites would have no internet, no cell phones, no satellite broadcasters; but, it might also have less homogenization of information and afford for personal interaction than social networks like twitter.
  • May 23 2013: Maybe these problems make space exploration more important as Stephen Hawkins contends. There is always someone determined to make things worse for the rest of us. Maybe survival of the species depends on space.
    • thumb
      May 23 2013: My inner child would love for this to be true. Really.

      Still, if your home were on fire, would you think it more prudent to spend your time searching the neighborhood for a better way to put fires out or would you to work on saving your house with whatever means were immediately at hand? After all, this planet is our home, is it not?
      • May 24 2013: Johnathon Good point and we mjust remember that we are not in charge.
  • thumb
    May 23 2013: The solution is through technology


    Regarding poverty if you really want to understand this situation, I recommend this book:

    "Equality, the Third World, and Economic Delusion"

    by P.T. Bauer of the London School of Economics

    Regarding global warming that is far from demonstrating causality.
    • thumb
      May 23 2013: So, am I to understand that your point is that there is no problem with spending our resources on space exploration because the perceived negative effects are simply a misrepresentation sensationalized by the media, while our productivity, via technology, has, and will, continue to grow? If so, then I am guessing that you also believe that the expansion of the American work day, inversely to increased production capability, is a model that should be followed globally because technology should afford all of us longer work days and decreased pay, in the American manner.

      Of course, I am left to respond with a lot of assumptions about your position as you have provided reference without much context. I'd love it if you would clarify your position more directly. I doubt I'll be able (or interested in) reading the P.T. Bauer text (book or article?) while attempting to respond to others in this conversation. So, the more direct information you can give the better.

      [edit] btw: Peter Diamandis' position that technology will and should be available to all global citizens eventually can only be attained if the production of technology becomes a sustainable system, which it currently is not. The "cradle to cradle" movement in industrial design recognizes this irony and addresses it by attempting to design reuse and recycling as part of the life of a product from concept, through use, to termination. The amount of toxins released by the Pacific and Atlantic garbage patches (gyres) compounded with the tragedy of e-waste throughout Asia and the global south would point to the fact that increasing technology production to solve our problems might collapse our ecosystems before we are able to overcome the problems we seek to address with technology.

      As to to global warming being "far from demonstrating causality." Well, the science supporting global warming is not contested by most respectable scientists, as attested to in many TED talks and other intellectual venues.
      • thumb
        May 23 2013: Am I to understand you believe the media to be an unimpeachable source exercising impeccable logic?

        Increased productivity is what allows us to discuss the nuances of inane ideas, not longer work hours.

        The idea of equality is irrelevant, it is a straw man, created by those who would benefit from the straw man's existence. What is important is the standard of living of people. Which has been raised by the technology of the free market. That is why you see an African tribesman standing in the middle of Africa talking on cell phone in Peter's talk.

        The toxins will be resolved Chinese aren't stupid they will solve it.

        It is my understanding that current data indicates that the earth is now cooling, a few decades ago they talked about a mini ice age. Either way they have not proved it was caused by man.
  • May 23 2013: It would be more prudent to put space exploration on the back burner for the time being and work toward lessening the effects of global warming. Which may already be too late. In which case, developing new ways to live within the bounds of nature that will be a who;le lot different then what we have had or are having now.
    • thumb
      May 23 2013: Do you have any suggestions as to how we should better live within the bounds of nature?
      • Comment deleted

      • thumb
        May 24 2013: .
        My suggestion is:

        As the invalid (harmful) happiness drives us to live out of “the bounds of nature”, the easiest way to "live within the bounds of nature" should be to quit this happiness.

        (Invalid happiness amounts to about 90% of total happiness.
        So, it spends about 90% of the planet resources, too.)