Science

Leaving Earth is far from the brightest idea, Etienne Klein

Some people think that if things got too bad down here, we – I mean humanity – could always go visit us somewhere else, on some hospitable exoplanet. Is that reasonable?

First, there is a serious transport problem. The nearest exoplanets are located a few light years away, and it will take several million years to travel to one of them … Therefore, we will have to love madly in order to be imprisoned, but also to pass cosmic rays without causing cancer. at the speed of janitors and, above all, to conceive at the right pace to renew the crew, given the small number of beds available…

And there is another very serious difficulty which I borrow from Edmund Husserl. In a 1934 text entitled “The Earth Does Not Move”, the German philosopher defended the idea that the Earth is not for us a planet like any other: it appears as the original and indispensable basis of our bodily support, so that for us it is not in movement. It got to the point where it would be illusory to hope to be free from his attractive and caring presence.

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To change the planet would mean to become different

Of course, we know that the Earth rotates, but this knowledge is not enough to annul or even relativize the sensory perception that we have and that we would miss if we went very far into space.

In short, we would have been earthlings before we became human. So if we were to camp very far from the Earth so as not to even see it, we would certainly lose some of our mental balance and our humanity. Thus, to change the planet would literally mean to become different. Unlike physical laws, a person is probably not invariant when moving in space, so that even if we revealed to him almost twin sisters, the Earth – our “archidome”, speaking there again, like Husserl – would not become all while common to us.

And then isn’t there a paradox in the reasoning of those who cherish the hope that we could move collectively if the Earth became inhospitable? Their credo is that we are so existentially flexible, living so well in conditions very different from what we know here on Earth, that we can adapt to the most extreme situations that could exist on another planet. Now – and herein lies the contradiction – if we were already unable to adapt to our planet, which would deteriorate, how could we guarantee that we could adapt to the conditions of a planet different from ours?

Consider all possibilities

But the fact that it is unlikely that we all migrate to a distant world together does not detract from the interest in some space projects. We remember this joke from before the fall of the Berlin Wall. Brezhnev addresses the Soviet cosmonauts:

– The Americans went to the moon, you will go to the sun!

– But we will burn alive, comrade Brezhnev!

– Do not worry, the party has provided for everything: you will go there at night.

This digression humorously reminds us that in space the sky may always be dark, but there is no night because the Sun is always visible there. And there are no clouds blocking the sunlight. Thus, satellites located well above the Earth’s atmosphere, in geostationary orbits at an altitude of 36,000 kilometers, thanks to giant panels, could constantly collect part of the energy emitted by our star, and then convert it into electricity. This energy would then be sent via microwaves to the Earth’s surface, where it would be captured by vast fields of photovoltaic cells and eventually converted into electricity for personal or industrial use.

We can imagine the complexity and cost of such a project, especially if we know that each of the satellites would have a mass ten times greater, if not more, than that of the International Space Station, which already weighs 450 tons and circulates only “at an altitude of 400 km. But if we want to decarbonise power generation, shouldn’t we be looking at all paths, including those that look like a technological rush?

opinions

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