Lost in Space


It’s hard to top Tom Friedman and Al Gore lecturing us on the planet’s demise from their 10,000 square foot homes, but Canadian astronaut Bob Thirsk did just that from the International Space Station on Monday (as first noted here by Brother Pollowitz).

“Most of the time when I look out the window I’m in awe. But there are some effects of the human destruction of the Earth as well. I just have the feeling that the glaciers are melting. That saddens me a little bit,” Thirsk sighed from the heights of man’s signature technological achievement, space travel.

And how did we break the grip of Earth’s atmosphere to get into space? With tons of carbon dioxide emitted by liquid-fuel rockets.

“Saddened” seems an odd emotion from a man who eagerly accepted the distinction as the first Canadian astronaut to fly aboard Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft. And Thirsk’s fragile conscience is even more curious given that the Soyuz is reviled by greens for its carbon footprint. “A calculation for the carbon dioxide emissions of an orbital trip to the ISS on a Soyuz launcher suggests the emissions are 143 tons per passenger,” writes Steve Fawkes, a green program director for a London utility.

Thirsk complains of melting ice caps as his round-trip ticket emits 143 tons of carbon? Compare that to the average U.S. home’s annual footprint of 26 tons (but, uh, don’t compare it to Al Gore’s estimated 240-ton Tennessee home).

Indeed, prudish Greens are in a constant tizzy over the carbon thirst of Thirsk’s chosen profession — including the much more efficient engines of the Space Shuttle Endeavor, which itself was visiting the space station this week.

“It takes a lot of energy to make liquid hydrogen,” worries Prof. Lloyd Alter, teacher of sustainable design at Ryerson University, who has calculated the total carbon footprint of a space-shuttle launch by adding the coal and electricity required to make shuttle fuel. “Lurking behind the modest 28 tons of CO2 produced by the launch is 672 tons of CO2 produced in squeezing and chilling that hydrogen into a liquid. Liquid hydrogen can hardly be called a green fuel.”

Horrors! But without it, astronaut Thirsk would never have had the exquisite opportunity to peer down at our glorious Earth — and lament the civilization that got him there.


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