As many readers of this blog know, I’ve spent years collecting research and reporting on the climate harms of militarism. When I began this was an obscure perspective shared by few; it is now mainstream in climate movements (as long as they are not controlled by the Democratic Party, that is).
So it is gratifying to see this fact of modern life represented at last weekend’s big climate march in New York City.
Other points of view also trend in that direction.
If capitalism is the root cause of rapidly warming oceans and extreme weather events, then the wars that are necessary to sustain capitalism are implicated.
But what about war in space, which is already well underway even if few realize it? The proliferation of rocket launches in recent years and the accompanying environmental damage are almost never mentioned in reporting on either space topics or military topics.
This coming weekend I’ll attend Maine’s biggest annual green lifestyle event, the Common Ground Fair. It draws thousands from all over the region for a “celebration of country living” sponsored by the Maine Organic Farmers & Gardeners Association.
On Sunday morning in the political and social action tent a group of us will update fairgoers on plans to build a rocket launch site on the coast of Maine. Steuben is within sight of Acadia National Park, and the floating launch pad proposed would sit amid lobster fishing and seaweed harvesting activities already generating jobs and providing sustenance for the last several decades.
The plan is for up to 30 launches each year between Memorial Day and Labor Day of rockets roughly the height of a mature White Pine.
Noise from tests of the proposed engine developed by blueShift Aerospace in Brunswick is so loud that parents report their child woke up frightened and crying after hearing it in his sleep. Toxic fallout from rocket launches reaches as high as the stratosphere, where soot particles linger and damage ozone. Toxic fallout from rocket launches in other states has polluted wetlands, breeding grounds, and beaches. And when rocket launches fail — as they often do — forests burn and areas several miles wide are littered with debris like concrete.
All rocket site construction involves toxic substances, including the PFAS foam used for fire fighting and stored in vast quantities on site until it may be needed. And when rockets and satellites fall from the sky, they disintegrate into a chemical soup that then falls to Earth. Mass deaths of birds and other animals have been observed at rocket launch sites in other states.
Maine was once considered Vacationland because of its deep forests, clean water, beautiful shoreline, and abundance of foods like lobsters, trout, and clams.
Although organized lobster fishermen in Jonesport blocked the construction of the toxic launch site in their fishing grounds, Steuben has not been so lucky. Resident Larch Hanson is ready to sue blueShift’s CEO for trampling on the democratic process and putting his seaweed harvesting business at risk. The town government of Steuben has squelched discussion of the rocket launch site plan and silenced critics, according to Hanson.
It’s worth noting that a bill rushed through supposedly as “emergency” legislation and passed under the gavel (i.e. without a roll call vote) established a private-public partnership called the Maine Space Corporation to support just this kind of project. So undemocratic methods are a signature of bringing rocket launches to Vacationland.
But isn’t space cool? you may ask. And educational?
All space programs are inherently military in nature, no matter what NASA or the University of Maine tell you. Every rocket launch site built on other pristine coasts such as Kodiak, Alaska or Mahia Peninsula, New Zealand was sold to local residents as non-military but once built has been used extensively and repeatedly to launch military satellites. (More details on that here.)
As a retired educator, I know STEM fans will enthuse about how much science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education will be advanced by projects such as this one. STEM educators in Australia are currently excited about how middle school students will be involved in projects connected to nuclear submarines the U.S. is forcing on them despite considerable pushback from the public.
STEM can be a force for good, but not when it’s used as a cover up for militarizing education and other public resources.
I have been astonished at the lack of interest among environmentalists who I might have expected would oppose building a rocket launch site on the Maine coast. No doubt it’s partly attributable to the slavish reprinting of bluShift press releases as “news” in corporate media.
I’m hopeful that we can raise some awareness of this issue at the Common Ground Fair this weekend.