Elephant In The Climate Room: Rocket Launches

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).

Sept. 17, 2023, New York City. WW PHOTO: Monica Moorehead 
Source: Workers World “Mass march targets Biden for an ‘End to fossil fuels’”  

So it is gratifying to see this fact of modern life represented at last weekend’s big climate march in New York City.

Sept. 17, 2023, New York City. WW PHOTO: Monica Moorehead 
Source: Workers World 

Other points of view also trend in that direction.

Sept. 17, 2023, New York City. WW PHOTO: Marsha Goldberg
Source: Workers World

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 town of Steuben is outlined in red. The proposed launch site would float just off the coast.

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.

SOURCE: The Independent “Fire at SpaceX launch site burns 68 acres at protected refuge, killing wildlife

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. 

Burning Man Or Drowning Man? Climate Apparently Can’t Change Human Behavior

My friend and neighbor is a past chief of the Penobscot Nation here in Wabanaki territory. He’s been on social media recently harshly criticizing indigenous elders who fly in to big conferences about — well, anything really. His point: flying harms the climate significantly, and anyone who claims to be concerned about the environment should not be flying.

I thought of his long-standing advice when hearing about the Burning Man festival this year being inundated with rain and then immobilized by mud. One person has died out of approximately 70,000 who are locked down in the campsite since motoring, bicycling, or even walking through the thick, soupy mud is nearly impossible. And there’s more rain on the way.

Mud photos by Trevor Hughes/USA Today Network

This made me think of another friend, an adventurous grandmother who traveled to Burning Man this year. I hope she’s okay. When she told me she was finally going to attend after years of wanting to, I realized how much I avoid large crowds that I would have gleefully joined in my youth. Maybe it was the experience of attending a solar eclipse festival in India in 1980 with one million people? Or maybe it was traveling to big antiwar demonstrations in various U.S. cities that led me to reflect on why my political advocacy carbon footprint was so big.

“Phoenix” was the first of several burnings at the festival this year, with a trident emerging from the ashes that creators said represents the resilience of Ukrainian people.

Another notable thing about Burning Man 2023 is that the festival opened with an homage to Ukraine. From Evan Haddad writing in the Reno Gazette Journal:

The project was funded by Come Back Alive, a foundation that provides support to service members in the Armed Forces of Ukraine. The organization, which was created by Ukraine’s deputy minister of defense, Vitality Deynega, purchases equipment to help equip Ukrainian service members.

The creators probably knew it would play well with a wealthy audience that is heavily invested in the military-industrial complex: “Charter planes are descending on the Nevada desert — and the pop-up Black Rock City airport — as tech bros and billionaires gather for Burning Man” wrote Grace Kay in Business Insider.

“Phoenix” was the first of several burnings at the festival this year, with a trident emerging from the ashes that creators said represents the resilience of Ukrainian people.

But what it reminded me of was this piece I had just seen in Canada’s Globe and Mail: “Ukraine’s substandard medical supplies are endangering soldiers as the war intensifies.” 

Vladyslav Wolovin and Anton Skyba posting from Kyiv wrote:

“This guy should have survived,” Dr. Sobolevskyy said, as he recounted treating an injured soldier at a stabilization point in Orikhove, less than five kilometres from the front line in the Zaporizhzhia region.

Despite the short distance, it took several hours for the soldier to be safely evacuated to the medical post. He arrived with three tourniquets that had been tightly wrapped around his legs by fellow soldiers. One was broken. None of them created enough pressure to prevent blood loss. “Simply put, he bled to death because of these substandard tourniquets”

Nowhere in the article is corruption named as a contributing factor, but medical volunteers shared that they’ve tried in vain to go through official channels in Ukraine to remedy the problem of sub-standard medical supplies. Ironically, the very corrupt Biden administration scolded Ukrainian officials over corruption this week and invoked the rule of law (doubtful if the Ukrainians brought up Julian Assange).

We aren’t going to burn, fly, or bomb our way out of climate catastrophe. NATO’s proxy war on Russia in Ukraine has been terrible for the environment, including climate. But hey Lockheed Martin made a lot of money off the Ukrainian people’s suffering! Never mind the globally widespread flooding and off the charts temperatures this summer in the northern hemisphere. Gaze upon your stock portfolio instead!