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Altri articoli della stanza Storia dell'Energia

Creato da Vittorio M. Canuto « clicca sul nome per leggere il curriculum dell'autore

Some Considerations on the Use of Outer Space - Vittorio M. Canuto -

Some 2400 years ago, an instructive dialogue took place between Socrates and one of his pupils, Glauco.

The latter held that the study of space, outer space as we call it today, was an important endeavor for it would allow humankind to predict the seasons, the art of navigation, agriculture, etc., all important practical applications. Socrates replied that while this was true, a great deal more should ensue from such studies, in particular the betterment of the human spirit.

More than 2000 years later, have we followed Socrates advise or have we been all too intensively preoccupied to "exploit" space exploration as a new gold mine?
For some nations, it has been the best of times, for others, the majority, I am afraid, it has been the worst of times. Some nations have courageously and indefatigably pursued the new venue of outer space, with the ardor of those propelled by the desire to conquer nature, not by the desire to conquer other nations. And this new channeling of human energy is, by itself, a good thing if we recall that in the history of humanity, technological advances were traditionally the byproduct of wars.

That much human energy directed vertically rather than horizontally against each other is all the more welcome if we fold, as we must, into the equation, the large increase in human population that may be the cause of new frictions among nations. It has long been feared that a major cause of new conflagrations in the next century may be the scarcity of water among neighboring countries. Space and the challenges it poses are the epitome of what S. de Madariaga taught us, that history is made by those who act upon nature. Those nations are making history and for them it is the best of times. Technology, R. Oppenheimer once famously remarked, is sweet ".

Indeed it is, but the risk is that we embark in a new technological race in which the fastest will be judged the winner. It is a rigged, uneven set of lanes and no good will come to humanity as a whole if we decide to gauge nations on that score alone. For many nations, technological advances have not been "sweet", they have been rather bitter.

For those nations, it has been the worst of times.

Space activities have helped globalization but for some nations that has meant homogenization or, far worse, uncontrollable flooding via electromagnetic waves of information often alien to local culture and tradition.

Though unperverted by malice, this seemingly peaceful invasion may have enormous effects on the youth of a nation, effects that we may become aware of when it may be too late.

The danger of disrobing a country of the pillars of its cultural heritage, a topic often discussed in the Outer Space Committee of the UN, must be avoided at all costs for it is not exclusively a technological issue or an issue of freedom of information, it is an ethical issue, for ethical are those people whose actions are governed by ethical principles not those people who want to impose their ethics, however well meaning they may be.

At the dawn of the new millennium and after 50 years of space exploration, what have learnt?

Looking outward we continue to learn new secrets of our universe. But by far the greatest surprise has come from our looking inward for we have arrived at an unpleasant conclusion.
The damage to our ecological systems arises from our profligate use of them.

This is a fundamental shift from the paradigm of the 70' when we thought that the limits to economic growth were due to the finite nature of natural resources. It has been an unavoidable new conclusion brought about by our exploration of outer space. Before venturing both conceptually and practically into the conquest of outer space outposts, we must mend and redefine our way to live on this very planet.

Global warming, sea level rise, deforestation, DEPLETION of the ozone layer etc., are phenomena which, in a sad twist of events, will affect far more profoundly those who are least equipped to ward them off. It is an orchestra playing a sad tune but we haven't found the conductor as yet. Outer Space activities have been our diagnostic tool, we must endeavor to make them our prognostic tool as well.

History tells us that great civilizations, from the Egyptians to the Maya, became structurally brittle and finally succumbed when they lost faith in those who knew how to interpret nature.

The conventional wisdom that free economy is regulated by a self-correcting mechanism, a hidden hand, an immanent alarm clock that will warn us when natural resources are beginning to be depleted, an almost Darwinian instinct of preservation, has demonstrably failed.

The unbridled maximization of individual interests in the presence of the diminishing "capital" of natural resources, has LED to unsustainable development. Outer space activities quantify such processes but cannot be expected to provide a magic bullet to solve the damage. There is ample anecdotic evidence to show that much of the available technology is too expensive, too large in scale and too sophisticated in terms of the skills required.

Two great intellectual radicals, Francis of Assisi and C. Darwin tried to convince us that it is misguided to think that nature has no reason to exist except to serve us. Both men failed. Actually we keep on failing them.

We are not Darwinian for we do not act as part of nature, we think we are above it. Space activities are the only ones with a realistic chance of making us acquire that humility we have so cavalierly shrugged off as uncomfortable ballast.

This will occur because we are running out of excuses: space activities have shown us the unbellished truth of a possible future, the scorched surface of Venus, courtesy of a runaway greenhouse effect. The more we go into space, the sharper the image will be of humankind in its habit of predator.

We need a new paradigm, a new course of action. We often view the flow of human events as being punctuated by revolutions, in the benign sense of the word.
After the first revolution, the invention of agriculture some 10,000 years ago, and the second industrial revolution 200 hundred years ago, we are primed for a third revolution.

It is up to us and only to us to invent it, to shape it for the benefit of all, to implement it in an equitable manner, to use it for the betterment of humankind, as Socrates taught us.

The key feature must be knowledge based on education. The latter is an intangible public good that is privately produced.

The two previous revolutions we alluded to were based on knowledge. The new fuel is not physical, it is not land, as 10,000 years ago and it is not coal as 200 years ago.

It is information. It is a public good because one can share it with others without loosing it. A new calculus has thus emerged: rather than 1-1=0, we now have 1-1=2.

Individuals create knowledge which is an unlimited resource, the only true unlimited resource and we have it. For example, even in the hardest of all environments, the ancient Anasazi survived and prospered for they had knowledge of how to rotate crops and take intelligent advantage of their scarce resources. They only succumbed to phenomena for which they had no previous knowledge. This proves that knowledge and hunger cannot coexist, they are inmiscible.

We cannot avoid certain natural phenomena, but Outer Space tells us what they are.

We must then create the only barrier against them, the knowledge of them, as previous populations did over the course of history. We must fight hunger not with piecemeal ad hoc solutions, well intended as they usually are, but with major surgery, the implementation of the anti-virus of knowledge.
Knowledge will mean that we not only know the commercial price of everything but more important their intrinsic value.

 Knowledge will mean that we shall no longer live under the pernicious moral confusion that has LED us to believe that we can understand nature without reference to moral principles. Knowledge will mean that we shall bridge the gap now existing between our technological progress on the one side and the moral primitiveness and unhinged individualism on the other. Knowledge will mean that we shall no longer view the earth and outer space as a piece of real estate to conquer, to map, to acquire, to catalogue but as a true biosphere where we humans are an integral part of the whole.
Knowledge will endow very individual with the inoxidable shield of human dignity, as Socrates taught us it should.