Sending Humans to Mars Won't Save the Earth

SGR Statement, 14 January 2004
 

President George Bush's announcement that he wants to send humans to Mars is yet another sign of misguided priorities on issues concerning science and technology.

Initial estimates of the cost of a mission to Mars put the price at about $1 trillion over the next decade or two [2]. Such a large sum of money could be put to much better use - for example, it is larger than the estimated increase in global aid necessary to provide clean water for all, eliminate hunger and malnutrition, and provide universal literacy [3]. But this is only the latest example of mis-directed science and technology. Annual spending on the so-called Missile Defense system (which won't defend against terrorists but could lead to an arms race in space) is approaching $10 billion a year with an eventual total cost (under the dubious assumption that it will ever work) of over $1 trillion [4]. The likely links between these two programmes should not be overlooked either. Back in 1989, when George Bush Snr first seriously raised the idea of a Mars mission, a US congressional report was published arguing the military case for a major space presence - including a manned Moonbase similar to that envisaged as a springboard for the proposed Mars mission [5].

Meanwhile Bush claims that tackling environmental problems like climate change is too expensive for the US economy - despite the massive potential to save money through energy efficiency measures (especially of cars) and excellent opportunities for new industries based on renewable energy technologies. And perhaps he missed the recent report from the United Nations Environment Programme which concluded that the annual global cost of natural disasters, mostly weather related, has now risen to $60bn, probably due to climate change [6]. Perhaps he also missed the report from World Health Organisation that estimated that 150,000 deaths had been caused by climate change in 2000 alone [7]. And it seems he also missed the conclusions from a study co-ordinated by Leeds University which concluded that approximately a quarter of all land-based animal and plant species could be extinct by 2050 due to climate change [8].

We are pleased to see the UK Government's Chief Scientific Advisor, Sir David King, criticise the US Government over their lack of concern on climate change [9]. Now we would like to hear Tony Blair publicly arguing the case that funds for a manned mission to Mars should be redirected.

In the meantime, we call on scientists and engineers across the world not to be complicit in this terrible misdirection of funds and to join us in pressing for responsible science and technology spending which supports efforts to eliminate poverty and protect the environment rather than indulging in prestige projects merely to demonstrate political and military power.

 

Notes:

1. SGR is a UK organisation of approximately 600 scientists promoting ethical science and technology - based on the principles of openness, accountability, peace, social justice, and environmental sustainability. SGR's work involves research, education, lobbying and providing a support network for ethically concerned scientists. For more information see http://www.sgr.org.uk/

2. NASA as quoted by BBC news online January, 2004 http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/talking_point/3378837.stm

3. Estimated additional annual costs of providing basic needs are: clean water for all, $10 bn; eliminating hunger and malnutrition, $19 bn; universal literacy, $5 bn. Worldwatch Institute (2004) State of the World 2004 http://www.worldwatch.org/press/news/2004/01/07/

4. Scientists for Global Responsibility (2004) Space technology and the military: a brief history. SGR briefing (forthcoming)

5. Collins J. (1989) Military Space Forces: The Next 50 Years. US Congress.

6. United Nations Environment Programme (2003) http://www.unep.org/Documents.Multilingual/Default.asp?DocumentID=362&Articl eID=4320&l=en; See also Munich Re (2003) http://www.munichre.com/4/press_releases/press_releases_content_e.asp?ref_id=140&time_span=year

7. World Health Organisation (2003) http://www.who.int/mediacentre/releases/2003/pr91/en/

8. Thomas C et al (2004) Extinction risk from climate change. Nature 427, 145-148. http://www.nature.com/uidfinder/10.1038/nature02121

9. BBC news online (2004) http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/3381425.stm