Why the Space Race Isn’t the Answer to the Climate Crisis

6 Mins Read

Some of the wealthiest people on the planet have been highly invested in colonizing space. However, traveling to space can cause more harm than good in the long run.

Some of the wealthiest people on the planet — including Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, and Richard Branson — have been highly invested in visiting, exploring, and colonizing space. Elon Musk has even announced plans to start a colony on Mars, and some people have theorized that living in space will be a way to literally escape the climate crisis. However, traveling to space can cause more harm than good in the long run — and living on other worlds is a drastic solution that shouldn’t be selected when our planet is still salvageable.

As 24.7 million square miles of land face the risk of biodiversity loss and younger generations rally for a more sustainable world, people are recognizing that our global resources need to be directed toward alleviating climate change on Earth. Here’s why the space race isn’t the answer to the climate crisis.

Space Travel Worsens Carbon Emissions 

When you think of a rocket launch, you can probably envision the plumes of white smoke filling the air beneath the spacecraft. This smoke is created by millions of gallons of water vapor — although spacecraft consume many more natural resources and non-sustainable materials beyond that.

Reaching space even one time can make the climate crisis worse. In fact, one rocket launch can release 300 tons of carbon dioxide and cause it to stay in our upper atmosphere for years.

Granted that space travel is destroying our planet in hopes of living in or taking from another, it’s an unethical practice that shouldn’t continue. Many corporations that are partaking in space travel, such as Virgin Galactic and SpaceX, know this, and have yet to report their carbon emissions online – both those that are emitted in the production of rockets and the carbon that is released during launching. However, Blue Origin’s new rocket solely relies on hydrogen and oxygen.

Large-Scale Investments Go Farther on Earth

While finding a way to live in space is an exciting solution to the climate, it’s not the most resource-efficient one. It’s not uncommon for organizations to spend billions of dollars to study space and develop technologies for reaching other worlds. At the same time, we’re only inching toward the ultimate goals of colonization and using material resources from space.  NASA, in particular, spent 23.3 billion dollars in 2021, and although a portion of this budget is dedicated towards environmental restoration projects and educating the public about climate change related issues, only 2 billion dollars were actually contributed to those projects.

On the other hand, monetary investments can create a large, measurable, and relatively quick impact on our planet. For example, if corporate leaders make large-scale investments in renewable energy, they can drastically reduce their carbon emissions. The money currently spent on space travel can feasibly be used for the rehabilitation of polluted water supplies, the conservation of natural ecosystems, and many other important green initiatives.

Space Exploration Is Still Tethered to Earth

Space travel isn’t possible without a healthy Earth. While many space lovers and scientists romanticize the idea of living in colonies on other worlds, the fact is that it’s unlikely to happen in our lifetimes. Mars, for example, was theorized as a potential candidate for a future for human colonization. However, with further investigation, NASA is still indecisive about that theory due to a variety of factors, including the fact that Mars is vastly colder than Earth and has less oxygen.

In addition, when humans venture off-planet, they’re still dependent on food and supplies from Earth — and often staff members who remain grounded throughout their trip. If we prioritize space travel before solving our climate crisis, our planet and resources may be irreparably damaged long before we figure out how to move to space. This would leave our global citizens without the resources needed to reach space, and with no alternate solutions.

Leaving Earth behind isn’t just impossible at the moment. It’s also irresponsible. If we can’t protect our own planet from climate change — which is largely caused by human activity — there’s no telling if we can adequately protect a new planet at all.

Space Travel Exacerbates Inequities

There’s a reason billionaires are among the only people visiting space. Leaving our planet is incredibly costly, which means it doesn’t help the impoverished communities that are most affected by climate change.

While the world’s wealthiest individuals can easily escape the negative effects of the climate crisis at any time — whether they stay on Earth or launch to space — poor communities can’t easily migrate at the first sign of trouble. Wildfires and flash floods, for instance, can be disastrous and take over a decade to recover from.

If we invest in space exploration as a solution, we’re prioritizing novelty over the immediate needs of actual people on our planet.

Human Beings Are Designed to Live on Earth

Even if colonization becomes something we’re capable of, people simply aren’t built to live in space. After millions of years of evolution, human beings are physically and emotionally linked to the Earth. Without our home planet — and specifically, a healthy version of it — people will suffer major consequences to their health.

When people spend extended periods of time in space, they experience a variety of detrimental effects on their physical bodies. For instance, the optic nerve, which allows our brain to process the information from our eyes and see properly, swells and becomes damaged in space. This causes a disorder called spaceflight-associated neuro-ocular syndrome. NASA also reports increased risk of degenerative diseases and cancer for astronauts, which makes large-scale space colonization worrisome.

Humans are also mentally hardwired to live on Earth. In fact, our brains and bodies can suffer if we do not get enough nature in our daily lives. On the flip side, a number of studies have demonstrated that spending time outside and interacting with the wider world can serve as a treatment for anxiety and depression — and leaving for other worlds eliminates the relaxing, lush landscape we’re used to on Earth.

While humans can certainly evolve, it’ll take many years of detrimental effects before people can fully adapt.

Traveling to Space Is an Unethical Solution

Getting to space is an attractive solution to the climate crisis that some billionaires and space enthusiasts have become proponents of in recent years. However, it’s far from an adequate solution to our worsening environment here on Earth — and it’s a completely unethical choice.

Many space explorers may think they’re doing the best for humanity – space exploration does provide data and solutions for problems here on Earth – but they could take a lesson from effective altruism, which states that one must make choices that benefit the world the most. And unfortunately, space travel is something that doesn’t benefit everyone.

Scientists spend millions of dollars to reach new planets, which leads to a lot of carbon emissions and only a little extra knowledge. This money could easily be invested into impactful green initiatives here on our planet, where it could make a measurable difference and potentially reverse the damage caused by climate change for good.

Plus, whereas the space race leaves impoverished communities behind and worsens human health, focusing on bettering our planet is beneficial for all.

Instead of prioritizing a solution that’s still far-fetched, it’s important to first preserve our planet. Only when our planet is preserved should we consider traveling to and living on new ones. 

Image Source: Unsplash


  • Adrian Johansen

    Adrian Johansen lives and thrives in the Pacific Northwest. Her writing focuses on sustainability and diversity issues, especially when they intersect with public health and tech topics.

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