The most pressing issue of our age – the climate emergency – will affect the youngest generations to the greatest degree. Involving audiences of all ages in discussions is critical. It can also be illuminating, as I learned when I met a 12-year-old girl called Archie in the COP26 Green Zone, who taught me a valuable lesson.
I have always loved space, space travel, and Earth observation. When I see a rocket launch, I am filled with joy and a sense of the progression of science. I was incredibly lucky to attend COP26 with Space4Climate where I had an opportunity to share this passion with the public. I had a fantastic time chatting with everyone about climate change and the role space has in measuring and monitoring its effects.
Archie gave me the look of a tenured professor
Space is infinite, I thought, and so is its capability to improve the world. Then I met Archie. Despite only coming up to my waist, she looked at me with the experience of a tenured professor. She asked, “Why do we want to move factories to space if they’re just going to pollute space instead?”
What followed was a 15-minute discussion about the limitations of space and the necessity to innovate sustainably.
We covered space junk, off-world manufacturing and unethical mining practices. We worked out (together) that space could be incredibly valuable to humanity. Unfortunately, as our species often does, there is also a significant risk of making things worse.
Painstaking efforts to generate accurate data
This is a simple point, but one that is often overlooked in a culture of techno-optimism. I have dedicated my life to the possibilities of space and have given surprisingly little consideration to the industry’s limitations. This brief chat with Archie gave me a new perspective on the infinite cosmos.
I am unbelievably thankful for my time at COP26 because of the new insights it gave me. I learned more about the painstaking efforts of thousands of scientists to generate accurate data that I take for granted. I learned about the tireless grassroots campaigns to make a difference in local communities. But perhaps the most important lesson I learned, from Archie, is that our job is to not only make progress, but to make progress thoughtfully and sustainably.