Astronauts and Climate Change

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By Tim Dixon

23 February 2018

 It has struck me when listening to astronauts that very often their concern for the earth’s environment is much enhanced after their experiences. Perhaps because of their unique perspective from space looking back at this planet, I guess they see that this bright blue/green planet is a small oasis of life in the vastness of space.

This was reinforced most recently when I had the privilege of meeting US astronaut Scott Kelly in Austin Texas. He had recently spent nearly a year in the International Space Station (ISS), a record for a US astronaut, and was on a lecture-tour about it. He is known for his prolific tweets and great photos from his year on the ISS, many on climate change. One of the messages he wants to share with the public is that the atmosphere is “as thin as a contact lens on the planet…and needs to be protected”. He said he had seen the increasing effects of pollution and climate change over his 17 years of experience in space, and it was bad. He urged us to protect the planet in general and the atmosphere especially. “If we can build a space station, if we can get to the moon, then we can find solutions to Earth’s environmental problems”. “It needs international collaboration, like the International Space Station”.In this context, he was very interested to hear about CCS and IEAGHG.

Previously I had the honour of meeting another astronaut, the late Piers Sellers at COP-20 in Lima in 2014. He made his vocation in his career to work for NASA on their climate programmes, and communicated their work powerfully to UNFCCC attendees using the NASA ‘hyperwalls’ at COPs (see photo). “The stuff we breathe, there’s not much of it. It’s a very thin atmosphere. We better pay attention”.

Astronauts make good communicators on climate change.

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