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Europe space chief says exploration can propel interest in climate change

by Zoe Tabary | zoetabary | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Thursday, 3 December 2020 18:55 GMT

ARCHIVE PHOTO: Italian astronaut and current International Space Station (ISS) commander Luca Parmitano speaks through an in-flight connection from space to panelists including United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and Spain's Sience Minister Pedro Duque at the High-Level event on Global Climate Action during the U.N. Climate Change Conference (COP25) in Madrid, Spain December 11, 2019. REUTERS/Susana Vera

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Space missions can show what a hotter Earth might look like in the future, as well as teaching people how to reuse resources like water

By Zoe Tabary

LONDON, Dec 3 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - World leaders should use space exploration as a tool to teach the public about climate change and spur action to curb global warming, Europe's top space official said on Thursday.

From the heating caused by greenhouse gases to the need to reuse resources, space missions can show people what might happen to the Earth in the future, said Jan Woerner, director-general of the European Space Agency (ESA).

"Data, pictures and footage from space can convince people about climate change," Woerner told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a phone interview ahead of a talk at the Web Summit, a global tech conference.

"Space exploration allowed us to understand climate change on Earth, because it was found on Venus first," he said.

Venus, the Earth's closest planetary neighbour, has a thick atmosphere which traps heat in what is considered a runaway greenhouse effect, making it the solar system's hottest planet.

Planets like Mars – home to a mostly dry, desolate and cold world – could also show mankind how to avoid wasting resources and preserve life on Earth, Woerner added.

"Developing a spacecraft that would allow for human exploration to Mars forces you to consider cleaning and reusing air, reusing water or drinking the same coffee as you did yesterday," he explained.

In July, NASA launched a new rover to search for signs of past life on Mars, a mission seen as a precursor for human exploration of a beyond-frozen planet about a third the size of Earth that orbits at least 35.8 million miles away.

Just as youth activists have done, space exploration could help "make climate change cool" and drive broader awareness of the problem, Woerner said.

This week saw a youth-led "Mock COP" event organised after the COP26 U.N. climate negotiations, due to be held in Glasgow last month, were delayed a year by the pandemic, with young people vowing to develop climate policy if adults could not.

Other space experts and astronauts have called for urgent action on climate change.

Last year, Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano spoke to a U.N. summit in Madrid via video link from the International Space Station, urging world leaders to pull their "heads out of the sand" over climate change.

Space exploration can also help convince the public that "climate change transcends borders and should therefore not be a political issue", said Woerner.

"That's the beauty of space: you're above the Earth - from space you don't even see borders."

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(Reporting by Zoe Tabary @zoetabary; editing by Megan Rowling. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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