The so-called Green New Deal is the sort of thing that might have been dreamed up in a college dorm after the bong pipe has been passed around too often. The plan, which was presented as a serious proposal by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her supporters, appeared and suddenly disappeared from the Internet with accusations and recriminations galore. The Heartland Institute has saved the documents from being memory-holed. It does indeed ban beef, cow’s milk, air travel, and the private automobile. It mandates support for people who are unwilling to work and for every building in the country to be retrofitted or rebuilt. It wants a carbon-neutral economy without recourse to nuclear power.
Unknown to most people, the Green New Deal effectively bans space travel. The reason is that rocket launches create harmful emissions, some of which are greenhouse gasses, some of which are harmful in other ways, such as causing damage to the ozone layer. Scientific American has a good rundown of the potential problems rocket exhaust may cause, especially if Elon Musk’s and Jeff Bezos’ dreams of space travel being as common as air travel come to fruition.
How rocket exhaust affects the environment and whether or not it would be flagged by the purveyors of the Green New Deal depends on which rocket fuel is used. Many rockets use liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen, which would seem to be benign — but they create water vapor, which NASA suggests is a greenhouse gas. Other rockets, such as the SpaceX Falcon 9, use rocket-grade kerosene with liquid oxygen, which pumps out carbon dioxide. The big rocket that Elon Musk is building with which he intends to go back to the moon and on to Mars, burns methane, an even more potent greenhouse gas than CO2.
Ocasio-Cortez and her advisors have not thought about the Green New Deal’s implications for space travel, but following the plan’s logic, one can safely conclude that rocket ships would be banned upon its implementation, whether or not rocket exhaust causes actual harm to the environment.
A ban on space flight has implications as profound as the ban on air travel. One can forget about going back to the moon or to Mars. One can also forget about communications satellites, GPS, weather satellites, and, ironically, Earth observation satellites that monitor the Earth’s environment, including the effects of climate change.
In theory, Americans could still fly to the International Space Station, since Russia would not be under the mandates of the Green New Deal, but we would have to find some way to get to the Baikonur Cosmodrome by other means than air travel. Perhaps they can take one of those high-speed trains to Toronto and catch a flight from there. Canada may have some odd environmental policies, but not even Prime Minister Justin Trudeau would imagine banning air travel.
While Americans are basking in the bosom of the carbon-free utopia, they will go to bed by the light of a Chinese moon. The Chinese government is murderous and tyrannical, but it is not crazy. It knows that access to the moon will be part of being a super power in the 21st century.
Just as a palate cleanser to conclude this examination, Taylor Dinerman has written an interesting essay in the Space Review that proposes a space-based alternative to the Green New Deal. Instead of destroying civilization in the futile attempt to create a carbon-free utopia in ten years, Dinerman draws on the ideas of Jeff Bezos and others to gradually move heavy industries off planet and would use lunar and asteroid materials to manufacture goods. The Earth would be rezoned for residences and “light industry.” Power would be provided by solar-powered satellites and emission-free nuclear and fusion plants.
As for the time scale, Dinerman quotes Bezos as saying, “In the not-too-distant future — I’m talking decades, maybe a hundred years — it’ll start to be easier to do a lot of the things we currently do on Earth in space because we’ll have so much energy.”
A century seems to be a much more practical timeline to change the world’s economy than a decade. The thing would be done privately rather than by government fiat. The best part is that we would get to keep air travel, meat eating, and all the other things that help make life bearable, plus we get space travel as an integral part of the economy.