The weekend that was…

Ashish Prashar, late of the UK Conservatives, reflects on the possibilities of an Obama presidency i

When Obama finished visiting his gravely ill grandmother in Hawaii on Friday, he swiftly returned to the trail. First up, there were stops in Nevada and then New Mexico. Then his final campaign stop was in Colorado.

Most Americans, actually most people across the world, have seen Obama speak, and millions at this point have been to his events (remember Berlin), so I won't bore you with my opinion on the details of his promises (very progressive) or of the energy at the event (high).

But what really seemed new and "transformative" and what really seemed to capture the 100,000 Coloradoans at the weekend’s rally, people across the US and me - was his discussion about struggle. Having worked in British politics, I have learned not to be easily mesmerised by politicians, but I will admit right here: the flash I saw from Obama at the end of his speech really blew me away.

Indeed, as he was closing his remarks, he touched on how making change is incredibly painful and incredibly gruelling - and how it always has been throughout our history. And the best part - the part where the audience was most rapt - was when Obama veered off his prepared remarks and made it personal.

He made references to the courage of immigrants and the civil rights movement, which are clearly personal to Obama, but are rarely voiced in politics - an arena that has often been about bashing immigrants. That he departed from his prepared text to talk about those issues, and tied them to a discussion about how difficult change is - well, it suggests that very "transformative" possibility of an Obama presidency.

Whether you believe Obama represents real change or not, I came away believing that he understands the challenge of actually making change, should he win. That is, he understands that if he really attempts to fundamentally alter the status quo on major issues, it is going to be a very tumultuous and difficult process - one that only begins in the wake of election day. After all an Obama win will mark the beginning, not the end, of the work that needs to be done. Undoing the damage of the Bush administration will not only take time, but resolve.

I'm not 100 per cent sure, knowing how hard this will be, that Obama will move into the breach. My heart hopes he will, and my gut tells me its more than likely he will, but we will never know unless he gets a chance - a chance that I believe he deserves. If he wins, I am sure America will have a president who grasps how tough it will be to make progress - and I am becoming more confident that America will have a president who will try to make that progress a reality.

GETTY
Show Hide image

Stephen Hawking's enthusiasm for colonising space makes him almost as bad as Trump

The physicist's inistence on mankind's expansion risks making him a handmaiden of inequality.

“Spreading out may be the only thing that saves us from ourselves,” Stephen Hawking has warned. And he’s not just talking about surviving the UK's recent run of record breaking heat. If humanity doesn’t start sending people to Mars soon, then in a few hundred years he says we can all expect to be kaput; there just isn’t enough space for us all.

The theoretical physicist gave his address to the glittering Starmus Festival of science and arts in Norway. According to the BBC, he argued that climate change and the depletion of natural resources help make space travel essential. With this in mind, he would like to see a mission to Mars by 2025 and a new lunar base within 30 years.

He even took a swipe at Donald Trump: “I am not denying the importance of fighting climate change and global warming, unlike Donald Trump, who may just have taken the most serious, and wrong, decision on climate change this world has seen.”

Yet there are striking similarities between Hawking's statement and the President's bombast. For one thing there was the context in which it was made - an address to a festival dripping with conspicuous consumption, where 18 carat gold OMEGA watches were dished out as prizes.

More importantly there's the inescapable reality that space colonisation is an inherently elitist affair: under Trump you may be able to pay your way out of earthly catastrophe, while for Elon Musk, brawn could be a deciding advantage, given he wants his early settlers on Mars to be able to dredge up buried ice.

Whichever way you divide it up, it is unlikely that everyone will be able to RightMove their way to a less crowded galaxy. Hell, most people can’t even make it to Starmus itself (€800  for a full price ticket), where the line-up of speakers is overwhelmingly white and male.

So while this obsession with space travel has a certain nobility, it also risks elevating earthly inequalities to an interplanetary scale.

And although Hawking is right to call out Trump on climate change, the concern that space travel diverts money from saving earth's ecosystems still stands. 

In a context where the American government is upping NASA’s budget for manned space flights at the same time as it cuts funds for critical work observing the changes on earth, it is imperative that the wider science community stands up against this worrying trend.

Hawking's enthusiasm for colonising the solar system risks playing into the hands of the those who share the President destructive views on the climate, at the expense of the planet underneath us.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

0800 7318496