US Press: pick of the papers

The ten must-read opinion pieces from today's US papers.

1. Public turns against war on pot (Chicago Tribune)

The stupidity and futility of the federal war on weed has slowly permeated the mass consciousness, writes Steve Chapman.

2. No Peace for Prisoners (Washington Post)

The Israeli-Palestinian prisoner swap offers little new hope for peace, writes this editorial.

3. Occupy the Classroom (New York Times)

Want to close the equality gap? Providing early childhood education would be a great place to start, and it might even pay for itself, says Nicholas D. Kristof.

4. Re-examining our bio-defense (Politico)

According to Jeffrey Runge, Congress needs to take a fresh look as it prepares to reauthorize BARDA.

5. How to Clean Up the Housing Mess (Wall Street Journal) ($)

Millions of foreclosures are ruining millions of lives. We can do better than Social Darwinism, says Alan Blinder.

6. A shortage of drugs in a free market? (USA Today)

This editorial reporst that while the FDA and pharmaceutical industry debate the hows and whys, patients are stuck in limbo with life-threatening illnesses.

7. Candidate Cain disrespects African-American community (Detroit Free Press)

Trevor Coleman writes: "Imagine the reaction if a white presidential candidate said most African Americans have been "brainwashed" to vote for Democrats."

8. Meet Me at the Plaza (New York Times)

A 50-year-old bargain between the city and private developers gave New York hundreds of potentially useful spaces, but Jerold S. Kayden argues it clearly needs revising.

9. Obama in the Occupy Wall Street camp (Los Angeles Times)

With polls showing broad support for the movement, President Obama tries to turn the anger into an electoral advantage, says Doyle McManus.

10. Newt's surge (Washington Times)

The Republican party's disarray benefits the former speaker, writes Brett M. Decker -- and starts talk of a Gingrich-Palin ticket.

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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.

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