US Press: pick of the papers

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

1. A House Divided (Wall Street Journal) ($)

Daniel Henninger argues that the divider of the Republican party is its front-runner, Mitt Romney.

2. The danger in a declining middle class (Washington Post)

Globalization erodes democracy's anchor, according to David Ignatius.

3. Sexual accusation: The shame that lingers (Detriot Free Press)

'In an age when explicit sexual imagery is more pervasive than ever, the allegation that a person has engaged in any kind of sexual impropriety remains almost uniquely damaging.' Brian Dickerson discusses.

4. Face It: Romney's the Nominee (Slate)

Jacob Weisberg warns that the media will desperately try to persuade you there is still a Republican race.

5. Is the tea party over? (Los Angeles Times)

Not exactly, writes Doyle McManus. The tea party has changed the political landscape in ways that are likely to last for a while. But its least favorite candidate, Mitt Romney, just came up big in Iowa.

6. Security vs. scourge (The Boston Globe) ($)

Scientists mutate a deadly virus. Should the details be published? Juliette Kayyem discusses.

7. Progress in wake of San Bruno pipeline tragedy (San Francisco Chronicle)

Thousands of miles of pipeline face more inspections and higher fines for safety lapses

8. Tax-haven wars (Washington Times)

Congress is scheming to export IRS meddling overseas, this editorial reveals.

9. Hailing the Wrong Taxi (New York Times)

The plan to retrofit taxis to make them wheelchair accessible is expensive and inefficient. There's a better way, Matthew W. Daus argues.

10. Ron Paul, still loony (Salon)

Even when the Texas congressman is right on an issue, it's for the wrong reasons, writes Gene Lyons.

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