Leader Views


Posted on:
19th November, 2019

"Space technology is priceless as a tool for saving the Earth"

Environment ranks high in the General Election agenda - here, Gordon Seabright, Chief Executive of the Eden Project and LEP Board member, sets out the important role that space technology plays in protecting the environment.

"Space technology is priceless as a tool for saving the Earth"

With widespread acceptance of our planet’s climate emergency, we’re all environmentalists now.  And space technology is priceless as a tool for saving the Earth.  This is a key reason for the Eden Project’s support for Cornwall’s space ambitions.

Space technology provides us with a unique perspective on our planet, ever since we first saw images of our vulnerable world in the 1960s.  From space we can see there are no true borders, just our shared Earth and its finite resources to view, to measure and to connect over vast expanses.

Satellites have been providing a time lapse catalogue of images of our precious planet’s surface for decades, enabling us to see some of the most dramatic changes that human activities have brought about.  Just as we begin work on a new Forest for Cornwall we can see the stark reality of deforestation in Amazonia and South East Asia for the unsustainable growing of cash crops.  From space we can not only see the destruction, but before trees are felled we can spot new roads and other infrastructure being put in place.

Thanks to satellites we can do more than see things.  We can measure environmental impacts – the rate at which the Greenland ice cap is thinning, the extent of Arctic sea ice, plastics in the oceans, light pollution, particles in the air that we breathe, even changes in the height of the oceans swallowing up islands.  This information is invaluable for environmentalists.  It provides hard evidence of the problems we face, it shows the impact of human activities and perhaps most valuable of all, it shows which interventions are actually making a positive difference.

Space technology enables us to tackle the climate emergency and bring about change for the better.  The European Space Agency’s Biomass satellite, part of the Earth Explorer series of space missions to help understand our planet, will launch soon and will for the first time ever reveal which land uses are most effective at carbon sequestration.  This is vital information, because we don’t just need to produce less carbon, we have to bind more of it into our planet’s surface.

Many of us are trying to do the right thing for the planet when we go about our daily lives.  Satellite data helps us trace supermarket products right back to source, so we can tell whether the fish we’re buying is genuinely sustainable, or whether our avocados and almonds have been produced with massive wastage of precious water.  Data from satellites the size of a shoe box is also revolutionising the way we assess the weather, using high fidelity measurements to improve efficiency of air flight, crop management and flood resilience efforts.

And at Eden, we’re excited at the possibilities of using satellite data to help us decide what to plant to be as sustainable as possible.  Cornwall is famous for the quality of its agricultural produce – with space technology we can make our home just as famous for its contribution to sustainability. 

Of course, up to now we’ve been reliant on launch sites around the world to provide us with the space information we’re using to protect our planet.  Now we have the chance to build our own launch site, with a commitment to carbon offsetting and environmental responsibility from the outset.  As committed environmentalists we’re fully supportive of that opportunity.

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