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Still the Age of Stupid?



Yesterday as I watched famed Star Trek actor William Shatner become the oldest person to go into space, I pondered this new commercial space race between a triumvirate of billionaires, each promising space travel for everyone in the future. Well pardon me if I sit this one out.


As the world awaits the outcome of the COP26 conference on climate change scheduled at the end of October in Glasgow, I wonder at the irony of a ‘new era of space travel’, when we are fighting to save this planet, due in no small measure to our wasteful practices, consumption and lifestyles.


I feel as an educator that I have failed to get the message across during those times I was privileged enough to stand in front of groups of young students trying to highlight where my and previous generations have made mistakes that have been catalysts for many environmental challenges today.


Some years ago, I taught ‘Sustainability’ relating to leisure industry impacts and used visual materials then such as ‘The Age of Stupid’, ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ and others to generate discussion and generally some lively tutorials followed. I remember one student coming back to me a few days after one such discussion and informing me that her dad was a scientist ‘and he says your talking crap’. Fair enough, everyone is worthy of an opinion, but it seems to me that we really are at a tipping point now (pun intended) when there is daily increasing concern about the obvious impacts of climate change – disappearing glaciers, floods, earthquakes, rising sea levels and temperatures, not to mention greater societal impacts globally- wars, waste, hunger, food scarcity and security and many others.


This brings me back to the irony of seeking further space exploration. At present we have over 27,000 pieces of space junk spinning around this planet, more junk that we’ve made and jettisoned into a ‘spacefill’ cosmos. This, you will be reassured to hear is being constantly tracked by NASA. Well pardon my impudence but why just track it, why don’t we bring it home and put it in erm, landfill? Yes, I know that would be stupid, wouldn’t it?


It appears to me that we just can’t learn no matter how much information is put in front of us. All that space junk is mostly due to satellite launches and collisions in space that cause large chunks of junk to become smaller pieces of junk that join the galactic merry-go-round of waste circling our planet. Now, our billionaire space travel organisers tell us, is the time to make space travel mainstream for everyone. Uhm, why can’t we start by sorting out the challenges on this planet first and then tidy up all the junk in the spacefill before providing more unsustainable conspicuous consumption opportunities?


Well, what’s the answer? I could argue that bigger brains than mine are going to figure this one out but that would be a cop-out and I’m confident we are going to get plenty of those shortly from our global leaders when they congregate in Scotland. I may feel failure as an academic that I couldn’t get my messages across as well as I would have liked but that doesn’t mean that teachers don’t have a role to play in our future. For we are all teachers now and for those who know something, share it with others, even if you are accused of talking crap, you’re not going to hurt anyone, but you might just be a catalyst for making one small change that contributes to larger changes in society. Come on, we can do this!




Bernie Quinn is a consultant specialising in transnational education. If you want to discuss sustainable development of your international academic partnerships, get in touch anytime.

00 44 07918184572

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