Sustainability in Space?

Earth and moon. Should we exploit and pollute the moon?

I recently completed a quiz at, one of several websites designed to give users an idea of their environmental footprint. Long story short, even though I’m greener than your average American, if all my fellow humans lived my lifestyle, it would require 3.5 planet earth’s to maintain. Sobering.

A recent post in discuses two emerging patterns of thought on sustainability: environmentalism and ecologism (a very interesting discussion of which is here). Citing an article by Rasmus Karlsson in International Journal of the Environment, ScientificBlogging suggests there is a third route available to a sustainable future, and that route is up; specifically in space, with virtually unlimited access to mineral ores and space to dump our trash. Why stop at 3.5 earth’s?

I don’t share ScientificBlogging’s enthusiasm.

It almost strikes me as the addict’s reaction to their incessant craving: just a little more will do the trick.

Even if it is feasible to exploit space as a means of sustaining modern civilization on earth, any such viable technology is decades away at best. The more urgent issue is of a moral and philosophical nature. Namely, understanding that there are, and always will be, limits; on every aspect of human existence, including the reliance on and expectations of technology to solve our problems.

Just because we can do something doesn’t mean that we should, or that it is the right thing to do, either practically or morally.

Instead of wasting our time on “technological optimism” run amok – for it is time that we don’t have to waste – only by internalizing either an environmentalist or ecologist system of thought and practice wil we find the path to long term sustainability. 

It seems clear that business, government, and individuals have no choice but to live and operate within the sustainable carrying capacity of this one planet earth.

Fitting my 3.5 earth lifestyle into 1 might seem an impossibly daunting challenge, but it is the opportunity and obligation of our times.


Tom Schueneman writes about environmental issues at and

Tom is the founder, editor, and publisher of and the TDS Environmental Media Network. He has been a contributor for Triple Pundit since 2007. Tom has also written for Slate, Earth911, the Pepsico Foundation, Cleantechnia, Planetsave, and many other sustainability-focused publications. He is a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists

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