I stepped out onto the deck early that morning with my second cup of coffee in hand for the daily ritual, the constitutional, to ‘take the air’, to survey the land and ask the sky for evidence, or a sign of…something. There was a sharpness and clarity to everything like there often is before the sunrise. It was a clear moonless night and as the little cabin in the woods is far away from major civilization the stars were brilliantly cut diamonds sparkling against the black void of space. It was one of those early mornings when you can’t help but wonder about some things.
I watched a few satellites drift into my view, gliding by miles above me, collecting and redirecting ones and zeros, beaming all of the selfies and status updates and vacation photos to parts unknown around the world. I watched one appear, headed directly east to west at a good pace. Then a moment later another one appeared directly behind and on the exact same trajectory, almost as if it was following the first. And then another one appeared. And then another. They all seemed to be in a straight line and equally distanced. Then two more appeared that were slightly off axis from the others but had the same spacing and trajectory. Then I started counting them… 7, 8, 9… and I watched in complete amazement as a string of lights drifted by… 35, 36, 37… I have never seen or imagined anything like this before, I had no idea what it was exactly that I was witnessing. Then I recalled something I recently read in a news feed (no doubt beamed down to me from space) about Elon Musk’s little space company launching a bunch of satellites in low orbit. I stopped counting at 48 of the little artificial lights, and to rest my straining neck I went back inside to search for information on the internet about this new moving constellation in the night sky. What I had just seen is the early stage deployment of Spacex’s Starlink project. And what exactly is Starlink, you might ask (as I certainly did)? Wikipedia answered with this revelation: “Starlink is a satellite constellation being constructed by American company SpaceX to provide satellite Internet access. The constellation will consist of thousands of mass-produced small satellites, working in combination with ground transceivers.” Wait… what? Did that say thousands? Yes. Yes it did. “SpaceX is targeting service in the Northern U.S. and Canada in 2020, rapidly expanding to near-global coverage of the populated world by 2021. In total, nearly 12,000 satellites will be deployed by the mid-2020s, with a possible later extension to 42,000.” So then the next logical question is ‘what in the name of the gods are these satellites going to be doing, exactly?’ The answer, my friends, is blowing in the space wind. This little ~$10B SpaceX project is to enable the coming dawn of the global 5G network, and it is only one of a number of other competing projects where there are plans to place scores of thousands of little satellites in the sky above our planet (and stations on the ground) so that everyone and everything everywhere can take advantage of our latest and greatest technical marvel: better, faster, stronger connectivity to the internet. At this point, you probably should let a few things sink in. The first thing that sprung to my mind is the fact that ours is probably the last generation of people on this planet that will be able to look up at the night sky in wonder and amazement and not see a visible string of satellites floating by in the sky somewhere, like nodes on a giant net, or a web of lights slowly moving from east to west. They very thought of that boggled my mind. Wouldn’t you get vertigo, or at least motion sickness from staring at it, from looking up at the sky? What about the real stars, the real constellations? Will this not greatly impede (basically block) our ability to look up and locate the patterns in the sky that have, for centuries, guided mystics, sages sailors and philosophers, been studied and analyzed by explorers and scientists and provided an endless supply of wonder, amazement and inspiration for children, lovers and poets alike? What the fuck is happening here? Who said that this is okay, that this is acceptable? Who gave these companies permission to do this? Who believes that they have the right to completely fill our night skies with floating computers that will literally obliterate our view of the heavens? What on earth do we need this for? Am I the only one who has a big problem with this?
That led me to another series of questions around the purpose of this 5G network, and why it’s believed by some to be the one technological leap that will help to save us from the elephant in the room. That elephant is the fact that we are in the midst of what’s being called the Anthropocene, where the biggest influence on the health and welfare of every single living thing, every species of plant, animal and insect life on the planet and all of its ecosystems is being influenced directly by human activity “including, but not limited to, anthropogenic climate change.” Here’s another big trippy science statement for you… biologists are starting to believe that we are already well into the Holocene Extinction, the 6th mass extinction event to ever have occurred on this planet. That’s the type of event that completely wiped out the dinosaurs, which interestingly we are now digging up and burning as fuel to power this mass extinction event. Curious creatures we are. It also brought up many questions that have already been raised by scientists about the potential of further serious detrimental effects that this new network will have on our planet, our environment and the health of all living things including ourselves. Scientific American published an article recently with the headline ‘We Have No Reason to Believe 5G Is Safe’, and, although that sounds like click-bait, there is significant evidence that the science around the long and short term effects of exposure to radiation at these levels has been very poorly studied or researched, probably because there hasn’t been a lot of funding for it, and the nice people who do have the money to fund studies and research are the same nice people and corporations that are going to most benefit from its deployment. We all know that this is basically the equivalent of giving your raging alcoholic uncle a bottle of whiskey and the keys to your car to drive your kids to school because you want to show that you trust him. Or pointing a loaded gun at your head, clicking off the safety and squeezing the trigger ‘just to see what happens’.
So… huzzah for the 5G phones that will capture and transmit video and data of the coming epic flood events, more powerful hurricanes, increasing tornados, longer droughts and more massive wildfires that we are absolutely directly responsible for causing. Hooray for documenting in incredible and vivid detail the last of the coral reefs, the last polar bear, the disappearance of most of our mammals, our birds and the bees. We will be able to live-stream via drone feed as the very last acre of virgin rainforest is bulldozed and as the last stand of old-growth trees are cut down to make way for bunkers for the billionaires to hunker down in and see who and what is left standing in 2 hundred years, that is if they don’t get that Mars colony set up in time. Say… I hear the Martian sky is beautiful at night…nothing up there to block the view.
I’ll leave you, as I often do, with a famous quote from a bard written a long time ago, one that is less literal and far more prosaic than my rant about how Elon Musk (and that lot) is more than basically ruining our lives…
“The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves…”