Episode 16 – Air – SpaceX’s Starlink Internet and Flight Shame

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In the second installment of our Elements series (not like Olivia forgot or anything), we’re taking off into the air. Elise tells us about Starlink, a project of Elon Musk’s SpaceX, and how the race for space internet might come with a massive sacrifice. Also, space garbage? Then, Olivia tells the story of the relatively new ‘flygskam’ movement, all the industry executives pressed by Greta Thunberg, and how flight free travel could be the wave of the future. We talk about what we should (and shouldn’t) sacrifice for the greater good, billionaire Twitter feuds, and the connection between wealth and carbon emissions.

First we recap a bit of last week’s mammoth vegan episode, and Elise mentions her Imperfect Foods subscription (Click here if you want to join via her referral code, but obv #notsponsored).

Story #1: SpaceX’s Starlink Internet (Elise)

Starlink satellites are visible through telescopes and to the naked eye, in both cases obscuring our precious view of the cosmos. These images were taken before the introduction of VisorSat.

An image by the Lowell Observatory telescope in Arizona shows streaks left by Starlink satellites after the first SpaceX launch in May 2019. via CNBC
Victoria Girgis/Lowell Observatory
Photo by Padraic Koen via EarthSky. Taken on Nov 18, 2019 when 25 SpaceX Starlink satellites passed over Arkaroola, South Australian skies between 4:51 and 5:01am. 14 of the satellites can be seen in this composite made up of three 15-second shots.

SpaceX looks to build next-generation Starlink internet satellites after launching 1,000 so far, CNBC, Jan 2021
Elon Musk’s SpaceX reduces brightness for Starlink internet satellites after astronomer complaints, CNBC, April 2020
Will SpaceX’s Starlink satellites ruin stargazing?, EarthSky, Nov 2020
Will Elon Musk’s Starlink satellites harm astronomy? Here’s what we know, National Geographic, May 2019
Our nights are getting brighter, and Earth is paying the price, National Geographic, April 2019
Elon Musk reveals how SpaceX will address light pollution caused by Starlink satellites, Digital Photography Review, April 2020
SpaceX Plans Sunshades to Save Night Skies From Starlink Satellites, New York Times, May 2020
What Are Those Strange Moving Lights In The Night Sky? Elon Musk’s ‘Starlink’ Satellites Explained, Forbes, April 2020
Space junk apocalypse: just like Gravity?, The Guardian, Nov 2013
Elon Musk’s Starlink offers fast internet connections to rural Canadians. But it’s not cheap, CBC, Dec 2020
Elon Musk’s 42,000 StarLink Satellites Could Just Save The World, Forbes, Jan 2020
Starlink Website
Elon Musk accuses Amazon of trying to ‘hamstring’ SpaceX’s Starlink satellite project, but Amazon says SpaceX is trying to ‘smother competition’, Business Insider, Jan 2021
SpaceX expands public beta test of Starlink satellite internet to Canada and the UK, CNBC, Jan 2021
Starlink’s Internet Anywhere Via SpaceX Satellite: $99/month, Forbes, Oct 2020
Starlink Satellites Are Fainter Now – But Still Visible, Sky And Telescope, Jan 2020
Dark-coated Starlink satellites are better but not perfect, say astronomers, Physics World, Jan 2021
The Astronomical Magnitude Scale, International Comet Quarterly
Messier 45 – M45 – The Pleiades (Open Cluster), Free Star Chart

This simulation by astronomer Michael Vlasov shows what a dark night sky would look like with 12,000 Starlink satellites in Earth’s orbit. Note that this simulation was created pre-VisorSat, so satellites launched today are currently only 31% as bright as the ones depicted in the video. But Elon’s goal is to launch over 40,000 of them.

Simulation by astronomer Michael Vlasov

I don’t want to overload you with pictures of the sky, but I’m kind of overwhelmed by them and need to share. For example:

Peter Komka/EPA, via Shutterstock via the New York Times

If you had no idea what Elise was saying when she was explaining why satellites reflect light from the sun onto Earth, maybe this diagram from SpaceX will help.

If you are interested in getting involved in this, there’s a NASA Satellite Streak Watcher project spearheaded by astronomer Sten Odenwald where you can take photos of the streaks left by satellites with your smartphone to help collect data about how they are affecting our night sky and how that changes over time.

You can find out where satellites are passing by by going to Heavens-Above.com, changing your observation location, and then clicking to the Live Sky View page. I believe the goal here is to capture the satellites as they streak over our most beloved constellations, so once you locate your sky, you can watch the satellites move through and time things out accordingly. If there are no satellites in your area and you want to find where they are, you can search through different locations. Remember these satellites are most visible at dusk and dawn, so that’s the best time to take pictures!

If you happen to take any satellite photos, in addition to submitting them, please send them to us too at worldisburningpod@gmail.com!

BREAKING NEWS: There’s a bit of an update on the SpaceX regulations front. On Tuesday February 2nd, aka the day after this episode was recorded, a SpaceX Starship SN9 exploded after launch. This comes after, SpaceX had “sought a waiver to exceed the maximum public risk allowed by federal safety regulations,” and Elon Musk had publicly criticized the Federal Aviation Administration for hindering his progress with their regulations. While there was no one on the rocket, these are the ships Musk hopes to send people to Mars in someday. While in this episode SpaceX takes action in response to the outrage of the scientific community, the happenings of February 2nd certainly bring up questions as to their commitment to public safety and wellbeing when there is progress (and profit) to be made.

Story #1: Flight Shame (Olivia)
28/08/19 – New York (USA) – Team Malizia and Greta Thunberg arrival – Atlantic crossing – Credit: © Jen Edney | Team Malizia

Travel by plane and you might get ‘flight shamed.’ This worries airlines by LA Times February 7 2020
The Spread Of Flight Shame In Europe—Is Greta Thunberg The Reason Why? for Forbes, January 2020
Air travel is a huge contributor to climate change. A new global movement wants you to be ashamed to fly. Nov 30 2019 by Umair Irfan for Vox
Flight shame: Climate-conscious migrants face environmental dilemma November 2019 by DW
Save the planet… stay on the ground 2002 article by Joanna Walters for The Guardian
Flight Free
No Fly Climate Sci
Stay Grounded
Flying Is Bad for the Planet. You Can Help Make It Better. July 2017 New York Times
‘Flight shaming’ could help unleash billions in airline cash to protect the Amazon and other tropical forests by Phys.org September 2019
Our World In Data Breakdown of Emissions by Sector
CO2 emissions from commercial aviation, 2018 by ICCT, the International Council on Clean Transportation
The Growth in Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Commercial Aviation by EESI, Environmental and Energy Study Institute
JetBlue is the First U.S. Airline to Commit to and Achieve Carbon Neutrality for All Domestic Flying JetBlue press release
Sustainable Aviation Fuel review from the U.S. Department of Energy
Wikipedia for flight shame

Here is the technical to-do list from Stay Grounded:

1. Non-CO2 impacts have to be fully accounted for by the industry, by institutions and governmental bodies and by UNFCCC within the framework of the Paris Agreement. 
2. Known measures to mitigate non-CO2 impacts, such as contrail avoidance and the adoption of lean-burn low NOx engines, must be pursued immediately in addition to CO2 mitigation.
3. Research and development of operational and technological improvements, which give the same importance to the reduction of non-CO2 impacts as to CO2 reduction, must be intensified and funded.
4. Air traffic must not be allowed to return to pre-Covid-levels. Accordingly, bailouts, subsidies, tax exemptions, and the construction and expansion of airports must cease. Governmental measures for a deep, sustained reduction of flights and for substituting alternatives like rail travel and renewably-powered ships must be quickly implemented.

Stay Grounded
The Dump

Not enough reading material above? Here’s some of what we’ve been reading and watching:

I Am Greta on Hulu
Honeyland on Amazon Prime and Apple TV
WandaVision on Disney+ (and be sure to catch up on the entire Marvel Universe especially if you haven’t watched all of the Avengers movies!)

Arlo Park’s new album Collapsed In Sunbeams

Earthrise by Amanda Gorman
We Are The Weather by Jonathan Safran Foer

The World Is Burning bookshop is live! Help us come up with book list titles and bulk up our reading list.

Our World is Burning themed playlist is on Spotify.

You can keep up with us on Twitter and Instagram.

If you enjoyed this episode, considering reviewing us on Apple Podcasts and downloading/subscribing/following wherever you like to do those things. It helps us immensely.

Thanks for listening!

Ep. 67 – 2022 Rewind: The Good, The Bad, & The Updates World Is Burning

It’s the end of the year and we’re in a reflective mood! In this episode we take a look back at the climate wins of the year, updates on stories we’ve covered, and share what we’re looking forward to in 2023. Subscribe/follow/press the button to keep up with new episodes every Wednesday! You can also follow us @worldisburnin on Instagram and Twitter, and check out our website worldisburning.com for extended show notes including sources and photos. World Is Burning is hosted by Olivia Hamilton and Elise Nye. Our theme music is by Kaycie Satterfield, and our logo was made by Sonja Katanic. — Send in a voice message: https://anchor.fm/worldisburning/message
  1. Ep. 67 – 2022 Rewind: The Good, The Bad, & The Updates
  2. Ep. 66 – Myths, Part 2: The Overpopulation Myth
  3. Ep. 65 – Myths, Part 1: Monopolies and The Landlord’s Game
  4. Ep. 64 – Halloween – Aliens and Bigfoot
  5. Ep. 63 – Stars and Movie Stars – Asteroids and Sacheen Littlefeather