Unimpressed by findings from the James Webb Space Telescope, Peter Sherwood reflects on the awesomeness of awesome.
PHOTO COURTESY OF www.wikimedia.com
It’s possible I’ve not the slightest idea what I’m talking about, but here goes. It has cost huge amounts of money to put astronauts into space (real ones, not the bozo billionaires exercising their inalienable right to egomania). The world’s best brains slogged over the problems for decades. Here’s a result: A former spaceman waxing lyrical on CNN about the view from space and how marvellous is the tiny blue dot we call home – and how it must be protected from deadly climate change. He was genuinely amazed at something an Amazon Indian (or me) could have told him without leaving home.
Now we have the James Webb telescope that can peer into space forever, if there happens to be one. It makes the Hubble predecessor look like a 1950s Kodak Instamatic. It can take ppix of things that don’t exist yet, and stuff that was there long ago and is no longer there, wherever ‘there’ was. They would call this awesome if the word hadn’t already been taken by every Australian waiter giving thanks for a tip, or for Federer’s forehand, Trump’s coiffure and Melania’s primary school graduation certificate, self-cleaning toilets and Tik Tok.
The first images most people saw from the Webb were spread on Twitter by one Etienne Klein, a research director at France’s Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission. “A new world revealed every day,” he enthused. We agreed. These shots showing Proxima Centauri, the closest star to our sun were stunning. Klein later admitted the picture was a slice of Spanish chorizo.
Practical joking and dangerous gastronomy aside, Klein’s hoax spoke volumes about what we think we see depending on what we’re told we see. I had a ‘so what?’ moment: If we can’t distinguish between the galaxies and some pork fat, peppers and paprika what’s the point of the Webb? Astrophysicists tell us we will see stars 13.5 billion years away. Terrific. Can you imagine what that distance is like? No, you can’t. And if it’s a matter of imagination isn’t an Iberian sausage just as good? Worse, we’re told the source of light, like the dead parrot, has ceased to be. It is no more, leaving the question of where the light from a non-existent planet goes now?
Breaking news: We inhabit a planet that is being destroyed by food. Agriculture, and particularly
animal farming, is the greatest cause of environmental destruction and climate change, bigger than all other causes combined. Read that again. We are rapidly eating our way to extinction. So, what are we doing about it? Here’s what: We observe smoked sausage or the real images of the cosmos and go wow! Then we order another half-pound hamburger and watch reruns of Seinfeld. Our CNN astronaut made no mention of the trillions spent on his world view, while the distant blue speck is being devoured by 7.8 billion of his fellows. We destroy vital ecosystems like the Amazon rainforest to grow food for 70 billion farm animals. That should be worth an ‘awesome’ or two. As for the chorizo, at least you can eat it – if you’re desperate.
Peter Sherwood has lived in DB for 20+ years. The former head of an international public relations firm, he is the author of 15 books and has written around 400 satirical columns for the South China Morning Post.Tags: Hubble, James Webb Space Telescope, peter sherwood