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Foreword by Wubbo Ockels

As professor of Sustainable Development at the Delft University of Technology and the University of Groningen, I recently had the privilege to also give a lecture course at the University of Amsterdam. My audience was a select group of 80 multidisciplinary students who for eight weeks attended my lectures about sustainability and the destructive influence of industrialization and of artificiality on nature; about the resulting climate, water, food, pollution, financial, safety and social crises demonstrating that nature has no mercy. We must seek a win-win situation with nature; nature is simply too strong not to take seriously.

One of the books that I used for this lecture course was Revolution Justified by Roger Cox. Specifically, I referred to the human rights so well described in his book. The fact is that even though we, and in particular those in power, know the risks of continuing business as usual, we are still playing poker with our atmosphere. The answer to the question: “Is there evidence to conclude that doubling or even tripling the level of CO2 in our atmosphere will not lead to catastrophe?” is an emphatic “no” – and so we play poker. Where is the sense of responsibility of those who hold power? What are the rights of people who are suffering due to the bad decisions of the powerful? Why can a few profit at the risk of so many? There seems to be a fundamental injustice in the way we are developing our world. This book by Roger Cox gives power back to the people, showing them the rights they have. I am very stirred by his work because I see myself, too, as a missionary for sustainable culture and society. For me, this goes back to my spaceflight on the US Space Shuttle Challenger in 1985, and is expressed in a metaphor that occurred to me on board a large sailing ship…

In April 2010, I sailed from Mauritius to Cape Town in the Tall Ship Stad Amsterdam as part of a mission called “The Beagle” produced for Dutch Television. “The Beagle,” because it sailed the same route Darwin sailed almost two hundred years ago when exploring nature and studying the evolution of life. During our three weeks on board we heard lectures about Darwin, about how nature evolves by adapting and modifying to fit with changes in the environment. I came to better understand the role of nature, to understand the role of diversity, and of the unknown future for which we must be prepared to change. I realized that what Darwin teaches us are the basic rules of survival. We humans are at present in survival mode. We need to adapt to the fact that we have gained the power to ruin our home base, our place to live. We have become a threat to ourselves and it will require intelligent action to change.

On one day of this journey we made a short movie with me positioned on the middle mast 30 meters above deck and the cameraman at the same height on the rear mast.
Every 10 seconds the horizon in the picture went all the way up above me and then went slowly down again to disappear under me, showing the huge waves we were sailing through. At the time, I compared the Stad Amsterdam with the Earth. Our ship was sailing the Indian Ocean. Huge waves of dark blue water were pounding the ship. Sometimes the bow had to find its way through walls of water of 15 or more meters high, with the whole ship vibrating and telling us the power of water. Still, we were comfortable, knowing that a hull made of strong steel was protecting us against the dangers of the ocean.

The Earth is our ship: our ship through space. It was my great privilege to be the first Dutch astronaut, and when I saw the Earth for the first time from the perspective of an extraterrestrial though, it was a shock. I was suddenly aware of being on the outside: outside the domain of life. I was in space, a dark space with a temperature of 200 degrees below zero, with no air to breath, no life, no history, no resources, nothing of value. From this worthless space I was looking at a beautiful blue planet supporting everything of value – all our friends, our families, our history, our cultures, our resources; everything. Seeing our valuable oasis floating through space I realized: this is our spaceship.

A dangerous space surrounds the Earth, just as a dangerous ocean surrounded that sailing ship I was on. But the Earth does not have a strong steel hull to protect it against the dangers of space; no, the hull of the Spaceship Earth is a thin layer of blue sky. At a height of no more than 20 km you can still see the Earth’s atmosphere with your own eyes, this blue sky that surrounds the Earth in its orbit; from the moon you can’t see it anymore. Our hull is so thin and vulnerable. But when we walk outside and look up, we regard the sky with full confidence. We feel safe. We do not realize that just a few kilometers up it is deadly dangerous. We are not aware of the vulnerability of our existence. Instead, we play poker with our atmosphere. Just consider: would you drill a hole in the hull of your sailboat? Of course not! So why are we so careless about the “hull” of our spaceship Earth? Because we do not realize; because we do not feel ourselves to be the crew members of this ship. But it is time that we do. We are Astronaut of Spaceship Earth®. I cannot emphasize this enough.

We are Astronaut of Spaceship Earth.
We are Astronaut of Spaceship Earth.
We are Astronaut of Spaceship Earth.

Revolution Justified is a compass to guide us to do our duty. And Roger Cox is an excellent skipper.