Opinion

Humanity is a bigger threat to the planet than any asteroid

The green issue may not be top of all voters’ agenda, but should still be high up the bill

3D rendering of the asteroid Apophis passing near the Earth. Image: Shutterstock

Five years, that’s all we could have had. The Asteroid 99942 Apophis was discovered in 2004 and for a worrying spell it looked like the 335-metre rock could hit our planet on 13 April 2029.

On the Torino scale that classifies the impact risk of asteroids and comets – 0 being no risk, 10 being familiar to dinosaurs – Apophis scored the highest ranking ever (so far) of 4 before being downgraded. In 2029 it’ll miss us by 31,000km (20,000 miles), which is far if you had to walk but 10 times closer to us than the moon in orbit. Nasa reassuringly states that astronomers “conclude that there is no risk of Apophis impacting our planet for at least a century”. So maybe 100 years, that’s all we’ve got. 

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Plenty of other planetary threats will get us before then. An ecological asteroid could already take partial credit for wiping out Scotland’s first minister last week. The power-sharing agreement between the SNP and Greens collapsed after it became clear the government’s environmental targets – cutting carbon emissions by 75% by 2030 – would be missed. Humza Yousaf felt he had to resign.

The Greens hold a kingmaking position in Holyrood due to proportional representation. The Scottish parliament is designed to make a single-party majority unlikely. Speaking about it with the Big Issue in March, outgoing SNP MP Mhairi Black said: “I’m in favour of proportional representation because it represents what society looks like much better, but also because no one party has a monopoly. It forces you to listen, engage and work with other people.”

Since that interview, I’ve had the dubious pleasure of being tagged in countless comments on social media directed at Black. That interview wasn’t about party politics but about a political system that has worn out someone still in their 20s, and I get a tiny taste of why with each notification. Few commentators have read the interview, instead skipping straight to puerile bullying and misogyny.

The trolls remind me of an incident that happened a decade ago when Yousaf took part in a Big Issue sell-off. Standing outside Queen Street station in Glasgow wearing a tabard and holding magazines, he was abused by a passer-by, told: “You’re not from my country,” and that he was a “fucking benefit locust”. Yousaf handled the situation with dignity, as many of our vendors do too on an unacceptably frequent basis. Abuse spreads unchecked on the rotting social media platform formerly called Twitter. It helps emphasise division when we’re in vital need of finding common ground.

The SNP coalition with the Greens helped put green issues at the heart of decision making. So many aspects of our lives are increasingly environmental issues. But since there will always be immediate crises like the cost of living, and there’ll always be short-term thinking politicians, the environmental can gets kicked further down the road. What if the climate emergency was an asteroid hurtling towards us and we could mark the end of the world on our calendars? What would change? 

Climate catastrophe or asteroid impact, the results are effectively the same so maybe one action we can take is to restate the case for proportional representation. Take Coldplay. They’re a band hard to get especially passionate about, but they’re enough people’s second favourite band to keep them popular and are thus headlining Glastonbury for a record fifth time this year. 

The green issue may not be top of all voters’ agenda, but should still be high up the bill. Apophis may miss us this time but we should have heeded the Starman’s warning long ago that “Earth was really dying”.

Steven MacKenzie is deputy editor of the Big IssueRead more of his writing here.

This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine, which exists to give homeless, long-term unemployed and marginalised people the opportunity to earn an income.

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