Astronaut Refugee – The Future Explorer?

‘We Do Not Inherit the Earth from Our Ancestors; We Borrow It from Our Children’
– Native American Proverb

I recently visited the ‘Wellcome hub’ at Euston, they had a free exhibition called ‘What it is to be human.’ It was a small collection of artworks and interpretations around the fundamentals of being human. One particular piece was a sculpture by a British Nigerian artist called Yinka Shonibare, the sculpture was a refugee astronaut, wearing a spherical helmet, moon boots, a one-suit made from Dutch fabrics, tubes for an oxygen tank and a netted backpack full of possessions. This piece stood in the middle of a spacious gallery and was undeniably engaging and at the same time incredibly haunting. This explorer seemed to be a reflection of ourselves in a dystopian interpretation of what’s to come. I think this is made abundantly clear when the sculpture is faceless, we can easily put ourselves in that situation. The artist has since discussed how it was related to rising water levels and the displacement of people.

With the spacesuits and traveller items, it reminds you of the nostalgic adventure stories of conquerors’ discoveries and intergalactic space travel. Images such as the flag on the moon, The Famous Five, Gulliver’s travels and Columbus all come to mind. The artist even included a NASA badge on the shoulder of the astronaut. However it’s contrasted with fabrics that are reminiscent of Africa, a fashion of cultural heritage. Something is exciting and child-like about its references yet there is nothing is exciting about this figure. What came to my mind was America, the land of ‘opportunity’ with its more capitalistic and individualist nature. The traditional perception of an ‘explorer’ and colonialism has generally been a white endeavour, usually reclaiming land that wasn’t theirs to claim. This is still an attitude shared by many around the world.

When we live in a first-world country, where we have access to a laptop to read a blog about climate change it is digestible, we can sit in and have time to form an opinion. But everything that we do here; every single-use plastic we throw in the bin affects our neighbours on the other side of the globe. One thing that particularly stands out is the jumble of possessions including a family photograph, binoculars, tinned food and classic literature amongst other things. Some items necessary for a journey and others for sentimental value. It was as if this person grabbed the most important things before an emergency escape from their home. The artist himself said, “It’s not immediately graspable. That’s why things are very slow politically. People see they can still get their breakfast. It doesn’t feel urgent. Whereas if you’re in a war situation you can see your house being destroyed and that you have to respond very quickly.*” It can’t help but make you think that everything else we own is just unnecessary clutter, just an extra, just greed.

We have to face it, the “modern-day explorer” is a refugee. Except they’re not trying to ‘discover’ or conquer new land but instead re-habitat to a place of safety when their home has been destroyed. The ‘future’ explorer will be our children that are trying to survive on a planet that is no longer safe or natural. We can already see the early stages of this now. For example, there have been growing numbers of people suffering from asthma as pollution causes a huge threat to respiratory health along with airway inflammation and damage to lung tissue amongst other diseases*.

As I see it, the planet itself is all land with just lots of water between us. We share the sun, the water and the air we breathe. But we have polluted our oceans and air, for what? Those extra items? This idea of nationalism, borders, and walls, is the attitude of fear; the fear of losing one’s own identity, the fear of sharing, the fear of change. When there is fear, there is a perfect place for bad decision-making and ultimately destruction. The idea of identity is to limit oneself to an idea when your identity can be redefined to one that is part of this natural world and we should treat it and everything in it with more respect and humility.

We are so much more than the borders we were born within, we’re all nomads and wonderers, we are all exploring the land and experience of life itself. Perhaps it’s a more spiritual outlook but if we see ourselves as one race; the human race; then we see ourselves as part of a bigger idea; we are everyone and everything. We can operate within this beautiful planet by only taking what we need, being more responsible for our decisions and taking care of ourselves and each other a lot better, I know we can. It all starts with you, and then slowly we’ll steer further away from this dark representation of our future.

Blog: Eliza Pitkin
December 2019

*Interview with Yinka Shonibare
*Amato G, Cecchi L, Amato M, etct. Climate change and respiratory diseases. European Respiratory Review. 2014; 23(132):161-69.
*Amato G, Cagani Ca, Cecchi L, etc. Climate change, air pollution, and extreme events leading to increasing prevalence of allergic respiratory diseases. Multidisciplinary Respiratory Medicine.2013:12

VEGANISM: The Next Stage in Human (R)evolution?

“There is no fundamental difference between man and animals in their ability to feel pleasure and pain, happiness, and misery.” – Charles Darwin.

This feels like a fitting way to open up today’s blog, Charles Darwin, scientist behind the knowledge of evolution. The other day I was thinking about the meaning of evolution… to evolve, to develop and survive. The process that connects us to all other living species that adapt to their environment, to use a Darwinian example, the ground finches on the Galapagos Islands that developed smaller beaks to eat smaller nuts so they could avoid invasion from other birds eating their food.

I started to think about how humans have evolved and thought of nothing. But after discussing with a friend I realised, I’m being harsh, humans have evolved hugely when it comes to creating ease to our lives. Look around you now. We did that. We’ve built new machinery, advanced technology, and lifestyle comforts. But then I understood why I didn’t count that as “proper evolution” because it seems we have created our own “environment” rather than adapting to the one around us, in fact, we’re destroying our environment and in turn, jeopardising our future survival.

It’s all well and good recycling a plastic bag and riding your bike when you remember. But in fact, the biggest contributor to climate change and planet destruction is sadly the production of meat and dairy. Yes, I’m afraid to say, a meat-eating diet is not the way to go if you want to help the planet.

I don’t need to throw a bunch of statistics at you when it’s quite simple to understand. Think about the amount of water, fossil fuels (for tractors) and resources we use just to feed grains. Now imagine a cow, let’s call her Daisy. Daisy is fed these grains that have been produced as well as gallons and gallons of water (2400 gallons of water to produce one pound of beef to be specific). Ever heard of methane before? I visualise it as the ‘farty’ gas that animals (particularly cows) produce as well as the acres of cesspools of faeces from farm animals. So, the more farming, the more methane, and just to give you a measure, methane is more than 25 times more destructive than carbon dioxide for trapping heat into the atmosphere (source: Peta). So after all the methane contribution that Daisy has produced, blissfully unaware, she is now deemed “ready” to be killed (that’s another story). Daisy’s corpse is transported across land and sea in trucks that pump fossil fuels into the sky, all the way to be packaged (in plastic and cling film), refrigerated (using electric), stocked and then finally cooked (probably using gas), soaked in sauce and consumed in approximately 5 minutes. Wow, that’s a lot of resources wasted because you like the taste.

Now, this is just the beef (or milk) that’s been picked up the shelf, not to mention the amount of product that’s put to waste, which accounts for a third of meat produced, we’re looking at approximately 1.3 billion tonnes a year.

I’ve never been good at sticking with diets, going to the gym every week or keeping New Year’s resolutions, but veganism is different, and that’s why I avoid calling it a ‘diet’ or a ‘fad,’ it’s a lifestyle. There’s a choice, and I choose to be more conscious, whether it be about the planet, the animals, or my health… I have to put my money where my mouth is.

The arguments towards going vegan are endless (your health, the health of the environment and the fact we’re not slaughtering innocent animals) which seems convincing and compelling enough when the only counter-arguments are, ’Where do you get your protein from?’ well, where do you think the animals you’re eating get their protein from? That’s right folks, plants. Vegans on average have less nutrition deficiencies than non-vegans. Or another argument is , ‘There’s not enough land to grow enough vegetables for the world,’ well, there seems to be enough to grow vegetables for human consumption, all farm land animals and the grains to feed them. So, there must be enough space.

Be more conscious and empower yourself as a consumer to not contribute to the invisible structures that have a direct impact on the planet. Maybe we’re not ‘designed to meat’ but rather, ‘designed to make the world better.’

Let’s change the story. Go vegan.


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