Spaceport Genocide

April 9, 2021

New Guinea: the island of Biak, a tropical paradise off of West Papua’s northern coast, just one degree south of the Equator, is about to become a spaceport for launching US and Russian satellites providing high-speed wireless internet everywhere on Earth.

Article by Arthur Firstenberg

In the western Pacific Ocean between Australia and the equator lies one of the most isolated, least visited places on Earth: New Guinea. The second largest island in the world, it is still inhabited by traditional tribal peoples speaking hundreds of different languages. Although geographically and culturally it is a single land, this tropical paradise was divided in 1848 into a western and an eastern half by a line drawn down the middle in an agreement between the Netherlands and Great Britain.

They regarded the black people who lived there only as a potential source of cheap labor for the extraction of resources from their land. Among the wealth on and beneath the island of New Guinea are timber, oil, gas, and minerals, including silver and nickel and the largest deposits of gold and copper in the world.

The eastern half of the island, known as Papua New Guinea, has been independent since 1975 and is struggling to overcome its violent colonial history. The western half, known as West Papua, declared its independence when the Dutch colonial administration withdrew in 1961, but Indonesia, coveting its vast natural resources, invaded and formally absorbed West Papua into Indonesia in 1969. Since that time, Indonesia has engaged in continuous genocide against the indigenous population, which number about 2,000,000 people today. Over 500,000 have been killed, and thousands more have been raped, tortured and imprisoned by the Indonesian military.

SpaceX is about to play a role in perpetuating this genocide. Indonesia would like to convert Biak into a lucrative “Space Island.” In December 2020, Indonesia offered the use of part of the island to SpaceX as a spaceport for launching satellites. SpaceX would like to launch and maintain as many as 42,000 satellites in order to provide high-speed wireless internet everywhere on Earth. This would require almost daily rocket launches forever into the future. Until now, SpaceX has been launching its satellites from the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, Florida, where the above photograph was taken. The spaceport at Cape Canaveral is surrounded by a wildlife refuge and has already done a lot of environmental damage.

“This spaceport,” said tribal chief Manfun Sroyer of plans for the island of Biak, “will cost us our traditional hunting grounds, damaging the nature our way of life depends on. But, if we protest, we’ll be arrested immediately.”

Biak’s location holds several attractions for SpaceX. Its location at the equator is ideal for launching satellites because less fuel is needed for them to reach orbit from there. And the vast reserves of copper and nickel on West Papua would supply some of the materials. Copper and nickel are two of the metals used in building rockets. West Papua’s mines will also be used to build Tesla’s electric vehicles (EVs), if Musk has his way. Nickel and copperare also needed for the long-range batteries used in EVs.

Indonesia has also offered Biak Island to the Russian space agency Roscosmos, which plans to develop its own spaceport on the island by 2024. Russia is planning its own fleet of 640 satellites, also to provide wireless internet everywhere on Earth.

In Papua New Guinea, the independent state to the east, most of the vast interior still has no roads or electricity – or cell towers. And that was still the case only 5 years ago in West Papua too. But in the last few years, all of that infrastructure – electricity to every village, a modern highway system bulldozed through the wilderness, and widely available cell phone service – has been built by Indonesia and it has not been for the benefit of the native population, who do not want it and are gunned down or bombed if they protest.

And the spaceport, as Manfun Sroyer said, will perpetuate both the environmental damage and the continuing genocide. Aside from the noise, light, and vibrations accompanying rocket launches, all of the proliferating spaceports around the world are destroying their environment.

A Falcon 9 rocket – the rocket SpaceX uses to launch its satellites – consumes an incredible 3,200 pounds of fuel per second at full thrust. Unlike rockets that burn solid fuels, the Falcon 9 burns kerosene and doesn’t pollute the land and water surrounding the spaceport with heavy metals. But that is assuming the launch is successful. Every time a rocket crash lands or explodes, the damage is tremendous. When two rockets crash landed during test launches at a remote spaceport on Alaska’s Kodiak Island, 230 tons of soil were contaminated. And crashes happen regularly at every spaceport. Russian and Belgian space scientists found that rockets had been crashing, consistently since 1975, between 4% and 10% of the time at every spaceport in the world.

What is occurring on West Papua is possibly the worst genocide that is going on in the world today, and it is scarcely being reported. But it is not just genocide. It is a collision – a collision between life and technology, a collision that stares us in the face everywhere we go, and it is not being reported because no one wants to look at it. “The people of West Papua are fighting with their lives every day to defend our forests, mountains and rivers,” says West Papuan independence leader Benny Wenda. “We are ground zero in the fight to protect our global natural environment.”

West Papua is the last place on Earth where “primitive” human beings dare to say no to highways and electricity. In the year 2021, when humanity is preparing to “colonize Mars”, there is no place in most people’s conception of reality for the existence of human beings who are part of the natural world. To acknowledge their existence would require us to face the contradiction between life and technology. Between reality and fantasy.

Full Article, titled “Spaceport Genocide” by Arthur Firstenberg
Arthur Firstenberg is the founder and president of the Cellular Phone Task Force – a nonprofit organization – and the author of “The Invisible Rainbow: A History of Electricity and Life” (AGB Press 2017), and “Microwaving Our Planet: The Environmental Impact of the Wireless Revolution” (Cellular Phone Task Force 1996).
In 2018 Cellular Phone Task Force launched an International Appeal to Stop 5G on Earth and in Space. He is also the founder of ECHOEarth – End Cellphones Here on Earth – an organization of people who do not own cell phones.