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One Hundred Years of Progress

How do we measure progress?

One hundred years ago today, on August 4, 1914, the Governor General of Canada received a telegram notifying him that Britain was at war with Germany, and therefore so were all its colonies and dominions. Over the next four years Canada’s citizens joined much of the world population and sacrificed their blood, tears and treasure in what became known as “The Great War”.

Whatever the merits of each nation’s respective entry into the war, for humanity the echoes of that bloodbath reverberate today.

Do you know anyone who has celebrated their hundredth birthday this year? That person was alive in a time before World War I, the Russian Revolution, the discovery of DNA, the Great Depression, World War II, the Cold War, the invention of computers, jets, humans landing on the moon, or the internet. A one-hundred year old has seen a pace of change that dwarfs that of any lifespan before.

Technological advancement is not meaningful progress in and of itself.

The rockets that launched humans or the Hubble Telescope into space used technology that rained destruction upon innocent people. President Kennedy sparked the Space Race with the Soviets with the goal of beating them to the “high ground” in the event of another war.

What will someone born today see and know, when they celebrate their birthday in one hundred years? We hope the next century will see a longer list of human triumphs, than wars and bloodshed. We hope it will bear witness to a more united and integrated species than ever.

One of the reasons I love space exploration is I cherish the belief that learning about our place on Earth, and in the Cosmos, makes us happier, more peaceful, and more tolerant people. On the  anniversary of my country’s entry into a pointless war that killed or wounded over 36 million of our fellow humans, I hope that images of Earthrise or the Pale Blue Dot that Carl Sagan wrote about will serve to unite us and be seen as our true progress.

Progress should mean no more wars on Earth. Progress should mean peaceful exploration and settlement in space.

But only Time will tell.

Earthrise revisited


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