iNews JUNE 4, 2021 - by Tom Bawden


He is concerned about plans to send a hundred thousand satellites into low-Earth orbit in less than a decade

Space needs to be given the same protection as Antarctica or it will soon be full of junk, Brian Eno has warned.

In an interview with i, the musician said that the environment - here on Earth as well as up and beyond - is in peril because we've lost our ability to look into the future, with relatively little thought given to how our actions today will play out further down the road.

"I don't understand why we haven't treated space in the way we've treated Antarctica - where we've said: 'Ok there are limits to exploitation here'. You have to have a certificate and you can't just rock up and decide that you're going to build a hotel," he said.

"We recognise that Antarctica's a global resource that doesn't belong to anybody but belongs to everybody. Why can we not take that perception into space? It's a commons, it's not a private playground and a place to make a few more billion dollars," added Eno, whose championing of technology in music and work with David "spaceman" Bowie have made him forever associated with space - even though the pair "never talked about that, actually", he says.

"People might say 'What's the big deal about space, there's nothing going on out there?' Well in a way, that's the point. It's the place where we look out, see the rest of the universe and realise how incredibly special this planet is," he said. "I think it's very important to be reminded of that, all the time, every night."

Eno is part of a growing movement of people concerned by plans to send around a hundred thousand satellites into low-Earth orbit - between a hunded-and-sixty and one thousand kilometres above the planet - in the next eight years. This is an extraordinary increase from about two thousand circulating the world at present and has raised fears about frequent space collisions.

It will also spoil the experience of star gazing, with each binocular view of the night sky expected to contain ten disproportionately bright moving dots given off by satellites - by the time the total number reaches 100,000, according to Andy Lawrence, professor of Astronomy at Edinburgh University.

Meanwhile astronomer's photographs will often contain a series of streaks, as the satellites cross the sky, since they are usually taken with an exposure of ten to thirty seconds, he said.

Most of the satellites are used to improve internet coverage, while their proliferation has been made possible by developments in rocket technology which mean they can be sent into space much more cheaply.

And there are relatively few limits on sending them there, with a lack of clear international laws and what rules there are largely dating back to the 1960s when technology was much less advanced than it is today.

"If things carry on as they are we'll have up to one hundred thousand new satellites in the sky within a decade - it's just complete madness," said Eno, who knows several spacemen, including Rusty Schweickart, a key astronaut in NASA's Apollo programme.

"There's no thought at all about what it means to have a world with potentially several hundred thousand satellites surrounding the Earth and presumably colliding regularly and filling the sky with space junk. Unfortunately, the Silicon Valley thinking is 'we could do this, so let's do it because we can," the former Roxy Music member said.

"Since the industrial revolution we have been ignoring the part of us that tries to think about what life will be like for our grandchildren or our great grandchildren. People used to plant olive groves, knowing that they wouldn't harvest them but that their grandchildren would."

"It's amazing that we've lost that tendency to try to think about the future. Because the present is changing so quickly, we've just given up hope of ever understanding what the future will be like," he said.

Back on Earth, Eno is a keen advocate of climate change action.

He has just set up Earth Percent, a project that encourages musicians and the music industry to donate a small percentage of their earnings to fight climate change. It is seeking to raise $100,000,000 (£70,000,000) in ten years which will be passed on to climate change organisations. Brian Cox is one of the group's chief advisers.

"We're hoping to persuade people to 'tithe' themselves. Tithing is something people used to do routinely, as a way of saying 'whatever I earn, part of it goes to my church or my village or community'. And we're saying why don't we do the same thing with the Earth - just saying that whatever I earn a percentage of it goes to try to help us through climate change," Eno said.


Brian Eno will be one of thirty satellite experts talking at Losing The Sky, a free virtual event hosted by Edinburgh Astronomical Society on June 15 (7.30pm-9.30pm), led by Professor Andy Lawrence, of Edinburgh University, whose new book Losing The Sky is published by Photon Productions.

Professor Lawrence says: "The sky belongs to all of us or so we thought but suddenly it seems it's possible for people to plaster it with litter. We're now polluting the sky in a way that nobody expected."

"The study of the sky is tied up with the whole of human culture, both its beauty and enjoyment and the development or our technological civilization. This is the final straw after polluting and destroying the earth, forest and the sea, now we've got round to polluting and destroying the sky."

The live talk will be hosted on the Astronomical Society of Edinburgh Facebook page, and on YouTube.


Brian Eno, the musician who pioneered and coined the term "ambient music" has noticed a change in the way people listen to music during lockdown.

Eno, whose ambient records are often used by listeners to put them in a different state of mind, released an album called Mixing Colours with his brother Roger in March 2020, right at the start of the pandemic - and believes they benefitted from the timing.

"I think in lockdown people started using music in quite a different way than they had before. It seemed exactly the right record for the time. It's a very contemplative, gentle record and it found an audience that I think it wouldn't have found otherwise. An audience of people who were sitting alone, wanted some company, who wanted to enjoy the sitting alone rather than resent it," Eno said.

"I think these functional uses of music are very interesting and are becoming more and more important. The understanding of psychoacoustics [sound perception] and the idea that music can actually do something in your life other than be a nice tune. It's what I tried to do with ambient music - that actually did something and was a functional part of your life."

Functional music all started with muzak, which was designed to subliminally motivate shoppers to shop and workers to work, Eno says.

"Muzak was invented the late '50s or '60s. It may have horrible horrible stuff, just sugar music without any threat whatsoever. But that was the first commercial understanding that music could be used to do something to create a physical landscape to operate in."

"So while the realisation was absolutely awful, the idea wasn't bad at all. And it's reappeared in many, many ways since then and was the basis of ambient music," Eno said.

"I've been working with people investigating different therapeutic uses of music, particularly in psychedelics like MDMA and LSD - though I've never taken any of these things myself. The idea is to try to use music as well to create the space where those things can work," he said.