Canadian astronaut and neurologist Roberta Bondar spoke Monday at a fundraising lunch for the Red Deer Regional Health Foundation. (Photo by LANA MICHELIN/Advocate staff).

Canada’s first female astronaut wants us to take better care of vulnerable planet Earth

Roberta Bondar spoke Monday in Red Deer

Having seen our solitary planet from outer space and tracked its threatened species, Canadian astronaut Roberta Bondar is dismayed — but not surprised — by climate change deniers.

“Let’s face it, some people don’t want to believe in anything that suggests they should change how they conduct themselves and their business,” said Canada’s first female astronaut on Monday, after speaking at a Red Deer Regional Health Foundation fundraising luncheon.

“If it doesn’t hit them in their pockets or become a health crisis where they are directly affected, they don’t believe it,” Bondar added.

Results of a recent Ipsos survey of 14,000 Canadians suggest trust in science is eroding — particularly when scientific findings don’t correspond with personal beliefs. The survey found 32 per cent of respondents were science skeptics — up from 25 per cent the previous year.

Bondar believes there’s hope with more young people arriving at the ballot box. Teenagers are more concerned about global warming and less likely to vote along traditional party lines, she added.

But she still believes all generations should be helping reduce pollution and greenhouse gases because “we are all part of a population that lives on this planet.”

The 73-year-old was one of six Canadians who began astronaut training in 1984. Eight years later, she flew on the NASA Space Shuttle Discovery and performed experiments in the Spacelab.

Bondar showed an audience at the Cambridge Hotel a famous photograph taken during one of the Apollo moon missions of a brilliant, blue, cloud-covered Earth, contrasted against a dead, grey moonscape.

“We are alone on this planet… We need to think, how lucky are we?” — to live amid such natural abundance in a vast, largely inhospitable universe, she said.

Bondar, who takes large-scale photos to draw attention to threatened species, feels Canada is fortunate to have Wood Buffalo Natural Park, the largest conservation area in the world, next to Greenland. That’s where she started tracking the migration of whooping cranes, which were once near extinction but have grown to a population of about 500 birds in the wild.

However, many other species are in decline. Bondar said the global bird population has dropped by 3 billion since the 1970s — mainly due to deforestation, climate change and chemical use.

“We need to get people to understand that birds are in big trouble” — and this doesn’t bode well for us, she added, for like canaries in a coalmine, dying birds are a harbinger of pending disaster for humans.

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