New light (3): terraforming Mars by George Drake

Sorry for the delay in getting to this third entry, or maybe it’s even the fourth entry, on terraforming Mars. In the interim I had a small stint in the hospital. Nothing to worry about, just a cold-inspired exacerbation of my MS. I’m fine now.

But, like the reader, probably, I grow tired of the exercise. Part of the reason I do so is that most of the problems listed originally regarding terraforming Mars are not particularly challenging, in so far as guessing what potential solutions would involve. In doing–that’s an entirely different thing.

How to build up the volume of the atmosphere will, almost certainly, involve releasing chemicals from the regolith. Changing the chemical composition of the atmosphere will, probably, involve using selected elements in that process, and certainly biological activity. Obtaining water may be a combination of chemistry and/or mining. The issues with cost and radiation exposure involving transit to and return from Mars will almost certainly eventually be met by making the trip one way. People won’t go to and return from Mars, they will only go.

Most  importantly of all, though, the concept of exploration alone must be replaced by the very idea of terraforming. The most obvious, and I believe essential, step in making that transition is to recognize the role of terraforming Mars as critical to that of preserving the earth-based life force.

The only issue worthy of further mention on my part regarding technical issues might well be the current absence of life already on the planet. That and the potential discovery of life already existing on the planet.

First of all, any terraforming project would, perforce, involve a long and difficult project of plant-based development prior to either attempts at introducing widely based animal life in significant numbers or supporting human life. The details of such a project are far beyond my imagination. But it’s existence, if not the outline, is clearly an absolute must. Establishment of self-contained human communities is almost a given, and is a probable first step. But, eventually, planet wide populations of life-animal as well as vegetable-will have to be established. My personal favorite, as a starting point, is green algae, because of its potential for converting the atmospheric chemistry, as well as its versatility and hardiness.

But a primary issue which is really problematic is what to do should our explorations of Mars encounter evidence of life extant on the planet. There are many who believe that, should we encounter it, extraterrestrial life must be left alone. Their position is almost always based upon an awareness of how terribly destructive human activity has been to life on this planet. I understand and sympathize with it, but I don’t agree with that position.

I’m not speaking from a purely theoretical position. I don’t regard terraforming Mars as a “wouldn’t it be nice” kind of thing.  Nor am I unduly tainted by an inflated concept of the power of mankind. Yet the driving force behind my position is a greater awareness than most people seem to have ever contemplated of the power that mankind has already unleashed on planet Earth.

You see, I believe life on earth is threatened by mankind. I don’t think it’s us–humanity–that is at risk. I think it is all life on this planet. Yet it is not obvious to me that mankind can or could represent any threat to any extraterrestrial life form at this time, or at any time in the foreseeable future.

Eliminating all life on the planet Earth is far, far, easier than eliminating an extant life form on another planet. We are, after all, only succeeding in the task of eliminating life here by virtue of our overwhelming dominance of the resources required to support life. It’s our over-population here that enables it. No, that’s not exactly right–it’s more through the inadvertent production of unintended consequences that we threaten it all. Things like greenhouse gases, now in the form of CO2 driving average temperatures up until greenhouse gases in the form of H2O,  become the main engine driving up average ambient temperature; resulting in a runaway greenhouse effect, not merely global warming.

But it’s only become “easy” over a long period of time. It’s taken us hundreds of thousands of years to become any kind of threat to Gaia. The driving force is nothing other than overpopulation.  The conundrum for the environmental movement is that, unless you’re simultaneously working on the population problem, you’re only working to make the continuation of population increases possible.

This is hinting at another whole discussion, which I promise to begin next time, about man’s technology and its limits, including its unsustainability in planetary transfer.  That’s a long and involved discussion so suffice it here to say that, at its root, my affinity lies with life on this planet, not life on another. If mankind is a threat to life on this planet, then survival of an alien life form is not a high-priority for me.

Which leads me to one further point that I think calls for attention here. I was listening to the news today, which I’ve often thought is as bad for me as good. I love being informed, but don’t like the potential depression. This American Life had a truly downer story on how one drug court in Georgia had gotten entirely out of hand-a great example of how unbridled power and demagoguery can and will run amok, even in a democracy with a strong constitution.

Story after story from the news convey utterly depressing things like this, about which you can do nothing. Even everyday encounters with people who should know better, if focused upon, can leave one in an deep state of depression.

Depression is, ultimately,  an immobilizing emotion. If you think you can do nothing about something, then you usually do nothing. What matters to me is survival of the earth-based life force. Overall, the whole topic of terraforming Mars is potentially devastatingly depressing for me. Especially if my rants fall on nothing but deaf ears. It’s more than enough to get you down. Permanently. But this is mainly true if you focus on it. Don’t.

The best advice my father ever gave me, bless his long–since deceased heart, was “don’t wallow in it.” If something appears to be wrong, get up and attempt to do something about it. In action lies redemption. Not necessarily from the consequence, but, more importantly, from anticipation of the consequence. And in inaction lies certain fulfillment of whatever dreaded consequences there might be.

“We’re not going to make it, We’ve got to get off.” All of us. Every living being on earth. Gaia’s survival is what is at stake.

Wallowing in how hard it is going to be “getting off” does nothing to make it easier to get off. In fact it does quite the opposite. The fact is, if there’s any chance that “We’re not going to make it,” then there will be no option but to “get off.” And, as shown in the discussions on terraforming above and before this, that is a task that will take hundreds of years. We are not going to see the end of this. But if we don’t see the start, there’s very little chance of there being an end with a pleasant outcome, for there will not be enough time.

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One Response to New light (3): terraforming Mars by George Drake

  1. Hank Raymond says:

    Your comment, ” The conundrum for the environmental movement is that, unless you’re simultaneously working on the population problem, you’re only working to make the continuation of population increases possible.” says it all George. Is that your own quote? Or do you attribute that to someone else?
    -Hank

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