Terraforming (part 4)

Returning now to all the things the comment about “not thinking we should contemplate terraforming another planet because of the likelihood we would just do to it what we have done to Earth” brought up for me: Here’s a review. 

In the first installment I emphasized the importance of thinking about humanity as only a part of all living things on earth and realizing that this total is what we must regard as being at risk, not just us.

In the second post I talked about the Gaia hypothesis, and argued for terraforming whether there was life on the target object or not, including pointing out that terraforming is a process in which humanity’s potential for terraformed-world dominance is irrelevant because of time frame considerations, at the very least.

In the most recent post, two weeks ago, I spoke to our mistaken expectation that technology can only become more sophisticated as time goes on and of its being dependent on a very robust population.

By way of stressing the dependance of a terraforming mission on support from the home planet, I dwelt somewhat upon how quickly it would devolve technologically if that support were to end, I then pointed out that our current course seems clearly bound toward its ending sooner rather than later.

Finally I discussed briefly the implications of attempting to terraform for humanity versus terraforming for just some Earth-based lifeform and suggested we should proceed on two fronts: the first and most important being the goal of terraforming for the easiest Earth-based lifeform, i.e., the form which is most likely to be able to survive on the object with the smallest investment in terraforming; the second being to terraform for humanity.

Today, and in the next installment, I’d like to elaborate a bit on the time frame issue. I maintain time is of the essence. Let’s look first at our current directions: Probably most noteworthy is the vast reduction space budgets have seen since the Apollo days. Comparison there is probably a waste of breath, though, as most do not remember those days at all, and the fact we were in a propaganda war with the Soviet Union over which country had the best technology shouldn’t be overlooked. Near-Earth space exploration, even when manned, is much cheaper than almost any deep space adventure, so it’s no surprise that the budget has decreased.

Unfortunately, though, this reflects another fact of the change in eras which is reinforced by the budgetary data. The fact that budgets have dwindled corresponds exactly to a decline in interest in space technology beyond low orbit. Only a small minority seem interested in anything more than whether we have proof of life off this planet, or perhaps the photos sent back from deep space. And even in the arena of near-Earth missions our main interests have been restricted to communications, defense. and Earth location (GPS). In any case I think the direction of space exploration in U.S. priority has been quite clear. Meanwhile no other country or coalition has stepped up to take up the slack.

During the height of the race to put a man on the moon, we firmly expected to have colonies on Mars by the turn of the century. Now a few of us hope to have made the first manned trip there by 2040. A very few think less time will be required, but most of them think private rather than government means will drive the exploration.
Another trend in the government support for space exploration is worth looking at: the scientific–only nature of it. There are efforts to expand space sciences where one might more accurately call the interest rooted in applications, like communications and GPS,  but virtually no deep space work is done on any basis other than attempting to get a better handle on some scientific question. In particular, no missions are aimed toward developing an ability to live permanently off–Earth. That’s just not scientific enough.

Now let’s look at where Earth Science has been going. “To hell in a hand basket” pretty well sums it up. Climate change is controversial only in the general public. In scientific circles acceptance is virtually universal. Some prognosticators see much more intractable problems looming, such as population and war.

Meanwhile, so called conservatives have opted for advice from mouthpieces for mythologies, some of which are over 5000 years old, rather than from the scientific community. And the electorate seems ambivalent in this regard. Witness the elected governor of Florida’s open defense of his banning use of either the terminology “rising sea levels” or “climate change” in government issued documents. It is as if ignoring the problems will make them go away.

Climate deniers may be able to win elections for some years yet–in many ways I hope conditions remain pleasant enough that the Koch brothers and their like can still buy elections for a long time–but when virtually all of Florida is underwater, the northwest passage is totally clear of ice, and there is no such thing as coral or permafrost, who to believe will be very clear. Whether democracy will still be in place then is far less so.

Finally, for this installment, let’s put Earth and space science together: Earth is moving toward uninhabitability–at the very least for all but a very few humans. Meanwhile very little, if anything, is being done to provide an alternative to Earth.

One, the other, or both of these conditions has to be changed.

Next time I’ll make the case for urgency.

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4 Responses to Terraforming (part 4)

  1. Dallas Smith says:

    George, The longshot of government or private efforts supporting terraforming as a human survival strategy overwhelms any optimism. If through climate change, over-population, wars, and lack of fresh water, our planet continues to “go to hell in a hand basket,” I believe that pockets of survivalists would remain in isolated locations, such as Canada, Alaska, Siberia, some oceanic islands, etc. That’s assuming that nuclear radiation hasn’t killed everything but the cockroaches.

  2. Hank Raymond says:

    Does anyone have any idea of HOW to terraform Mars??? I have yet to see any kind of proposal that anyone thinks may work, regardless of how expensive it is.

    • George says:

      This is the purview of planetologists, a subset of whom are working on just this problem. Many problems do not now have solutions, even in theory. But not working on them is a guarantee they will not be solved. I ask you again, “If all life on this planet were to die without it, would you consider terraforming some other planet worthwhile?” Would you consider it worthwhile even if it were only possible to reach a point where the target object were hospitable to some less-than-human lifeforms from Earth?

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