How to terraform mars
When I was young–in junior high, I think it was–the little town I lived in thought it was a good thing to encourage social skills by having frequent dances where boys and girls would be encouraged to do exploratory boy and girl things together. Not coincidentally they would also be encouraged to note the differences between boy and girl things and men and women things and where the twain is not meant to meet. Not by the little town, at least.
The place of these pre-mating rituals was the junior high gymnasium. Invariably these events would begin at 7;OO pm with everyone attending in their finest finery, the boys lining up together on one side of the basketball court and the girls on the other. At this point the festivities would, equally invariably, come to a standstill.
The boys would mill around on the boy’s side and the girls on the girl’s side, each glancing nervously across of the vast expanse of the basketball court at the ranks of the opposite sex.
I presume the girls were running scenarios in which they practiced responses if asked to dance by various male counterparts from the opposite side, especially if asked for a dance before the floor was filled with dancers. As a boy, I can only attest to my own thinking. At first, when I first began attending these affairs, I always found myself imagining the daunting task of starting the dancing.
You see, I quickly became the one who was first to start the dancing. I always walked across the court with the eyes of all the boys, some 30+ pairs, on my back, while an equal number of female eyes stared directly at me. It was some thirty or forty paces, although I don’t think I ever counted them. I guess the music was always a backdrop, but I have no recollection of it’s ever being there. Later, when I had gotten tired of this role, I began coming to dances late, hoping that the dancing would already be underway. It turned out, in our little mountain community in rural America, the others would wait. We are talking hours, here.
It always just seemed ridiculous to me. It was supposed to be a dance, not a stand.
That said, I have to admit to a little disappointment a few years later, when I discovered that kids from bigger settings, such as the more populous environment of San Jose State College, were not so shy. Or maybe it was mostly maturity, or just the more highly competitive setting.
Anyway, my thinking has always been that doing nothing, like staying on the boy’s side of the court, gets nothing done. As a big fish in the small pond called Dunsmuir, California, I relished the attention that came with the role of dance-starter. It was no longer an open position at San Jose State. But the philosophy still remains.
I mention this because the entire world, in my opinion, is stuck on opposite sides of the basketball court of our future. If no one crosses it, nothing will be accomplished, and the end of the allotted time will be upon us before we do anything.
At the moment, I know little about terraforming Mars. I very likely will never know very much about it. That task deserves the attention of mankind’s greatest experts. But I do know nobody is doing much about it at the moment. And I know one other thing: if no one does anything, then nothing will get done.
Unfortunately, that is no longer tolerable.
I came to this conclusion by a route of, apparently, unusual negative thinking. I am an environmentalist who thinks our side is losing the fight. Plus, I think we are losing the fight much worse than my compatriots seem to think.
Consider climate change: When first I heard the alarm sounded, it was under the moniker “runaway greenhouse effect.” I believe I was a lower division math student at the time. A professor had recorded increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide at an Hawaii observatory. Carbon dioxide was already known to be a greenhouse gas, and the existence of an increase in atmospheric content of this gas in Hawaii was seen as an indication of a global increase. It was thought that Hawaii was so isolated by being alone in the middle of the pacific ocean that a change in its it’s atmosphere would indicate a change in the atmosphere as a whole. We also knew about feedback loops and knew that the real danger of a runaway greenhouse effect lay in its run away nature,
The first observation was in the fifties. The professor, Dr. Charles Keeling, would later be known for his famous diagram of the increase of atmospheric carbon dioxide called the “Keeling curve” which monitored the increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide and which we now lament because of the impending climate change which most scientists see as our unavoidable future.
I am still an advocate of the original image of “runaway greenhouse effect.” since the most important characteristic seems to be the autocatalytic nature of the greenhouse effect. For any of you who may be ignorant of the power of autocatalytic phenomena I simply refer you to your nearest algae cell and suggest you mention the word “bloom.”
It’s now all the rage to speak of adaptation and benefits, but as I understand it there is little evidence that adaptation or benefit will have anything to do with it. “Run away” is, in my mind, the operative word. It is not so surprising, when you think on it, that optimism prevails. The publishing world makes its living by finding a positive spin to put on every message. No one wants to read a book, or hear evidence that argues for the opinion that we are are sitting with our heads firmly buried in the sand. But that is exactly where we are. And we have been in exactly the same place every since Keeling first reported his curve.
Yet the facts have not changed, except for the worse. Only recently,though, has the argument that climate change was a figment of environmentalist’s imaginations fallen from the public’s endorsement. So recently, in fact, that whether this observation will stand or not is yet to be determined. The determining factor will likely be whether extreme weather events continue to be so extreme the public is unable to ignore them. Weather is fickle, even when looked at on a global scale, so the future is decidedly unclear on this issue.
But the argument for not ignoring the danger ought not depend on whether weather catches the public’s eye in the matter or not. Scientists have long agreed (with very few exceptions) that the climate is changing. At last the public has heard them. Perhaps it is more accurate to say that at last the changes are so obvious that the public can no longer ignore the fact nor just hope the problem will go away.
But this change in public perception comes with a potential danger of its own. The public knows not how serious this could be. Unfortunately, scientists are now used to being told that they have to paint rosy scenarios or the minders of the paintbrushes will not share them. So the public would do well to view the dangers as worse than the scientists say they are–at least as the public is apt to see or hear the scientists. The new danger lies in the public panicking.
But what danger lies in the public’s not panicking?
We will likely continue on the path we are currently on. The vested interests have little reason to change their ways. After all. their investment has always, and continues to be, in continuance of the system which got them invested in the first place. Looking longer term is neither their practice nor in their short-term interest.
So, if we are to ere in one direction or the other, lets seriously look at which may be the worst case scenario. If we go too far down our current path, what’s the worst that may happen? Or, if we become too panicked, what might happen then?
Here is the first place I am differently oriented than anyone else you have probably ever met. I think, not only that we might actually kill all life on this planet, I think it likely. Much more likely than not.
Although this has long been my belief, Recent scientific discoveries have only served to reinforce that opinion. The more we learn about living systems throughout the universe the more evidence we gather about their fragility. Mars once had a thick, warm. atmosphere and lots of liquid water. It no longer has either. What might have once been a thriving ecosystem thrives no more.
We have barely even investigated Venus’ history, largely because it is so clearly inhospitable to life as we know it. Yet it gives signs of having water in its past. Might it be more evidence of how hard it may be to get and keep the conditions for a thriving ecosystem?
Bottom line is that I don’t feel the least bit inclined to accept standard beliefs that “it could never happen here.”
One of the most basic beliefs I’ve ever held has been that being prepared is 90% of being able to respond. Thinking that “it can never happen here” is the opposite of being prepared. So the worst that might happen if we continue on our current path is, in my opinion, the complete loss of life from this planet.
The worst that might happen if we are panicking pales by comparison. By comparison, doesn’t everything else pale? It does for me.
So, let us proceed on the assumption that, if we continue on the current path, we will kill every living thing on this planet. No life forms of any sort. No mollusks, no microbes, no bears or tigers, oh my!
(Next time: terraforming as the only solution that I can see.)