Hyperpat\’s HyperDay

SF, science, and daily living

Terraforming

Posted by hyperpat on July 21, 2006

Kim Stanley Robinson wrote an excellent series of books a while back (Red, Blue, and Green Mars) about terra-forming Mars. Part of the tension and conflict of those books was that between those residents who felt that Mars should be preserved in as near its pristine state as possible and those who felt that all technological methods available should be used to make the planet’s environment as human friendly as possible.

You might think that this question is moot, as we haven’t even set foot on Mars yet, let alone started changing its environment. But the question is actually very relevant to everyone living on good old planet Earth. Here, the question is usually framed in terms of ‘Let’s preserve all the wilderness areas and keep everything just like it was 200 years ago’ versus ‘I want to build my 300 story office complex right here, and I don’t care what I have to bulldoze to do it’. When the two sides are stated as baldly as this, I think it’s fairly obvious that neither side is completely right.

Certainly, there is a place and valid reasons for trying to preserve some areas and unique ecologies from the ravages of capitalistic-driven development. It is very possible that there are life-forms in these areas that may eventually prove not only beneficial, but essential to humanity’s continued existence. Wiping such areas out willy-nilly is not good stewardship of Planet Earth.

But at the same time, neither does it make sense to try and preserve every nook, cranny, and spotted owl. At some point it becomes obvious that whatever organisms that are present in an area are either fully abundant elsewhere or provide no real benefit to man or the overall eco-system.

So far, who decides just where that dividing point is, and whether a particular piece of property can be used for commercial purposes or whether great efforts should be expended to preserve it as is, is a matter for the courts. But the law and the courtroom adversarial approach do not seem to me to be the best arbiters of such matters. Rather, scientific facts and the voices of those who hear the great call of all living things need to be considered in a forum or organization where all points of view can be freely expressed and consensus can be reached. What form such an organization might have or what power it might have to enforce decisions reached by its members I don’t know. But we need something different than today’s approach.

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