Friday, June 16, 2006

Space, and why we must

We are going to kill ourselves.

No, seriously, it will happen. It may not be today, it may not be tomorrow, but eventually, we will destroy ourselves. I wish it could be another way, I really do. If we turn around our carbon emissions we just might be able to halt global warming before more than a few billion people are affected by it. But then there's still nuclear war. And biological war. Maybe one day, antimatter war. And asteroid strikes, and supervolcanoes, and eventually, in a couple billion years, the Sun will expand into a red giant and fry whatever's left behind.

But I said we were going to kill ourselves, didn't I? Yes, because we are going to stay here, and let all of the above happen.

For perpetuity, we will huddle in our fragile ecosystem and spend all of our time and resources trying to save something that, in the long run, simply cannot be saved. In the long run, there is only one way to survive, and that is to get some of our eggs out of this basket -- a basket perched on the edge of a table that is missing a leg, with an inquisitive toddler and his drunken stepfather stumbling about nearby.

Critics deride such talk as escape-hatch fantasies at best, and elitist wingnuttery at worst. Yet another example of the rich white people finding a way to absolve themselves of the problems they've created, or at least to give themselves the illusion of having salvation. It is entirely possible that this is the scenario that will unfold, and if it does, it will be unfortunate. But I envision something radically different.

I don't want a moonbase. I don't want twenty Harvard graduates in a dugout with a stockpile of frozen sperm and eggs waiting for the Big One to take us out so they can repopulate the species. I don't want an insurance policy: I want civilization.

I want a thousand moonbases -- nay, a thousand moon cities. Cultures thriving, towns bustling, the great melting pot dream writ large across the solar system. I want countless experiments in liberal and social democracy playing out over the surface of Mars, in great O'Neill cylinders hovering high in orbit of Earth, in the cold and icy depths of the Kuiper Belt. I want passionate music and literature to be written about the rings of Saturn from people looking at them with their own eyes on vacation from their homes on cloud-shrouded Titan. I want enclaves of cultures thought extinct on Earth surviving and thriving where no touch of homogenization can harm them. Brown people, black people, red and yellow and white people, young and old, rich and poor. I want the human species to continue to evolve and strive for creating itself in whatever images it desires.

I then want this to be repeated, at the next star over, and the next... green bubbles of life spreading from Earth like spores on the wind. And when we find other life, we let it be.

And I don't want to give up on Earth. I dream of a day when the Earth is lush and green, humanity living in the technological wonder of their solar-powered cities and leaving the countryside to nature. Respect for all forms of life above human desire. No need to rape the land for what few resources weren't touched in the gloaming of the dread Industrial Age; with the resources of the Solar System, trillions of people could be supported, including those who wish to remain on our home world.

All of this is possible. We can save the world, for now, and do the other things. It doesn't take much. President Bush has a token flags-and-footprints plan for lunar and Martian exploration -- we need a plan for lunar and Martian living. Dr. Robert Zubrin, of the Mars Society, has shown extensively how it could be done for scarcely more money than NASA currently receives, a level of funding that is less than half of one percent of the federal budget. We can survive in the long run and we can clean up our mess. It is not a choice between them.

1 comment:

  1. While I agree with basically ALL of this, I don't think most governments are going to want to spend much money on space settlement, and there's too much inertia to adopt Zubrin's plan just yet.

    My big hope is for continued progress in space elevator development. If a beanstalk make building castles in the sky cheaper, government and industry will be all over it.