Friday, November 13, 2009

Red Mars, p.211

On re-reading Red Mars after more than a decade, I have been struck with how strongly 'red' my sympathies are. I don't remember feeling strongly one way or another when I first read the book. Now the prevailing mood among the first hundred Martians to begin terraforming immediately seems appallingly reckless to me, and I find myself in complete agreement with Ann Claiborne:

'Here you sit in your little holes running your little experiments, making things like kids with a chemistry set in the basement, while the whole time an entire world sits outside your door. A world where the landforms are a hundred times larger than their equivalents on Earth, and a thousand times older, with evidence concerning the beginning of the solar system scattered all over, as well as the whole history of the planet, scarcely changed in the last billion years. And you're going to wreck it all. And without ever honestly admitting what you're doing, either. Because we could live here and study the planet without changing it - we could do that with very little harm or even inconvenience to ourselves. All this talk of radiation is bullshit and you know it. There's simply not a high enough level to justify this mass alteration of the environment. You want to do that because you think you can. You want to try it out and see- as if this were some big sandbox for you to build castles in. A big Mars jar! You find your justifications where you can, but it's bad faith, and its not science.'


On page 173, the explorers find it 'startling in the extreme' to run across the tongue of a glacier, looking like a big white Uluru, even though they knew it would be there. I'm afraid they won't find anything startling, because they will have Google Mars.


Dunes in the Vastitas Borealis - let's not drown them just yet!


Of course, there isn't nearly enough water to do so- only 820,000 km3 or so.



Some changes we've made to the surface of Mars already- rover tracks on the edge of Victoria Crater:

8 comments:

Marco said...

My sentiments were before, and probably now, in favour of terraforming. I am seeking analogies on Earth with the attitudes of environmentalists in general. I guess it is this instinct against mega-projects of "progress" (Large dams, geoengineering projects) that I rail against.

Also in most of Italy, there is so many older buildings in so many cities that cannot be touched due to heritage reasons that it stymies the building of anything new.

But in reality Mars is a whole 'nother place. My main instincts against terraforming is that I am pessimistic that it is even practical in any scale.

Chris Fellows said...

My main instincts against terraforming is that I am pessimistic that it is even practical in any scale.

I think this is probably just symptomatic of a general failure of confidence in our society. Also, the extra 15 years of arguing about gloabl warming have brought home to us more just how complex and unpredictable these systems are.

I think it will never be the case, barring some nanotechnology sufficiently indistinguishable from magic, than anyone adapted for life on Earth will ever step out onto Mars and find it perfectly comfortable. It will make much more sense to meet the planet halfway. Rather than go to heroic efforts to make an atmosphere with enough inert gas to allow Earth machines to work, we will just make different machines; and those longevity injections they get in the Colour Mars books, it would make so much more sense to give areoforming gene therapy as well, genetic modification to make people better adapted to the cold and the higher carbon dioxide and higher UV.

Marco said...

Also, the extra 15 years of arguing about gloabl warming have brought home to us more just how complex and unpredictable these systems are.

That is true - and I think it doesn't change the sentiment of the book if we realise that meeting it part way will be the more realistic.

The thing that I enjoyed most about the books was that, not only did it inspire me to be optimistic humans will go to Mars eventually, but that it layed out rough political and practical reference guide for when we eventually do.

Some predictions of incidental technologies will be more accurate than the general timeline and travel/terraforming techniques.

Chris Fellows said...

Within the Colour Mars world, I think if the longevity treatment had been discovered just a decade or two earlier it would have been much more likely for the First Hundred to reach a consensus on a moratorium on terraforming until Mars was fully assessed- 100, 200, 500 years- why rush? This is the position I am in sympathy with, not necessarily keeping the planet intact forever. 'Panta rhei' ;)

I'm surprised that you would consider the books a rough political reference guide to the development of Mars- their politics and economics seem fairly shallow and Chomsky-esque to me, not at all consistent with Marconomic principles...

Marco said...

I would like to expand to a full explanation of why this book's philosophy does not just affirm my idealised view on space colonisation, but challenges them to think of, for instance, the changed incentives, culture, politics and economy of isolated communities, just because they are so isolated in time and space.

Think of bases in Antarctica, for instance. Are they not Chomsky-esque to some degree, at least in spirit?

Chris Fellows said...

the changed incentives, culture, politics and economy of isolated communities, just because they are so isolated in time and space.

Hmm, this is reminding me of a discussion we had - can't remember where or when - where I was arguing for the importance of non-economic drivers of innovation. You could consider every university a community isolated in time and space! :)

Think of bases in Antarctica, for instance. Are they not Chomsky-esque to some degree, at least in spirit?

My apologies for sloppy terminology- I was using 'Chomsky-esque' merely as a synonym for 'infantile'. Or, to unpack further: 'that there is no internal logic that led to the development and ensures the continuance of our current political and economic structures, they are just artifacts imposed on us by evil corporations and governments - why? Because they like being evil, boo hiss'.

BTW, have you followed my latest (depressing and completely futile) attempt to engage on Klaus' blog? :(

Marco said...

BTW, have you followed my latest (depressing and completely futile) attempt to engage on Klaus' blog? :(

Yes, and it is so depressing I didn't really want to jump in yet.

KennethEdelstein said...
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