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Thu Dec 20, 2012, 07:07 PM

 

Can we colonize Earth?

We talk about colonizing the moon, or Mars, where the existing ecosystem does nothing whatsoever to support our existence. Might we survive on Earth by doing the same thing? If climate disaster becomes unavoidable and irreversible, can we retreat to sealed domes extracting energy from the sun and synthesizing food directly from CHON (Carbon-Hydrogen-Oxygen-Nitrogen, the building blocks of proteins and carbohydrates)? We have plenty of C and O in the form of CO2, and plenty of H and O in the form of H2O, and the atmosphere is 80% N. What more do we need except for a few trace minerals that are easy to find? With the right chemistry we should be able to make food out of thin air. All the building blocks are there for the taking.

Obviously we could only support a small population in such a manner, but maybe we don't really need the environment after all. Maybe, if we could survive on a lifeless rock like the moon, we could survive on a lifeless Earth as well. Perhaps the time has come for the species to evolve beyond the need for "nature".

Sure, trees are pretty and all, and we get all mushy and sentimental about "Mother Nature" and fluffy bunnies, but maybe we have to face the truth of a post-ecological existence built on technology that replaces biology. Maybe there truly is no room on Earth for other animal species except for mankind. Maybe it's time for the space-wasting "junk species" like bunnies and ponies to be cleared away.

Am I being sarcastic? Am I being serious? I honestly don't know whether to take myself seriously or not on this. But if Earth is going to hell anyway, it's something to think about.

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Response to Speck Tater (Original post)

Thu Dec 20, 2012, 08:28 PM

1. This question pops into my head every time

...I read or hear futurists going on about colonizing Mars. And this imagery accompanies it:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=Abk0kC8sJv8#t=479s

"Who needs nature?!"

But I think its hubris on a massive scale. Until we develop the kind of ethics and political economy that can be truly responsible to the biosphere (instead of fouling the nest), then we're unlikely to be good to each other. Sci-Fi fantasies aside, the effort would be wasted without the right kind of culture in place.

As for the science angle you present, going on about life's "chemistry" sounds like something from out of the 1950s: Dangerously naive and, to boot, harking back to the assumption that we will carry on by extracting what we need from the environment... one way or another.

Life has to branch out into myriad niches in order to have stability and staying power, and we are supported by its structure. Replacing those branches with a technological tradition that sought only to destabilize and exploit is a long shot to say the least.

Fantasies of space colonization were formulated long ago, before environment was an issue. They assume things like "recycle only as a last resort", and colonization itself is an extractive process. Jumping forward to the 1970s Sci-Fi in the above clip, some of the subtext of that series is a recognition that the Alphans' way of life is a dead-end... they seek planets with life already on them and they do not harbor the conceit of "terraformer".

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Response to Speck Tater (Original post)

Thu Dec 20, 2012, 09:29 PM

2. Well, there's Biosphere 2 for a bad example of how to try it

Didn't work so well. It's not obviously impossible, but it's not easy, either.

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Response to Speck Tater (Original post)

Fri Dec 21, 2012, 04:32 AM

3. I really hope that you're being sarcastic ...

... as I'd hate to think what might have just happened to turn an interesting and
normally sensible poster into the kind of person who would post those comments
as "serious" ...

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Response to Nihil (Reply #3)

Fri Dec 21, 2012, 11:51 AM

4. I'm not sure.

 

If things got so bad we had to evacuate the planet we'd need a different kind of life support anyway. And if we could come up with technological life support them maybe it could save the species if and when nothing else can.

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Response to Speck Tater (Original post)

Fri Dec 21, 2012, 03:28 PM

5. Uncle Bucky, forgive us for our arrogance, ...

F Buckminster Fuller

He was the inventor of the geodesic dome, and a very incredible human being, talking of sustainability before it was popular, or in his words, humanity has the ability to be 'enduringly successful'.

The city of Houston has considered a geodesic dome to preserve the Texas ego, long after the local business concerns destroy their environment. There was a Discovery channel production of the mega construction needed if this was to be tried.

If your are truly interested in this, you might start there for information. Personally, I would rather perish than put up with Texas egos and arrogance, but each to their own.

http://voices.yahoo.com/houston-dome-project-environmentalists-right-3486831.html

Forgive me Bucky for I have sinned.

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Response to CRH (Reply #5)

Fri Dec 21, 2012, 03:38 PM

6. It would probably make more sense for us to dig tunnels than to build domes. nt

 

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Response to Speck Tater (Reply #6)

Fri Dec 21, 2012, 08:18 PM

8. Back to cave dwelling, good enough for tool monkeys. N/t

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Response to Speck Tater (Original post)

Fri Dec 21, 2012, 05:46 PM

7. That's precisely what we're going to do.

We will have a population readjustment though to get there.

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Response to Speck Tater (Original post)

Sun Dec 23, 2012, 06:14 PM

9. Sounds like a great sci-fi plot

but it would suck if humanity was so stupid as to ultimately trash the only livable planet it has for the sake of speedy transportation and large home appliances.

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Response to Speck Tater (Original post)

Sun Dec 23, 2012, 06:57 PM

10. Should we replace intestinal flora and soil mycelium with nanobots?

 

If so, do you have any inkling how much more energy it would take to do that? The overhead of our current civilization is incredibly resource and energy intensive. To completely replace nature would probably take so much energy that we would be pushed to a brink to micro-manage everything, and we would likely fail.

The bottom line is that mankind lacks the ability to recreate in a blink of time what has evolved in nature over billions of years to keep the system in near-balance. Our reach consistently exceeds our grasp. While you may state that there is only room for man on earth, I'd assert that doesn't necessitate man's existence alone (the other viable alternative is to simply remove man and let the finely tuned system reassert itself automatically).

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Response to Speck Tater (Original post)

Sun Dec 23, 2012, 07:00 PM

11. I suggest you read "The People of Sand and Slag"

A disturbing science fiction short story that addresses just such a future, only they do it by re-engineering humans themselves to not require nature any longer,

http://windupstories.com/stories/pumpsix/the-people-of-sand-and-slag/

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Response to NickB79 (Reply #11)

Sun Dec 23, 2012, 07:29 PM

12. Why even mess with humans?

 

That seems more complicated than just replacing us with machines. After all, if we place no importance on other organic life any more, why even place any on human life? This seems strange. If we can do it better, why not a clean slate?

GG mentioned something earlier to a related subject; this line of thought is "extremist". Environmentalists who want balance in an existing system is a pretty moderate view compared to people who want a complete domination of the natural world.

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Response to NoOneMan (Reply #12)

Sun Dec 23, 2012, 07:39 PM

13. That's a good, if disturbing, point you make

Once we become so separated from nature, what's the point of even having organic bodies anymore? I mean, obviously we're not there technologically, but the field of cybernetics and synthetic organ replacement is booming. However, organic material does make a very efficient machine in itself, capable of self-repair and growth that machines currently don't have. A human heart, for example, puts the best human pumping machines to shame, considering how many beats it puts out in it's lifetime. So, it might make sense to keep using organic tissue simply for the economics of it.

Though I should note that in the short story I suggested, they do sort of use nanotech to re-engineer their bodies.

SPOILER ALERT:










They have "weevil-tech" inside of them that allows them to digest minerals and rocks as an energy source. They also use cybernetic implants to increase brain capacity, etc. So, who knows if they actually are still human in that hypothetical future?

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