Recently I came across this article/blog post from Kim Stanley Robinson or KSR as he is also known. KSR is the author of The Red Mars Tribology, which I have not read but looks really cool. I think it is a long saga about colonizing Mars, as I said I have not read it mainly because it is ridiculously long, like each book is over 500 pages. That is a bit much for me, but at some point I may try to tackle it because it has gotten some great reviews.
But we are not here to talk about the Trilogy, rather the article he posted on his site. The gist of the article basically says that even though we write about fantastic technologies in science fiction such as FTL travel and terraforming other planets, like in his Red Mars Trilogy, they are not feasible for any number of reasons. He especially points out that interstellar travel may be too difficult to ever achieve and that actually terraforming a planet could take thousands of years if it is even possible. His overall main point is that some of us may think that it will be easy to leave Earth for a better planet, but in reality Earth is all we have and we better take care of it. He has some very interesting points and some that I have talked about before.
As with anything there are always, at least, two schools of thought. The same can be said with everything KSR is talking about in his post. Let’s take a look at both sides.
The first school of thought is that KSR is basically right on everything he says. Earth is our home and we need to take care of it, interstellar travel is basically impossible along with FTL travel, and lastly terraforming a planet is not really feasible. If all of these are true then I think he is right again with his overall point, we better take care of Earth, because it’s all we have and if something goes wrong we are screwed! This mindset speaks to the ultimate conservation of the Earth, that we must do our best to preserve the Earth for as long as we can because we cannot afford, in either dollars or for our species, to just pack up and leave. I think there is some real truth to this mindset for obvious reasons.
The other school of thought is the idea that everything he says is a bunch of malarkey, and the main reason would be because of the advancement of technology. I would like to call this theory, Perpetual Technological Advancement (PTA), and this says that as long as humans are alive our technology will continue to advance and will always do so perpetually, either until we evolve into something else or go extinct in which case the theory could be both false and true. Which sounds odd I know, but just bear with me. A subsection of the theory could be that if we are able to create Artificial Intelligence, then this theory will hold true no matter what happens to us. So if this theory is correct then eventually we should be able to achieve FTL travel and have the ability to terraform other planets, and if we do not it will be because we have become extinct. The whole purpose of KSR’s article was that what we see in science fiction is impossible, I would disagree especially if my PTA theory is correct. If we are always moving forward in terms of technology we could find ways of bending the physical laws of our universe and to some extent doing whatever we want.
To me it is just a matter of time, and that is what all this boils down too. Which will come first, will our technological advancement be so slow that we essentially cannot outrun our problems here on the planet. Basically that we will be either one step behind our problems, or just slightly ahead and never be able to fully solve them. Or will we reach a point of accelerated returns where one advancement perpetuates another, and that snowball effect continues where we can use technology to solve most in not all of our problems. I am on the fence about this, and honestly do not think that our technology will save us just yet.
Now that we have looked at both sides I think it is safe to say that the truth, as always lies somewhere in the middle. I think that for the most part KSR is right. For the time being perhaps the next 100 to 500 years Earth is our home and we better take care of it. But at some point in the future I think our technology will advance to a precipice where some of what we dream or write about in science fiction will become reality.
For me most of what KSR is saying is probably true. We do really need to take care of our planet in terms of pollution and what not. As for Global Warming I am still not sure what to believe, and you can call me crazy if you want but there are multiple sources and outlets saying that most if not all of the data collected has been manipulated to show Global Warming is real. Knowing that is it tough for me to jump on the band wagon. Is the planet getting hotter I think so, are we responsible, I am not sure, although I would lean toward yes. The planet does some crazy things and we have only been keeping good records for a little over 100 years or so. If I told you to give me $10,000 to invest in my company all the analysis says that you will double or triple your money in no time, but you have seen other reports that say my company has manipulated our reports to say one thing, you probably are not going to give me your money even if my company is doing well. You see my point I am sure.
The article also talks about actually terraforming Mars and the incredible feat this would be. He basically says that we do not have the resources at this time to undertake a project of that magnitude and says that if we were to try and tackle it, it would be a multinational, multi-corporation type of endeavor. Which I totally agree with. Taking on a project of this magnitude would take billions if not trillions of dollars and an enormous amount of time, man power, and resources. I do not think we are ready for something like that in terms of our species. But luckily we are not in need of another planet just yet.