Screwing Our Next Environment: Environmental Issues of Space Colonization

Whenever humans set foot in a parcel of nature, they set forth to destroy it as much as possible. That has been the way of our species for most of its history and as we begin to settle space some of the most enthusiastic minds have dreamt up ways that we could do just that. The most obvious act of destroying the environment in space that has arisen in discussions has been the idea of a Dyson Sphere. I am both shocked and offended at the level of excitement fellow space enthusiasts have at the notion of deconstructing a planet (usually Mercury) in order to build an array of solar panels to orbit the sun. There is no way we could actually use all of the power generated by such a device and there are way more energy sources in the solar system so we don’t need it.

                It would not be a sign of human progress if we built a Dyson Sphere as imagined by its advocates but the exact opposite. It will show that humans, as a culture, have evolved too little to wield the responsibility of the power we have. It would say that we cannot see an exploitable resource and resist the urge to exploit it. That we cannot see the beauty of nature, of God’s creation, and explore it innocently, to settle it to expand humanity and therefore human progress, and to respect it like the forests and seas that we didn’t respect on our home world. The Dyson Sphere would mean that solar power would be like oil, humans would be willing to destroy irreplaceable nodules of nature, like endangered species, just to extract as much power as technologically possible to do. Now, in a few hundred million years when Mercury is about to be consumed by the expanding sun then it would be alright to mine as much of it as possible before it’s gone. Even in that case, a Dyson Sphere would be a stupid waste of resources because our species couldn’t use that much power.  A much better use would be toward building O’Neil Cylinders which are environmentally useful as they can sustain 1G of artificial gravity which could be a refuge for life from Earth.

                Next down the list comes water. I hear with great tribulation in the voices that when we go to the moon, we have to begin to waste its finite water supplies as quickly as possible in order to make rocket fuel. No, we don’t have to do that and we should try to use as little of that resource as possible for two reasons. The first, the colonists will need that water to survive. Secondly, it is a part of the moon’s environment. I agree with light mining of minerals and doing what is needed to start a colony on the moon and later in other places even if that requires using water but recognizing that it is a finite resource and that it is difficult to stop using an easy resource one’s you’ve started, the aim should be to use as little as possible and find a replacement at the soonest possible time. On the moon, this would most likely be accomplished, initially, by launching rockets from deep silos so that most of the steam exhaust can be recaptured and recycled. The rockets finishing most of their burns prior to exiting the surface.

                It baffles me that when the resources on other worlds are spoken of, they’re spoken of like they’re infinite. The people who talk about minerals or water or anything else seem to think that they are inexhaustible. None of these resources are inexhaustible and some of them, like water, could become scarce in these places in mere decades. Barring extremely huge leaps in technology, barging water from places like the outer solar system will remain very expensive. Even if they’re not, eventually, they will be. What if, after centuries of being greedy, we reduce the moon’s mass by 1% through mining. What would that do to Earth’s tides? I don’t know but probably lots of fragile species on Earth will go extinct. What isn’t infinite are the resources, what is infinite is the number of ways this could go terribly wrong.

                Still, when we settle places, we should aim to protect and nurture the places we land as much as possible. If we must, there are many ways to be very unethical and bad people without having to destroy a nature that had nothing to do with our problems to begin with. We shouldn’t try to terraform the places we go. I, personally, am against giving Mars a thick oxygen atmosphere and unrestrained invasive species. For one, if there is life there, it is certainly microbial, and it could be many decades, if not centuries, before it was discovered. As Mars cooled faster than Earth and since it has weaker surface gravity, life could exist much further beneath the surface than on Earth where less than a mile down the rock is almost molten and still glowing red hot. We shouldn’t assume there is nothing to destroy long before we can be certain of it. Building underground and leaving the surface to remain the magnificent beauty it is should be enough.

                Space colonies are a blank slate on which this species can begin again without the sins or legacies of the past. It would be of utmost sorrow if we transplanted all of our problems to other places in space. I have heard astonishing giddiness over ideas like a Dyson Sphere and the idea that we’re already literally plotting to destroy another planet seems premature when we’ve only partially destroyed our current planet. Yet, humans are careless by nature and will probably prioritize their own bottom line before anything else. Between the hippies and the oil tycoons of the future, I have no doubt the latter will probably win. Well, let’s raise a glass while we still have what we’ve got. If we do lose it let’s not take for granted that it’s there.

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