Danielle and Astro Teller write: Our 12-year-old daughter who, like us, is a big fan of The Martian by Andy Weir, said, “I can’t stand that people think we’re all going to live on Mars after we destroy our own planet. Even after we’ve made the Earth too hot and polluted for humans, it still won’t be as bad as Mars. At least there’s plenty of water here, and the atmosphere won’t make your head explode.”
What makes The Martian so wonderful is that the protagonist survives in a brutally hostile environment, against all odds, by exploiting science in clever and creative ways. To nerds like us, that’s better than Christmas morning or a hot fudge sundae. (One of us is nerdier than the other — I’m not naming any names, but his job title is “Captain of Moonshots.”) The idea of using our ingenuity to explore other planets is thrilling. Our daughter has a good point about escaping man-made disaster on Earth by colonizing Mars, though. It doesn’t make a lot of sense.
Mars has almost no surface water; a toxic atmosphere that is too thin for humans to survive without pressure suits; deadly solar radiation; temperatures lower than Antarctica; and few to none of the natural resources that have been critical to human success on Earth. Smart people have proposed solutions for those pesky environmental issues, some of which are seriously sci-fi, like melting the polar ice caps with nuclear bombs. But those aren’t even the real problems.
The real problems have to do with human nature and economics. First, we live on a planet that is perfect for us, and we seem to be unable to prevent ourselves from making it less and less habitable. We’re like a bunch of teenagers destroying our parents’ mansion in one long, crazy party, figuring that our backup plan is to run into the forest and build our own house. We’ll worry about how to get food and a good sound system later. Proponents of Mars colonization talk about “terraforming” Mars to make it more like Earth, but in the meantime, we’re “marsforming” Earth by making our atmosphere poisonous and annihilating our natural resources. We are also well on our way to making Earth one big desert, just like Mars. [Continue reading…]