When Mother Earth Dies, We All Die

W.J. Astore

Back in March, Tom Engelhardt had a stimulating article at TomDispatch.com on the wounding of planet Earth. He also made mention of the Covid-19 pandemic. And as I read his piece, I thought of Mother Earth suffering from a human-made pandemic. A virus of humans. A human-made flu of fevers (heat waves and fires), chills (freezes in the South), coughs (turbulent weather), thirst (droughts out West), and pain (nearly everywhere).

But, sadly, there’s no vaccine for Mother Earth. All we humans can do is relieve the symptoms by changing our behavior.  Mother Earth is already infected with us; now we need to leave her alone, let her rest, allow her to recover. But we don’t.  We keep stressing her with our actions (and inaction on climate change) and making her symptoms worse.

The only problem: When Mother Earth dies, we all die.

We’re on the fast track to dystopia, which puts me to mind of a recent Splinterlands trilogy written by John Feffer. His latest and last volume is called Songlands, which he writes about here at TomDispatch.com. For a dystopic trilogy, I found it strangely uplifting, for Feffer still sees hope in humans who are willing to sacrifice to save our planet. I urge you to check it out.

It’s amazing to me that ultra-rich billionaires like Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk are saluted for their “investment” in space exploration, as if we humans are going to save ourselves by building stations on the moon or Mars. If Bezos and Musk truly wanted to give back to humanity, they’d be focusing on reducing consumption here on Earth while fighting for preservation and conservation. But their space trips are really ego trips, and their fuel has always been money.

Here’s hoping humanity rejects the “final frontier” nonsense of Bezos and Musk and turns its attention to what really matters: the health and welfare of this wonderful yet fragile world of ours.

For if we refuse to honor Mother Earth, it may be the last sin we humans commit.

24 thoughts on “When Mother Earth Dies, We All Die

    1. There is no way we can kill off Mother Earth. What we are killing is her ability to sustain our species. Life developed and evolved in conditions that were far worse than anything we can cause. And will continue to do so, with or without our species.

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    2. I think that’s true, JPA. But we humans sure our doing our best to kill as much of Mother Earth as we can. And with nuclear weapons … I don’t even want to imagine it.

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  1. I’ve been thinking the same thing about Bezos and Musk, as I’m sure many others have been. Their egos have prompted incalculable waste! What good a billion dollars could do, in terms of preserving habitats and remediating human-caused damage. Multiply that by the costs for these ridiculous space projects….it’s mind boggling.

    The eventual tragedy won’t be that humans wipe ourselves out. Rather, it will be that we take so many other species with us, species that are innately superior at adapting to their environments.

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    1. Ambition is necessary to a certain degree, but when you get to the degree of a Jeff Bezos it’s mental illness. Bezos said that he was investing in space tourism because as he looked over investment opportunities, it looked like the best one. The truth is that space tourism is of, by and for the rich.

      To have billions without limit and more coming in all the time yet think only of how to make even more is beyond strange. There are so many problems to be addressed yet they fester if they don’t look like money can be made from addressing them. Though this is perfectly in keeping with the economic system we have it is blind to the reality that transcends the economic system.

      I calculate that with his annual income, not even touching his accumulated capital, Bezos could give all of the 50 states $20 million each, each year. Imagine what that could do to house the homeless across the country, as one example of what might be done.

      Another thing about the fabulously wealthy is their dedication to tax avoidance. They are so obsessed with keeping from paying Uncle Sam that they willingly spend millions for the tax avoidance army of (rich themselves) lawyers to take advantage of every loophole in the tax law. To me this says that the very rich are thumbing their noses at we the people, who are the basis through what we buy (at Amazon, for instance) of that great wealth. Self made men? No, they each rode a wave of consumption by the many to sit on a mountain of money.

      And yet a great many people admire the very rich. And those very rich when they make donations that have absolutely no effect on crimping whatever lavish lifestyle they have, consider themselves beneficent and expect us to consider them that way as well.

      We act stupid, as if we haven’t seen this income inequality happen before. It is the direct result of unregulated capitalism and it always ends in a demand for regulation or revolution. This will happen this time, delayed only be the unprecedented control the rich in America have established, even having a chorus of have nots screaming SOCIALISM! at any attempt to tap the takings of the 1%. Keep us far from the thoughts of Mao, but I think of his phrase about the running dogs of capitalism when I see this uniquely American example of citizenry for the 1%.

      NOTE TO JEFF: When you take your space flight, instead of having your brother along with you, why not take a homeless person?

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      1. Could not agree more on all counts, Clif, especially the “mental illness” part.

        Re tax avoidance: long ago, I worked for a Big 5 accounting firm. At one point, I was on temporary assignment to the private consulting division. I particularly remember an instance of one individual’s receiving an annual BONUS, not salary, of a flat $18 million. The exec’s first move was to try to hide his loot in a trust fund of some kind. God forbid he’d actually have to pay taxes on that stupendous sum that came in addition to his undoubtedly obscene salary.

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      2. And of course it’s the rich who largely define these tax loopholes by bribing Congress to pass special laws and provisions for them in the tax code. So it’s all “legal.”

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  2. This certainly dovetails with this ancient report,

    And the nations were angry, and your wrath is come, and the time of the dead, that they should be judged, and that you should give reward to your servants the prophets, and to the saints, and them that fear your name, small and great; and SHOULD DESTROY THEM WHICH DESTROY THE EARTH.
    Revelation 11:18

    With the Revelation in the unfolding News Reports, we can see the Nations are angry, especially in the US, and the sound has been raised for many years we are destroying the Environment that sustains the Human Race.

    On the positive side, we saw just last year when there was a total shutdown, including factory emissions, this Earth displayed a remarkable ability to regenerate itself quickly.

    REVELATION: GLOBAL WARMING – FACT OR FICTION? TRUTH OR CONSEQUENCES?

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  3. Fire and Ice
    by Robert Frost

    Some say the world will end in fire,
    Some say in ice.
    From what I’ve tasted of desire
    I hold with those who favor fire.
    But if it had to perish twice,
    I think I know enough of hate
    To say that for destruction ice
    Is also great
    And would suffice.

    Such well-known cosmic ruminations — while hardly scientific or technological — do occasionally inspire amateur efforts at structured verse compositions upon a similar theme, such as:

    Of Ice and Men
    (a slight rearrangement of John Milton’s 7-line stanzas in his “Early Poems”)

    John Donne, or someone like him, must have written
    Of Death and Life, conjoined and relative;
    Depending on which bites and which was bitten;
    Which blame and which the other should forgive;
    Each claims the other smites while it was smitten.
    As long as Life can die then Death will live.
    Such thoughts drain minds, like water through a sieve.

    Or, Milton, as he tried an early hand
    At telling Time to take itself and go
    As if Time needed such a reprimand
    From one so young, embedded in Time’s flow
    Who thought himself entitled to command
    A Universe that he could never know.
    What too much Bible reading goes to show.

    For pure imagination, though unbridled,
    Such flights of fantasy, have their appeal
    As entertainment for the leisure-idled
    Whose unemployment they wish to conceal.
    Up to the edge of sanity they sidled,
    The two Johns choosing “God” their hurts to heal.
    Creative theft of Life from Time – a steal.

    In course of Time, Life bred a thirst for science:
    A gnawing urge not just to understand,
    But to predict. On mind, constrained, reliance:
    Imagination tested on demand.
    In face of the unknown, a fierce defiance
    To falsify or validate the grand
    Suggestions, or dismiss them out of hand.

    The game’s not up, here in the early innings.
    Or so we hope, with Life not nearly done.
    No tally yet of losses and of winnings.
    Too soon the notion of the final gun.
    No talk of endings, rather, bare beginnings:
    Five billion years remain to fuel our sun.
    Death, Life, and Time have still their race to run.

    Michael Murry, “The Misfortune Teller,” Copyright © 2019

    . . . and . . .

    Unholy Meditation
    (after the style of John Donne’s “Holy Sonnets”)

    Life has evolved, in spite of Entropy,
    Or dissolution into random motion.
    A life one drop of water in an ocean
    Of Space and Time and radiant Energy
    Out of which Chaos comes an Enthalpy
    Assembling to itself attractive Mass
    Exploded stars’ vast clouds of dust and gas
    Collapse. New stars ignite. No Empathy
    Forms planets, asteroids, and comets. These
    Revolve, collide, till through a process blind
    First plants, then animals, then human kind
    Appears. Then Habit, Chance, and Law displease.
    Each brief life passed, dissolved, no more to know,
    To scattered molecules our bodies go.

    Michael Murry, “The Misfortune Teller,” Copyright © 2019

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  4. Ma Earth is playing the long game
    She’s gonna swallow us whole and our cheap replications, that are mere copies of her resplendent glory, once consumed; will be heard as a gaseous belch that reverberates deep into the universe from her digestion of our poisoned creations…

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  5. Having already contributed my poetic/metaphorical response to this subject — as best I can discover it — I guess I should leave Mother Earth to others and move on to this quote from our author:

    “It’s amazing to me that ultra-rich billionaires like Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk are saluted for their “investment” in space exploration, as if we humans are going to save ourselves by building stations on the moon or Mars. If Bezos and Musk truly wanted to give back to humanity, they’d be focusing on reducing consumption here on Earth while fighting for preservation and conservation. But their space trips are really ego trips, and their fuel has always been money.”

    Let us leave the ultra-rich Jeff Bezos (Amazon/Blue Origin), Richard Branson (Virgin Galactic) and Elon Musk (Tesla/Space-X) aside for the moment and consider a little scene from 2001 (two decades ago):

    https://images.theconversation.com/files/397415/original/file-20210427-21-1lvsrl9.jpg?ixlib=rb-1.1.0&q=45&auto=format&w=600&h=396&fit=crop&dpr=1

    Three men floating in the International Space Station. Dennis Tito, on the left beside two Russian [cosmonauts], was the first private citizen to ever go to space – and he spent more than a week on the International Space Station. NASA/WikimediaCommons

    Dennis Tito — an American — once worked as an engineer at JPL and later made his fortune in finance. Having always dreamed of making it to space, and finding himself getting perhaps too old to realize his life’s goal, he worked out a deal with the cash-starved Russian Federation — just beginning to recover from the “shock doctrine” looting and pillaging of the ’90s by Bill Clinton’s vulture capitalist hordes. The U.S. stridently opposed Dennis Tito’s flight to the “international” space station, although the Russians eventually got across the idea that “international” did not mean “exclusively American.”

    Anyway, fast forward twenty years and we find NASA now eagerly soliciting private flights to the ISS: NASA Seeks Proposals for Next 2 Private Astronaut Missions to Space Station — with the following catch:

    Private astronaut missions must be brokered by a U.S. entity and use U.S. transportation spacecraft that meet NASA’s International Space Station visiting vehicle requirements, policies, and procedures.

    Apparently, NASA still thinks that “international” means “exclusively American” even though Russia has reliably ferried US astronauts and private citizens to the ISS for two decades after President Obama cancelled the Space Shuttle and left it up to private corporations to provide replacement transportation. Only recently, Space-X — alone among American corporations — has managed to transport human passengers up to low earth orbit and the ISS. Good for Elon Musk and Space-X, but NASA leaving out the Russians will surely further offend them and accelerate their teaming up with China on a new space station and exploratory outpost on the Moon. Go Russia and China!

    Bezos and Branson, for their part, might yet get paying human passengers — space tourists — briefly up to suborbital altitudes — what US astronaut Alan Shepard first accomplished in 1961 — but the scientific exploration of our solar system and the universe — which I consider humankind’s grandest contribution to the history of life — will require hard-headed realism and a focus on actual accomplishments. As astronautical engineer, author, and President of the Mars Society, Robert Zubrin, lays out the choices facing us:

    “Some space programs spend money to do things while other space programs do things to spend money.”

    Personally, I would put Bezos and Branson in the second category and Elon Musk in the first. Sure, Elon Musk has to make money to apply it to his goal — physically extending human consciousness beyond the limits of life’s original earthly home. But he does tend to accomplish his goals. That makes all the difference, on this world or any other.

    Sorry, Mother Earth, but your children — at least some of them — have to grow up and leave home eventually.

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    1. My concept of “Mother Earth” and the place of conscious human life in the Universe probably solidified about forty-two years ago when I read a little paperback book entitled:
      The third industrial revolution, by G. Harry Stine (Mass Market Paperback – January 1, 1979). A current online review of this prophetic little pamphlet reads as follows:

      “The first industrial revolution was ushered in by the steam engine and the second by the computer. The third, says Stine in this optimistic look into the future, has already started by man’s first halting steps into space…the next century or two will see all of earth’s industry moved into space, where it can pollute to its heart’s content, and earth will once again become the green paradise it was 100,000 years ago. And this will be accomplished not by lifting industry from our planet, but by utilizing the resources elsewhere in our solar system. Raw materials will come from the other planets, energy will be derived from the sun… (Publishers Weekly)”

      Prior to reading Mr Stine’s treatise, I had mostly read science fiction fantasies by the likes of Ray Bradbury (The Illustrated Man, The Martian Chronicles) while watching Star Trek reruns on Saturday afternoon television. Of course, I had followed the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo missions into space and the Moon landings. But then the human spaceflight programs seemed to get stuck in low-earth orbit while the scientific explorations pretty much fell to the robot machinery, which achieved some truly spectacular results, well worth the tiny slice of the national budget that the enormously wasteful Global US Military Parasite (GUMP) did not devour to the eventual bankruptcy of the United States and much of the world.

      At any rate, escapist fantasy entertainment aside, I learned to see Space not as the enemy of life on Earth, but as the infinitely expansive arena of its salvation. But it would take generations of scientific and engineering labor to get the process underway and self-sustaining. I don’t see suborbital space tourism promoted by billionaires Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson, for example, as particularly ground-breaking in the sense of scientific advancement, but I do find Branson’s Spaceship-Two (designed by Burt Rutan) a novel and promising flight architecture that (1) takes off and flies to altitude like a plane, (2) accelerates like a rocket, (3) decelerates like a badminton shuttlecock, and (4) lands like a glider, with all components re-usable like a regular commercial airliner (which it promises to become).

      At any rate, when I saw pictures the other day of the Chinese lander and rover safely down on Mars in roughly the same geographic area as the Viking 1 lander (July 20, 1976) I remembered the first picture of that historic event — which took an agonizingly long time to build up on monitors at JPL in those days — and while most of those present felt a sense of elation at the engineering achievement, someone remarked how disappointing they found it that, obviously, “There is no life on Mars.” To which an invited guest at the event, Ray Bradbury, replied simply: “There is now.” To which I would add midway through 2021: “And it speaks both English and Chinese.”

      Human life has already begun to leave [gender unspecified] Earth: not to abandon it, but to discover how best to nurture, preserve, enrich, and expand it.

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      1. There is one line in the above quote that makes me very uneasy: ” man’s first halting steps into space…the next century or two will see all of earth’s industry moved into space, where it can pollute to its heart’s content”. This clearly states that space will be humanity’s next garbage dump. This is the same attitude that made our mother Earth polluted. Now we get to desecrate the moon, Mars, etc.

        This will not do, because eventually what goes around comes around. Respect for our Mother and all her brothers and sisters that orbit with her around our star is what is needed, not more anthropocentric arrogance.

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        1. Thank you for the response, but pardon me if, for my part, I steer clear of loaded terms like “desecration,” which I associate with religious idolatry centered around another loaded term: “sacred,” which F. C. S. Schiller said, “generally means a fear that the things so denominated cannot bear investigation.” I do not, for example, consider it a “desecration” of Martian chemicals for the MOXIE experiment on board the Perseverance Rover to convert Martian carbon dioxide to Martian oxygen upon which human life would depend should future humans actually visit Mars — for any number of conceivable purposes — and wish to remain living there for awhile. An excellent technology demonstration. Same for the little 4-pound helicopter that has successfully completed seven flights in the extremely tenuous Martian atmosphere. And, yes, these mechanical extensions of human intelligence will someday run out of power and rest — perhaps for the life of our Sun — on the frozen surface of a dead planet. Some can and will call those remains “space junk.” But others will see them as evidence of how far some of our explorations have taken us.

          I understand and share concerns about industrial pollution. But I also credit human ingenuity with devising increasingly effective methods of reprocessing and recycling industrial waste (more about this in another, related comment). These efforts will continue in Space and on other planets and their moons as soon as practicable, just as they have on Earth. As the engineers say: “Quick and dirty first. Just get it to work. Elegance and increased efficiency comes later.” Progress comes one piece of “junk” at a time. But unless “humanity” in its “anthropocentric arrogance” (i.e., determination to go on living) wishes to die off by the billions so that the remaining few can go back to living in caves as technology-free hunter-gatherers, tool-making humans will persist in altering their environment — better in some ways, worse in others — as we have for at least the past 50,000 years. The real question will always remain before us: Not if we will alter our ever-expanding environment, but how and to what degree we will alter it.

          The Third Industrial Revolution may have begun in earnest with the first Soviet spacecraft (Sputnik) in the 1950’s but the Italian astronomer/physicist/engineer, Galileo Galilei, foresaw a glimmer of it in the early 17th century when he conceived, designed, and built a better pair of glass eyes and saw through them, more clearly than ever, how the Universe actually seemed to work. Unfortunately for Galileo — as we all should know — he got into trouble with the Catholic (i.e., “universal”) Church which insisted that he not desecrate the sacred theological fantasy of a universe that revolved around our [gender unspecified by current taboo] Earth. Talk about “anthropocentric arrogance.” What better example of this could one imagine than a self-serving Bronze-Age mythology which conceives of an invisible bearded “father” (meaning a “man”) living somewhere “up in the sky” controlling this “world” and dispensing with its “ungrateful” inhabitants at “his” angry, fickle pleasure. Do you — seriously — want to talk about “anthropocentric arrogance”? OK. How about this from The Golden Bough – A Study in Magic and Religion (New York: Collier Books, 1922), by Sir James George Frazer:

          “The very beasts associate the ideas of things that are like each other or that have been found together in their experience; and they could hardly survive for a day if they ceased to do so. But who attributes to the animals a belief that the phenomena of nature are worked by a multitude of invisible animals or by one enormous and prodigiously strong animal behind the scenes? It is probably no injustice to the brutes to assume that the honor of devising a theory of this latter sort must be reserved for human reason.”

          Obviously, then, if it comes to anthropocentric (“Man” centered) arrogance, I would prefer to discuss the space-junk variety than the junk-religion kind. So may I suggest that we proceed on that basis?

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      2. In “The Empire Strikes Back,” Yoda brings Luke to a cave in which the Dark Side of the Force is strong. Luke asks Yoda, What’s in there, and Yoda replies, Only that which you take with you. Luke insists on bringing his weapons, which Yoda says he won’t need … but Luke can’t overcome his trepidation. He goes in armed and finds his nemesis.

        Something similar is happening as humans explore space. We are bringing to space and other worlds that which we take with us. In some cases, it’s human curiosity and a sense of wonder. In other cases, it’s greed and aggression. Which side of the Force will win out?

        In 1969, Americans said they went to the Moon in peace for all mankind. Did we then? Did we plant a UN flag next to the American flag? Or did we boast of how our Moon shot made us better than the Soviets? Did we even plan on putting weapons on the Moon? (We did, but as yet we haven’t, as far as I know.)

        Now the news is filled with reports of UFOs, which somehow are seen as threatening. Cue the armed spaceships and megabillions spent on space weaponry. Because we bring ourselves into space, and our Dark Side insists on being armed to the teeth while turning max profits.

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  6. For the present, I’ll pass up the opportunity to deconstruct metaphorical/metaphysical comments about “the final frontier” (which I associate with President John F. Kennedy and Star Trek‘s William Shatner rather than Jeff Bezos or Elon Musk) or Star Wars” (which George Lucas pilfered from Joseph Campbell’s monumental work: The Hero With A Thousand Faces). Instead, I’d like to continue on with a discussion of what chiefly characterizes observable human nature, “good” and “bad.” Before we can change it (assuming both the desire and possibility of that) it makes sense to first analyze it. What,” after all, do we actually mean when we speak of “humanity” (technically, “homo sapiens”)?

    I had a college professor of anthropology once answer that question with this simple rejoinder: “Chimpanzees with bigger foreheads and opposable thumbs.” And now those chimp-like creatures threaten to turn the vastness of Space into a “garbage dump” with their bigger foreheads and opposable thumbs? Well, one person’s garbage is a relative gold mine for the archeologist or crime scene investigator. For example, research economist Michael Hudson — who spent 35 years studying the origins and history of money and debt beginning in neolithic times — says about ancient economies:

    Money wasn’t used at all for barter! You can understand why: the major domestic money was grain. Just imagine during the crop year, you have the whole year in between harvests. Nobody’s going to carry around a little grain in their pocket and weigh it out (the scales weren’t all that good anyway). During the crop year, what we found, and all of this was from documents that were engraved on clay, we found them from garbage piles of people, you dig them all up and you’d get the whole public records, the archives of a particular family.” [emphasis added]

    I highly recommend listening to — or at least reading the transcript of — “Webinar with Michael Hudson: a 4000-year perspective on economy, money and debt”, The Unz Review (April 27, 2021).

    Anyway, some persons might see bootprints in the lunar dust, cast-off landers, and unmoving electric rovers as “pollution” or the “desecration” of a “pristine” crater-scarred landscape. Fair enough. On the other hand, one can conceive of humans returning to the Moon and visiting Mars where they will come upon these relics of early exploration and either enshrine them as precious memory to ancestral adventurers or, as a matter of necessity, recycle them for their metallic and chemical materials. Either way, the Sacred and/or the Profane will mark humanity’s progress out into the Solar System and beyond.

    Science and technology will forge ahead relentlessly, in any event, both outwardly into Space and inwardly into the genome where DNA has recorded life’s evolutionary history. Cloning of individual animals has already occurred and actual human-engineering (of living organ tissues, if not custom-designed organisms) lies already upon the visible horizon. The train has long since left the station for the reactionary Luddites who think that all we have known and built will somehow just STOP! and that insatiable human curiosity will somehow turn to dull acceptance of what pitifully little we actually know of our universe.

    Sure, the “bad” people — too many of them calling themselves “Americans” — will turn science and technology into weaponry and the means of enslaving their less fortunate hominid relatives, if they can. But the “good” people can prevent at least some of these predators from doing that by channeling our collective resources into productive exploration in which all of Humanity can share. I don’t consider doing business by honestly providing goods and services to others as a necessarily bad thing. Commerce does, after all, manage to motivate enormous expenditures of human creativity towards productive ends. So I don’t begrudge Elon Musk making money building non-carbon-emitting electric cars or much less expensive transportation of cargo and persons into Space. I consider both of these endeavors positive, beneficial things.

    Finally, I do not wish for a future where visiting extra-terrestrial Crime Scene Investigators sift through Humanity’s earthly garbage in search of the answer to why we just decided one day to commit suicide by sticking our collective head up our own collective ass where, like the ostrich, we can see no approaching asteroids, only our own foul-smelling turds sliding down the intestinal tract towards inevitable elimination. Nothing to see. Everything to fear. And Little to understand and achieve. What a pathetic epitaph.

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    1. Exploration: Yes! I’m all for it. Exploitation: Well, no. Not so much.

      The space junk problem is interesting. That was part of my 1st job in the AF: keeping track of all the space junk in low earth orbit. The problem is worsening. Soon we’ll start losing satellites and possibly even space stations from too much man-made junk in orbit. Collisions are the issue.

      I’m not worried yet about “desecrating” the Moon or Mars with “junk.” But it is remarkable how quickly our beloved military saw the Moon as the “new high ground” and started planning on putting weapons on it. They were already seriously thinking about it in the 1950s.

      I hope we continue to explore space, and I look forward to a new space telescope to replace the Hubble. But, as Don Henley sang, there is no more new frontier/we have got to make it here. We humans have evolved and are adapted to this beautiful biosphere we call Earth. There is no other planet like it in our solar system, and barring warp drive or some other almost inconceivable breakthrough, we humans are stuck here for the conceivable future, so we had better take care of Mother Earth, or she will surely give us a lesson we’ll never forget.

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      1. exploit. (1) verb. to make full use of and derive benefit from (a resource). (2) verb make use of (a situation) in a way considered unfair or underhanded. (3) noun. a bold or daring feat.

        In my comments above, I used the word “exploit” in the senses of (1) and (3). In your response you appear to have chosen sense (2), in the process turning a discussion about the human use of Space for human purposes into a verbal dispute foundering on the Fallacy of Equivocation. Plant life on earth, for example, exploits minerals and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere in order to grow, reproduce, and evolve; in the process exhaling oxygen which animal life in turn exploits in order to grow, reproduce, and evolve. Plant life does not “enslave” minerals or atmospheric carbon-dioxide, and animal life does not “enslave” or unfairly abuse oxygen.

        By the same token, Human designed and manufactured spacecraft heading out into the Solar System and beyond save a great deal of fuel and time by exploiting the gravitational fields of other planets — especially giant Jupiter — to alter their flight trajectories and accelerate to higher velocities. No spacecraft has ever “enslaved” Jupiter or any other planet by “making use of” or “exploiting” its gravitational field. Life exploits — and in the process changes — nature, although nature can at any moment crush the life out of Planet Earth — and almost has on at least five previous occasions — without “caring” or “feeling bad about” Space rocks called “asteroids” smashing into other Space rocks called “planets” or “moons”

        Life has evolved on at least one Space rock — the one we currently inhabit (or infest) — but it could have evolved on others, as well. The United States and China currently have several pieces of robotic-metallic “junk” out on the surface of Mars looking very hard for signs that life may very well have evolved — or even originated — on a Space rock other than this one. I consider these exploratory efforts true exploits in the very best sense of that word. And if others wish to see these advanced (and advancing) mechanical “scouts” as “exploiters” of “sacred” chemicals and universal physical processes, then I have to disagree.

        The Universe consists of vastly more Death than Life. And anywhere Life can go, it certainly should, even if it leaves in its wake a trail of “junk” and “garbage” to mark it’s passing, as opposed to asteroids which have left theirs upon the scarred surfaces of many worlds. The Dead Universe has more than enough room to accommodate Life wherever Life may originate and grow. For Life to remain forever on one Space rock out of a fear that conquering Death might prove a bit on the difficult side, smacks of cowardice and irresponsibility, in my opinion. I prefer the “exploits” of mortal explorers who have achieved — by taking advantage of nature — at least a fleeting . . .

        Immortality
        (biological – theological – historical)

        Eat.
        Excrete.
        Then procreate.
        Your part in Mankind’s fate.

        Gods
        From clods
        Of earth make Men
        Who turn to dust again.

        Lie.
        Then die.
        In stone they’ll set
        Your falsehoods, then forget.

        Michael Murry, “The Misfortune Teller,” Copyright © 2015

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        1. Yes. I’m not worried about what humans will do to the Moon. But I am worried about future exploits to worlds that have life. Will we be content to explore these worlds and study them and learn from them? Or will we exploit them in the worst sense of the word?

          Well, we don’t respect life on this planet, so I’m not optimistic about us respecting life on others (assuming, I hope, that other planets support life).

          If the Earth is the only planet that supports life in the universe, humanity’s sin in negating so much life is truly unforgivable. And, yes, there I go again, speaking of sin.

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          1. Yes, we must indeed obey the Prime Directive, should we humans encounter life on other planets. Roddenberry was prescient, that way.

            As for sin (along with “sacred,” and “desecration”), my thought is that, absent a specific religious context, such words have taken on secular connotations, if not denotations. To me, it’s not necessary—or even accurate/appropriate, sometimes—to ascribe Biblical meanings to those terms. Is it a sin to pollute the air and water? Certainly, in the sense that it’s a wrong act, “wrong” equating to “harmful.” When the thugs invaded Joshua Tree National Park last year and wreaked irreparable damage, it was quite literally a desecration, because they wantonly wrecked a living landscape that had existed for thousands of years. It doesn’t require a reference to God or gods to validate that idea.

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  7. In response to those concerned about human industrial pollution causing “Mother” Earth to “die,” I made reference to a little book published in 1979, which essentially argued — given a choice between polluting our earthly environment or moving that pollution off planet into the limitless irradiated vacuum of Space — that we pursue the latter choice. Some then countered with the proposal that we also not “desecrate” (I suppose, meaning “kill,” “wound,” or wantonly “vandalize”) limitless irradiated vacuum and/or dead Space rocks (of every conceivable size). A failure to make this choice, I argue, condemns earth’s living environment to further, avoidable degradation and perhaps even evolutionary extinction for many living species, including Homo sapiens.

    Some, I suppose, think that we can have it both ways: namely, that we can go on advancing technology out of a desire for all of its manifest benefits while somehow not suffering from harmful side-effects. Again, leaving the benefits of technology here on earth while moving the harmful side-effects off planet seems to me the only rational choice — because we do have to choose. Otherwise, we toss away the cell phones, take off the clothes and try surviving in the “natural” world — as our Chimpanzee-like ancestors did five million years ago — without domesticated fire, no tools, naked, with no fur, feathers, or significant claws or teeth. As Dr. Robert Zubrin reminds us in his book Entering Space: Creating a Spacefaring Civilization (2000):

    “Across most of this planet, unprotected human life for any length of time is as impossible as it is on the Moon. We survive here, and thrive here, solely by virtue of our technology.”

    For those who wish to pursue this subject from the point of view of evolutionary biology, I recommend, Before the Dawn: Recovering the Lost History of Our Ancestors, by Nicholas Wade (New York: Penguin Books, 2006)

    For those who wish to pursue this subject from the point of view of geological “Deep Time,” I recommend, The Story of Earth: The First 4.5 Billion Years, from Stardust to Living Planet, by Robert M. Hazen (New York: Penguin Books, 2013)

    But for more on where this “let us not pollute space” line of “thinking” can lead, I would like to explore — in my next comment — a specific example from the science and technology community itself . . .

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    1. Moving right along, as promised (or threatened) above, let us consider the case of the fantastically successful Cassini–Huygens mission to Saturn and its fascinating system of rings and moons. In total, the mission lasted 19 years and 335 days. Of that total time, just getting to Saturn consumed 6 years and 261 days. Once at Saturn the primary Cassini spacecraft spent 13 years and 76 days orbiting around and through the planetary system, with the attached Huygens probe detaching itself from Cassini and parachuting down onto the surface of Titan where it remains today and for conceivable time to come.

      I mention this example, because, as most people know, the talented team that built Cassini and Huygens took extraordinary care trying to avoid “contaminating” these machines with microscopic human germs, fearing that these machines, in their turn, might contaminate any of Saturn’s moons which, theoretically, could already harbor “life.” This, of course, presumes that microscopic “life” can survive for long years in the freezing, irradiated, vacuum of Space. Such a presumption has many ramifications, but here I would like to pursue only two of them.

      (1) The Huygens probe wound up sitting — frozen and electrically dead — on the surface of Titan. Therefore, if any microscopic human germs managed to survive the 6 year trip to Titan, followed by landing on Titan’s frozen surface, then Titan has suffered possible infection by the toughest, most indestructible life imaginable. So, if NASA truly understood this risk, why did it go ahead with landing Huygens on Titan in the first place?

      (2) On the presumption that microscopic human germs might possibly hitch a ride on Cassini and survive a 6-year trip through the irradiated vacuum of Space to Saturn, NASA decided to burn up the spacecraft — after 13 years on-station and nearing the end of its fuel supply — by deliberately plunging it into Saturn’s atmosphere. NASA said that it did this so as not to leave Cassini orbiting through Saturn’s planetary system where it might — someday — crash into and infect one of Saturn’s moons.

      Now, here comes the rub, so to speak, as I see it. NASA says that it doesn’t want the Cassini spacecraft to infect any of Saturn’s moons with microscopic, ride-along Earth-germs. But NASA repeatedly sends the Cassini spacecraft sailing by Saturn’s moon Enceladus, where scientists suspect that an ocean might exist beneath the frozen ice shell of the moon’s surface. Then NASA scientists discover plumes of water erupting from the surface of Enceladus and falling back onto the moon’s surface as a covering of fresh, clean ice or “snow”. Wishing to sample this water for possible signs of “life,” NASA flies Cassini through these plumes multiple times.

      Pardon moi, but that sounds to me like driving the dirty family vehicle through a car wash, with the water cleaning off the dirt and depositing it back on the ground again. In a similar way, wouldn’t the plumes of water flying upward from Enceladus wash the hitchhiking earth microbes off the spacecraft and deposit those microbes into Saturn’s diffuse “E” ring — within which Enceladus orbits — or onto the surface of Enceladus, thus invalidating the very rationale for destroying Cassini in the first place?

      To conclude, then: if NASA wanted to use Cassini’s final drops of fuel to send it into Saturn’s atmosphere for scientific reasons, then I can see the sense in that. But I don’t buy the claim that NASA had to destroy this incredible machine out of a fear of infecting other planetary bodies, since (a) Huygens on Titan and (b) Cassini flying through water geysers on Enceladus refute that claim. I want all of our explorer spacecraft preserved for as long as possible — wherever they have traveled — so that future generations of astronautical archaeologists can observe and study their remains. Anyway, just thinking of Cassini’s premature demise starts this old song from the early 1970’s running around in my head:

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