Friday, September 7, 2007

902 Chapter 10 Debates: Red Mars vs. Green Mars, Should we Terraform?

Message no. 902[Branch from no. 884] Posted by Thomas Culhane (1311520071) on Monday, April 30, 2007 2:46pm Subject: Re: Patricia Friedrichs Chapter 10 The City Relational Summary

This is a good point Dawn, and it goes to the heart of the "Red Mars vs. Green Mars" debate. The trouble with worrying about whether we will do the same thing on Mars is that Mars lost its atmosphere and its oceans many many hundreds of millions of years ago. It is now a desolate and inhospitable planet. In order to make it habitable for biological life forms we will have to TERRAFORM the planet from a lifeless red planet into a lush green one.

There are those who think this is "messing with Nature" and who are opposed to us doing this. They say to leave Mars as it is. But as it is, Mars is incapable of sustaining life of any kind, much less human.

If we meddle with Mars' environment and make it green, would this be "destroying" its environment? Can you destroy a dead planet by bringing it to life?

Now suppose we did terraform Mars and bring back its oceans and atmosphere and put life on Mars. Would we destroy that life too, the way we are doing earth's life?

This is a tricky question but most economists think the answer is no. Remember the "Tragedy of the Commons" argument in your textbook? The argument was that we are destroying the earth's environment because we don't really agree on how much it is worth. The air and the sea that belong to all are being polluted because this is how companies make profits -- if they had to pay to properly recycle the chemicals and waste they produce they would lose money. So they dump them into "the commons", expecting the rest of us to pay the costs in terms of our health and sanity.

There are two basic ways of making a profit in this economy. The first is to extract "surplus value" from labor. That means that I pay you 5 bucks and hour to make, say, tables, that I sell for 20 bucks, and I pocket the 15. If you join a union and demand a pay raise to 7.50 an hour plus benefits equaling 7.50, I suddenly lose profits, but I can still make 5 bucks off of you each hour. At this point, though, I decide to fire you and replace you with a machine that makes 4 tables an hour instead of one, and I lose money until I have paid off my investment in the machine, but after that I start making a profit again. The problem is, soon all my competitors buy machines like mine and the prices of tables go down. Now I am stuck because the prices of machines are the same for me and my competitors, and machines get more expensive as they get more complicated. So I have to search for another way to extract surplus value. I can't get it from the machine -- if I don't maintain the machine properly it will break. In the old days of slavery and before labor laws I could work my human laborer until he or she collapsed or died and then simply hire somebody else. As long as there was a rising population of poor people in need of a job I had an "unlimited reserve army of labor" (as Karl Marx called the working class). But once I have automated I can't do that -- new machines don't come cheap and don't come knocking on my door looking for work.

So what do I do as a capitalist? In order to maintain profits I use my second option: I pollute. I get my profits by refusing to clean up after myself. I don't pay for recycling or dealing with poisonous wastes, I simply dump them in someone else's backyard.

This is the problem with the world today (well, one of the big problems). The industrial age has driven businesses to use environmental polluting as one of the two ways it makes a profit, and has driven the others to favor overpopulation as the other. You see, to make a profit you either need to throw things away without paying to clean up your mess, or you need a huge army of reserve labor (the poor). So in industrialized countries you manufacture and then pollute by dumping wherever you can, and in underdeveloped countries you encourage policies that lead to overpopulation so there will always be plenty of cheap labor around that you can exploit.

On Mars it should be different -- since it will be governments and companies that build the life support systems they will know exactly how much they cost and who owns what. And since the population will be low for the first 100 generations labor won't be cheap. So it is unlikely that anyone will dump toxic waste or mess up the life support system, and it will be difficult for one group to exploit another because if they get any group mad enough they COULD use terrorism to destroy the life support systems as revenge.

In the effort to colonize space it is more likely that people will develop ways to be cooperative and to make life fluorish rather than destroy it. If we don't, of course, we will die long before we even start building a habitat on Mars or any other planet.

the problem with the earth is that we inherited this lovely planet without truly understanding how precious she is!

I'd love to hear what you think about these scenarios. Plausible?

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