Tuesday, September 26, 2017

our place in space

I'm pretty sure I've mentioned before that reading science fiction books has long been one of my pleasures. What I've never done, though, is to understand the alien planets described, the creatures who inhabit them, or the means for our getting to them as anything other than fantasy. It seems to me that to a great extent, planetary sci-fi represented the hope of extending the era of exploration and colonization to new planets after ours had already been explored, mapped and claimed. For a while we imagined the tantalizing possibility of moving to Mars where there were canals to navigate among strange crystalline forests; then there was Venus where cloud covered skies sheltered tropical forests and who knew what beasts. When the scientists developed better telescopes we realized things were very different from what we'd dreamed. That's when faster than light travel and warp speed was fabricated. We just needed to find compatible planets in other solar systems..

Still, science fiction doesn’t lose its value as a work of the imagination, after all, just because the future it imagined was never an option in the first place, and the worlds it envisioned never existed. Few people argue that The Wizard of Oz or The Lord of the Rings ought to be pulped just because Oz and Middle-earth don’t happen to be real locations. The same rule applies just as well to science fiction, once we get out from under the notion that these brilliant works of imaginative fiction are somehow supposed to pretend to be sober predictions of the future.

As a species, we haven’t come to grips with the most fundamental aspect of our existence. This planet doesn’t belong to us; we belong to it. The idea that we, who go nowhere even on this abundant earth without our stuff, can afford to relocate to a lifeless sphere where it costs us countless millions just to drop ship a Roomba, is unhinged. There isn’t time (or pockets) deep enough for that project. I suppose it’s another apocalypse fantasy designed to avoid cleaning up our mess.

I was feeling quite depressed about our prospects as a species and casting about the sky in hopes of finding a stray giant asteroid, when I happened instead upon a film about John D. Liu, an environmentalist and filmmaker, who documents large-scale ecosystem restoration projects in China, Africa, South America and the Middle East, highlighting the enormous benefits to people and planet of undertaking these efforts globally. Some of the successful projects I've seen were far larger than I could have guessed - including an enormous area in China that is quite breathtaking. Here's one of the documentaries you might enjoy next time you have a half hour or so. If only such projects were more widespread our world could be a so much better place for us and all the beings we share it with.

The stars are very far away. Perhaps beings on other planets might spend some of their ample free time reading stories written during their own species’ brief period of industrial exuberance, when they dreamed of traveling to the other worlds of their own solar system or beyond. Hopefully, and if we are very lucky, the same recreation will be available to our descendants as well.


Andrew MacLaren-Scott said...

Ah, but other spaces may lie just next door, if only we could open the door (as others may do already, on occasion)

susan said...

The doors of perception open for those who know the secret knock.

Rob-bear said...

Great thoughts, Susan. Going to Mars would be interesting, but I think fearfully expensive.

And you're writing this as yet another Star Trek series has started. Life is fascinating. Yup.

The video is fascinating. Thanks for including that.

Tom said...

One might add that the word "expensive" is relative. I can remember my mother telling me as a child that 'in her day' a packet of tea cost a mere few pence. Even a 'cuppa' these days costs pounds, euros or dollars. Is it not also true that there are deep unconscious urgings that persuade us to 'go out there', even if our population was stable or even declining?

Tom said...

[Sorry, that should have read 'even if our population "were" stable.]

Sean Jeating said...

Thank you!
To cut a long com(pli)ment short I do only repeat Dr. Liu's very last sentence:
Why don't we do this on a global scale?!

Sean Jeating said...

Ah, and: the drawing gave me a smile ...

Lindsay Byrnes said...

Hi Susan,
So I think although space travel was a pipe dream what about all the amazing spin offs with better weather forecasting, satellite communications, disaster relief, traffic management, agricultural and water management systems just to name a few. But I also think we can get a bit overwhelmed with factory farming and technology. Increasingly sustainable agriculture is using sensory systems which provides universal updates on the state of plants, animals and soils, so that we stay in tune with nature and in turn get better yields.
The principles of old still apply except we now see and can sense far more for those willing to learn – to adopt more sustainable farming practices. They get updates on their mobile devices in the field and from sensor information on the spot. I think we have always been guided by the stars, but we now have so much more info for survival and to reinvigorate the environment if we use it wisely.

Great picture and maybe a shared science fiction story – but untimely aren’t they all in essence the timeless tales about good and evil. But just to add to your positive video on a more global positive side according to an article in the Times the worst impacts of climate change can still be avoided, senior scientists have said after revising their previous predictions.
The world has warmed more slowly than had been forecast by computer models, which were “on the hot side” and overstated the impact of emissions, a new study has found. Its projections suggest that the world has a better chance than previously claimed of meeting the goal set by the Paris agreement on climate change to limit warming to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels.
The study, published in the journal Nature Geoscience, makes clear that rapid reductions in emissions will still be required but suggests that the world has more time to make the changes.

But I think these changes are occurring a great rate of knots far more than is generally realised.
Best wishes

Ol'Buzzard said...

Science fiction is often the catalyst for science achievement. It fertilizes the imaginations of scientist. But you are right. Our world is not in trouble - the human race is in trouble - and is the trouble. The elephant ignored in the room is population growth. It took four hundred million years for the human race to reach a population of one billion; thirty years later two billion, thirty years later four billion; in a little over one hundred years we have gone from one billion to seven billion... and growing. At some point in the not so distant future we will reach a population where the earth cannot supply our needs.
We are a marvelous inventive species; but we fool ourselves by thinking we can ignore population growth (which is the root cause of all our environmental problems) and technologize ourselves out of extinction.

'Technologize' I coined a new one - you are welcome to use it.

I sometimes feel like the lobotomized patient smelling a daisy in the middle of a mad house.
love your paintings and post - have a good one.
the Ol'Buzzard.

susan said...

I'm glad you enjoyed it, Rob. Yes, going to Mars would not only be very expensive, but also dangerous(speaking of Dr. McCoy). The only comparison is to imagine spending months in the most inhospitable places on Earth and to remember it's still better than Mars.

I'm happy to know you enjoyed the video. I do hope you're feeling better.

susan said...

You're right the word 'expensive' is relative, Tom, and, like your mother, I do a lot of that kind of complaining myself these days. :) It's also a certainty you're right about our propensity as a species to go exploring. After all, we chopped down the forests of continents so we could build sailing ships and look where that got us. I wonder what we'd have to mangle in our quest to reach the moons of Jupiter?

susan said...

Wouldn't it be wonderful? Ken Wilber once said that people tend to confuse span with depth and John Liu's is a good example of how we can nurture complexity. Who needs outer space when we can dive in right here - and come up smelling of roses. :)

susan said...

Hi Lindsay,
I have no argument with exploring local space or with the development of helpful technological devices. My point was that human beings can’t live in space any more than fish can dance on mountaintops. The radiation, the long-term effects of weightlessness, a whole flurry of other things - a few years, maybe a decade at most, and a human body in space simply shuts down. Encouraging people to believe there's a better life waiting beyond the sky while continuing to ruin the only planet we know will support us is dangerous in the extreme.

I'm not so sure about the world warming more slowly than expected - unless there were some scientists predicting worse things than we've already seen. Yes, it's true that even worse effects of climate change can still be avoided but only if there's a universal determination to change common practice. Seeing those people using shovels to restore their landscape and the fact they were successful in fifteen years was thrilling to me. Technology may have beneficial aspects but it's manufacture is generally highly polluting.

It's good that more people are gaining environmental awareness and we can only hope that people like John Liu gain more influence.
All the best

susan said...

It was just a week or two ago I saw a chart in an article I was reading (can't remember which one) that described the current world vertebrate population as one-third humans and two-thirds domestic animals with a tiny three percent squeezed from both areas for all the wild animals. It was beyond sad.

Paul Ehrlich, an ecologist who wrote The Population Bomb in 1968, argued that the world population (then standing at less than half of today’s headcount of seven billion) was already beyond Earth’s carrying capacity. His views had some influence on US politics in the 1970s. President Nixon set up the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) with bipartisan support, and Jimmy Carter had an open ear for Ehrlich and other environmentalists. Then Ronald Reagan won the election against Carter by promising voters a land of unlimited opportunity, just brushing aside all environmental concerns. From that time onwards, views on environmental issues in the US have been disastrously divided along partisan lines. Caring about the environment and heeding the warnings of scientists has been associated with the left side of the political spectrum, while the right wing prefers to listen to those economists who tell them that human ingenuity and the markets will fix all problems.

I think I mentioned to you previously I'm a member of the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement. Our motto is 'may we live long and die out'. Of course, that's easy enough for me to say as I'm long past breeding age - and children are so adorable you can't blame anyone for making them. I'm not sure there's any rational solution.
ps: Did you ever see 'Idiocracy'? - a favorite scene :)

susan said...

Hi again, Lindsay,
I do appreciate you looking to find the good things about the current state of our culture and I'm sorry if I sound disheartened by so much of what I read.
We shall continue to keep our fingers crossed.

Lindsay Byrnes said...

Hi Susan
Not to worry but there are always different perspectives and as you would have gathered I have always been a “half glass full” person.

What attracted me to the article was it did come with a bit of academic rigour since the study was undertaken by Myles Allen, a professor of geosystem science at the University of Oxford who told The Times: “We haven’t seen that rapid acceleration in warming after 2000 that we see in the models. We haven’t seen that in the observations.” The more facts are the original forecasts were based on twelve separate computer models made by universities and government institutes around the world, and were put together ten years ago, “so it’s not that surprising that it’s starting to divert a little bit from observations”, Professor Allen added.
The Times, article reported the paper’s authors, Michael Grubb, a professor of international energy and climate change at University College London, admitted his earlier forecasting was tool pessimistic. The Guardian and other independent news will naturally enough continue to take selective data to reinforce predetermined or current consensus world views rooted in past analysis. There is nothing wrong with that as it’s just another more sobering perspective. I trust you continue to seek out a few good news stories that don’t always make the headlines.
Best wishes

susan said...

Hi Lindsay,
Thanks for the clarification you've provided. While I don't have a subscription to The Times I did find Dr. Allen's explanation of what they've managed to deduce from their research and you're correct there are some very hopeful aspects to what they're seeing as possible. I do tend to get frightened when we experience not one but half a dozen dangerous hurricanes here in No. America within a few weeks of one another. Right now the remains of Hurricane Maria are causing rain and thunder storms here in Halifax. We both know there have been some powerful typhoons in Asia.

Besides the CO2 that everyone knows about the other potent greenhouse gas is methane which is also rising at a significant pace (yes, this is a subject mentioned by the professor). Dr. Allen talks about the possibility of deploying negative emission technologies at a large scale. That does sound worrisome since we've not proven to be very skilled at recognizing the downsides of technical fixes for much of anything. I see his point, though, and hope it doesn't come to that.

What would be best is that there were more coordination and cooperation between the purely technical and those working on the projects Dr. Liu has described. It was very disappointing when President Trump pulled out of the Paris Accords - an already weak document but at least one that provided a template.

Anyway, we could go on at length and likely would if we could talk together. For now it's time for me to close the computer as I wish you a very good evening.
All the best :)

troutbirder said...

My son & family live in Arizona which I don't much care for. But Dune has always been my favorite sci-fi book. Go figure...:)

susan said...

Ah yes! Sand worms, spice, and blue, blue eyes. I really liked the first book but got progressively disappointed with the others. We have a good friend who lives in AZ who describes a climate far too hot for me. I'm thinking the night time skies are nice, though.

L'Adelaide said...

Good evening, sweet friend, I've enjoyed spending some time here catching up a bit or going back a bit, as the case might be. Isn't it funny we've been at this so long? Often I wonder why but after so long , I find it hard to just stop. So I show up once in awhile, post a bit or use an old post nobody remembers and change it a bit to fit today. ONe of the good things about having kept blogs for so long. :)

Today has been a long day and I need to just go to bed not be on here doing anything. They keep me awake, the light causes the brain cells firing or something. I'm sure it isn't brain cells doing anything....

I love your very alien amphibian looking creature up top and the kids who've become teens. You use the most lovely mix of greens. Are you painting much?

Anyway i have nothing to add excepting to say hello, sweet friend. I've missed you and i think we'll be doing this [blogging]till we can no longer think of what a word is. You think? I'm opening my etsy site again now that the old health is a little better. I need to keep painting or something close or I just really go into some dark place. I wonder if you are the same? Are you preparing for the long dark? I know I best not even bring that up. We had a fab harvest this year... YAYAYAY! Much love to you, dearest,