Scientific Sense Podcast

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Terraforming the Earth

As space agencies around the world race to the red planet and beyond in an attempt to satisfy ego and ignorance, they may want to focus their limited resources on real tactical problems facing the planet. As those, who had a tough time with science at school, rise to make polices that affect humanity, the danger of human extinction is now more real than ever. To top it off, those who were good at science appear to get real excitement by looking at pictures of the dwarf planet and designing ways to punch a one-way ticket for humans to a planet close-by. Admirable, of course, but completely irrelevant.

It is time NASA had a real resource and portfolio management process. Engineers, albeit being good at what they do, often fail to see the big picture. The risk of an asteroid impact or run-away greenhouse effect are so high in close quarters - it does not make any sense to allocate resources to finding green men in the solar system or among the thousands of exo-planets, that were found recently.  Terraforming the Earth, although not as exciting as the projects undertaken by the space agency, has real utility for humanity. Humans, designed to burn anything they get their hands to, have cooked up a real mess, that would require rectifying. It is a solvable problem if the best technologists in the world put their minds to it and perhaps forget the exploration of the universe for a little bit. Sure, this may not propel careers or pave the way to easy Nobel prizes, but limited resources have to be optimally deployed for the sake of humanity. Additionally, although not as exciting as science fiction including a black hole from the LHC devouring us all, an asteroid impact that could substantially extinguish humans is real. Having “plans on paper” to “bomb the rock” may not be realistic. It may require real technology to nudge the Earth bound catastrophe to safety.  

Those who are responsible and accountable for deploying the limited resources to practical uses may need to refocus their priorities. Ego cannot be part of the objective function, rationality has to be.

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