This is a bit "out there" (as in WAAAAY out there), but I'd appreciate your thoughts. The Earth is small, and yes there are many earth-bound problems that urgently need addressing and yes space exploration is very expensive etc etc. However, I was a fetus when Armstrong and Aldrin landed on the Moon, and here I am in my 40s and no-one has been to Mars. Yet when we talk about life support systems in space, it's all hydroponics and mono- or oligo-culture, and the bigger picture of building a sustainable presence in space is not often addressed.
But Mars is perhaps the ultimate desert location, and I would suggest it's an awesome permaculture project. Elon Musk reckons it's a "fixer-upper" of a planet; I tend to agree. But if anyone is going to have success at this, I think it will be Permies. Red Permies, to go along with Purple and Brown. Here's a bloggule I wrote about it - feel free to tear it to shreds: Permaculture on Mars
I don't think we can export anything other than our permie brilliance to another world - we'll have to generate our own greenhouse gases there. But most of the sci-fi proposals involve big industrial systems that are probably doomed to failure unless we can get biology involved at a very early stage. This is one of the most interesting things about biology, and particularly diverse biology - it is a spectacular buffer. Astrophysicists talk about Earth being in the "habitable zone" of our star, but reality is that it's only habitable because life has actually made it habitable. When you factor biology into the equation, the Universe starts teeming with habitable zones - the main challenge is navigating towards that island of stability, and protecting the system from collapse at the margins. OK, I'm being simplistic, but from what we already know of Mars, it's far from a lost cause. And by the time we make it green, we'll maybe have figured out how to maintain a pleasant environment on Earth to support the 10 billion people we'll soon have...
Shane- have you read the Mars Trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson? (i think this is about the fifth time i've brought it up on these forums.) It covers the colonization and greening of Mars over a few hundred years. Really gets in to the details of what it might take to bootstrap an ecology on a dead planet.
Interestingly, two of the sides in the book- the Reds and the Greens, have a conflict on whether to terraform the planet at all. The Reds think that Mars should be left as it is. I think most of us would be "greens."
I can't recommend it highly enough. Especially because the author really understands permaculture, and works it in to his books.
Hi Nathan, yes - KSR's Mars Trilogy remains one of my favourite sci-fi (long) reads. He has a couple of other books/short stories in that "universe". It's been a while since I read them though - I hadn't picked up a particular permaculture vibe (but then I'm pretty new to this scene). They were certainly part of the inspiration for my "Canyons of Mars" song (link in the sig). I know a lot of permies are very Earth-focused (and this is good - very very good), but there's a crazy big universe out there, and if you take the view that the "purpose" of the Universe is to get to know itself by a process of evolution etc (again a bit of a sci fi staple), Permaculture - brown in tooth and claw - strikes me as the way to spread that across the vast tracts of space. We need to tread lightly, though, and learn as we go.
Awesome! I can't get enough of his books. He never explicitly mentions permaculture in the Mars Trilogy, but he does in the "40 Signs of Rain" series and I think in 2312 as well.
Another thing to look at is Gaiome, which explicitly combines Permaculture and Space Exploration.
Also, Vinay Gupta does thinking along these lines. I remember him tweeting "Spread life through the universe! Go out and f*** the stars!"
One problem with Permaculture and Space Exploration is that space programs require such a HUGE economy to exist. Even with companies like Virgin Galactic working to make access to space cheaper, just getting to space requires a huge advanced industrial economy.
Right now, Permaculture seems stuck at the garden/small farm level. Other than some exceptions like McDonough and Braungart's "Cradle to Cradle", permaculture hasn't infiltrated INDUSTRY to any great degree. PC will have to go REAL BIG in order to support a permaspaceprogram.
I hope it does!
Location: Currently in Lake Stevens, WA. Home in Spokane