This week’s news brought a summary of Earth’s latest obsession – Mars. China has launched its first mission to land on the red planet. NASA is launching another mission, too, with a new Mars Rover named Perseverence on board. The little robot will crawl around the dusty landscape, exploring what was once a river delta and a dry lakebed for signs of prior life. And the United Arab Emirates launched a small vehicle from Japan that will stay in the Mars atmosphere for two years, studying it and sending back data.
I grew up on science fiction. This all sounds so familiar. Ray Bradbury wrote many stories about missions to Mars, my favorite of which concludes with the astronauts slowly transforming into the lean, tall, golden people who were the long-dead natives of that planet. Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote a whole series of books about a Civil-War soldier who somehow found himself transported to Mars, where he found adventure in a more medieval society and even married a princess. Carl Sagan predicted the international cooperation that led the UAE to launch from a country in Asia.
Elon Musk, the eccentric creator of the Tesla, is fixated on Mars, and wants to colonize it. He’s like a classic, sci-fi character; the rich, erratic and ultimately tragic character desperate to be first in space.
As I read the latest news, news of exploration and adventure, I wanted to be uplifted by it. But instead, I saw it as a sad commentary on human nature. The push to explore is being driven not by discovery, but by the sense that we’ve trashed this place. It’s time to move on.
The billions being spent on trying to poke around a planet that was, science says, once as verdant and lush as our own, seems almost criminal as the planet we call home is straining to accommodate its inconsiderate occupants.
An entire segment of global society remains in denial, claiming that 7.8 billion people (the latest count from the United Nations), all of them using the Earth’s resources to grow food, to build housing, to make money, none of them replacing what they use or considering their impact on the ecosystem, can’t possibly be causing climate change. That dangerous minority is, very likely, the same people who think masks are useless and the threat from Covid-19 is overrated. It is a coalition of the greedy and the clueless.
I begin to think that industrialization may have been the worst thing humans ever did to themselves. We haven’t managed to develop our intellect as quickly as we developed our technology, so we don’t imagine the consequences of what we create until it’s too late. We may be the stupidest smart species ever, and it’s bringing us to grief.
Mars isn’t the answer. It’s just an attempt to hide from the consequences of our own behavior. And there is a bitter irony in the desire to bring a dead planet back to life while we make a living planet uninhabitable.
Read more installments of Village Voices by Susan Barnett.