This blog contains material I wrote and posted on multiply.com between the years 2005 and 2011 only. It does not contain any new material. For newer writing, please check my main blog (Bill the Butcher).
Sunday, 25 November 2012
War Of The Worlds
If you keep up with advances in science, you’ll probably know all about the latest on the exploration of Mars, the plans for a manned mission there, and the worries about how to survive there without available sources of water.
You may have also heard that subterranean glaciers have been discovered on Mars, potentially solving the water problem for a long time.
Well, if that’s so, just excellent. Isn’t it?
Or is it?
Without trying to be overly moralistic, let me assume that there are creatures of some kind extant on Mars. Let these creatures be bacteria, or plants, or fungi, or primitive animals, or something entirely different from any of these; that doesn’t matter. What matters is that they exist, in numbers so small unmanned probes miss them completely; and let’s say that they are clustered round these ancient glaciers, and they melt drops of water from this ancient ice to nurture themselves. Not impossible at all; extremophile organisms on Earth do all that, and more.
Meanwhile, our gallant astronauts turn up on Mars with a complete programme costing trillions, all set to colonise the Red Planet, a programme designed specifically to utilise that glacier water. And they find that using the water will snuff out those unique alien organisms completely.
Do we, just because we can reach another planet, own that planet? What happens if there are inhabitants, even if they are only bacteria? Have they no rights over their own world? Or can we say “they are only bacteria, so there’s no point even in thinking about them?” Once we deny rights to bacteria, aren’t we on the slippery slope to denying rights to pines, armadillos, blue whales...to other humans? Suppose it were a planet round a far star, and there were primitive humans there? Where do we draw a line?
All right, so our gallant astronauts call up Earth and say they’ve found these bacteria, and what should they do about it? Do you really think NASA or whoever is in charge is going to throw away a programme costing trillions just for a few lousy bacteria? Of course not. Nor will the people of the world, when the news comes out, turn a hair. Bacteria are evil, that’s why there are antibiotics, right?
Ah. But. Suppose the creatures aren’t just bacteria or “worthless” lichens. Suppose there are tiny furry animals there, cute grey mole-like mammal-cognates, like animated cartoon characters come to life? What then? Does anyone feel different suddenly about killing them off? You bet they do.
So what happens? Will the whole mission be called off? Are you serious? All that will happen is that they’ll go ahead and use the water and kill all those cute mole-things anyway...but the news will never be allowed to come out.