posted on Sep, 30 2007 @ 01:52 AM
All life deserves to be cherished and respected. This we have learnt from our interaction with species here on Earth.
Though Mars may have shown no signs of life to us yet, I believe that it, and more generally the universe, are literally lousy with life.
I believe this because our own planet is: here, life thrives in just about every environment you could imagine, from the clouds of the high atmosphere
to hellish, sulphurous vents on the ocean floor, even deep inside cracks in the very bedrock, hundreds of metres below Earth's surface.
Up to now we have had no success in identifying life anywhere else in the universe, but I feel strongly that this is only a matter of time. And our
definition of 'life' will probably be broadened by the life, the lives, we discover.
We have no right to take this life and replace it with our own.
Maybe the only life we'll find on Mars is, as some posters disparagingly remark, 'just a few bacteria'. It will still be life. And it has a greater
right to its home planet than we do.
If our experience on Earth has taught us anything, it is that life is deeply interactive, highly unpredictable and -- despite its abundance -- always
precious. Even bacteria are vital to the ecosystem; in fact Earth's biomass is mostly bacteria. No other life could possibly exist without
them. Even the mitochondria in your cells are evolved bacteria.
We have come to accept on Earth that the diversity of life demands preservation, not just because we ourselves would suffer from the consequences of
depletion, but for its own sake as well. This is the lesson we must carry to the stars.
Destroy a hypothetical species of Martian bacteria today and we may have prevented the arising of a race of intelligent Martians in a couple of
billion years. And if this seems unduly nice to you, consider what might have been (or rather, not been) if alien visitors to Earth had
accidentally wiped out the earliest eukaryotes. You and your children would simply never have existed.
Let's build our own
I hate the thought of humanity spreading out across the universe in the same blind, aggressive, reckless way Europeans spread out across the planet in
the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, carrying wars and plagues everywhere with them. If space exploration turns out to be a reprise of the colonial
experience, civiization has failed.
I'm not saying we should stay at home, or keep off the planets entirely; this would be stupid, and contrary to our human nature. But I do conceive of
a future where our exploration and exploitation are accompanied by diligent efforts to avoid destroying or damaging other forms of life through direct
slaughter, habitat loss, biocontamination and all the other horrors we've seen in our own history. This would mean being very careful, very, very
patient (you'd have to wait fifty years or more before finally declaring a planet 'sterile') and as non-invasive in our exploitation as possible
wherever the possibility of life exists.
Planets are for kids
Actually, I think we should be very careful about visiting any planet or moon that could harbour life of any kind. Certainly, we should
never found large, self-sustaining settlements on them. No colonizing other planets. Not ever. Sorry, starship troopers; you're history.
If we want to live elsewhere than on Earth (and I see every reason why we should want to), then let us live in artificial habitats manufactured from
materials mined on the asteroids or manufactured in orbiting factories. At first these habitiats will be glorified tin cans, hellish to live in; but I
don't doubt that in a few hundred years they'll be grand, heartstopping constructions such as the Orbitals envisioned in Iain M. Banks's Culture
novels, giant spinning torii in orbit about the sun, each with about as much habital surface area as a large Midwestern American state and capable of
sustaining populations running into the millions.
Planets are for kids; intelligent races in their infancy. Grown-up civilizations, I am sure, make their home in free space, in artificial habitats
suited to their biology and tastes.