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Is it even a good idea to Terraform planets?


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Poll: Is it even a good idea to Terraform planets? (11 member(s) have cast votes)

Is Terraforming a good idea?

  1. Yes (5 votes [45.45%])

    Percentage of vote: 45.45%

  2. No (1 votes [9.09%])

    Percentage of vote: 9.09%

  3. Sort of... (5 votes [45.45%])

    Percentage of vote: 45.45%

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#1
Outlook

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I've always been on that terraforming hype, but I read an argument some time ago that led me to question whether it really is even the right thing to do.

 

We would be disrupting research environments, for example if Mars and Venus were terraformed it would disrupt their present chemistry and geology.

 

There wouldn't be any real point if we master the ability to integrate biology with technology enough to be able to withstand extreme environments like the Martian surface.

 

So is Terraforming just modern sci-fi bias, akin to retro-futurists thinking computers will be getting bigger, not smaller?

 

Also, what about exoplanets? Why would we even want to disrupt such alien environments? But I think that's thinking far ahead, as any solar civilization the time we start doing interstellar travel will be far different from the time we leave earth to colonize planets.

 

Either way, regarding terraforming there isn't really any good incentive behind it. It makes more sense that in the future, there will be a greater incentive for conservation as we have now, and it would be more acceptable to use smaller bodies like asteroids to terraform/transform into earth-like habitats instead of terraforming giant bodies like planets where there would just either be protected settlements or unprotected settlements whose inhabitants have bodies developed for the environment as their own bodies, or as proxy bodies.


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Outlook's secret song of the ~week: https://youtu.be/DGe_Sluth3A


#2
PhoenixRu

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In short:

 

1) Lifeless planets must be terraformed (if/when it will be considered feasible/necessary). Human needs are greatly overweight the "sacred" planetary chemistry and geology.

 

2) Planets with primitive life: the same. But, perhaps, we should preserve the samples of alien life or even resettle them somewhere else.

 

3) Planets with advanced life - very different story. Here we facing the moral dilemma: our terraforming will disrupt the normal course of evolution that will create (or not) the local intelligent beings. This is like abortion of whole civilization with its endless and unpredictable opportunities.

 

4) Planets with less developed aliens - only watch, don't touch.


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#3
Zaphod

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In short:

 

1) Lifeless planets must be terraformed (if/when it will be considered feasible/necessary). Human needs are greatly overweight the "sacred" planetary chemistry and geology.

 

 

Honestly, I've never understood this "sacred" argument with regards to biologically sterile planets. It is surprisingly common in my experience. It seems strange that people would hold the very human idea that the place is sacred while the planet and everything it is composed of doesn't care either way. I don't think these people realise that this point really speaks more to the "sacredness" of human intelligence to judge something as "sacred" rather than a sort of absolute, intrinsic sacredness of these sterile planets.

 

There are an innumerable number of planets out there with basic geology and chemistry, but at the most, an absolute minuscule number that harbours complex life (relatively speaking at least). So if anything is sacred, it is life itself and the intelligence to comprehend these things. 

 

The benefits of terraforming a lifeless planet far outweigh the costs of supposed impaired research. At least for now, the process of terraforming would take so long I don't think we would lose many insights about planetary processes by the time we terraformed.

 

In my opinion, the best argument against terraforming is (like Outlook mentions) the integration of biology with technology, thus bypassing the need for planetary alteration.


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#4
rathelor

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In short:

 

1) Lifeless planets must be terraformed (if/when it will be considered feasible/necessary). Human needs are greatly overweight the "sacred" planetary chemistry and geology.

 

2) Planets with primitive life: the same. But, perhaps, we should preserve the samples of alien life or even resettle them somewhere else.

 

3) Planets with advanced life - very different story. Here we facing the moral dilemma: our terraforming will disrupt the normal course of evolution that will create (or not) the local intelligent beings. This is like abortion of whole civilization with its endless and unpredictable opportunities.

 

4) Planets with less developed aliens - only watch, don't touch.

 

Any planet with life on it (regardless of its level) is a no-go zone as there are more than enough sterile rocks out there to take and change.

But oc after finding the 100th (almost) exact copy of Earth's biology we can come to the conclusion that some type of primitive(/advanced) lifeforms are very frequent and as such we don't need to spare them apart from a few reserves.



#5
Outlook

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Lifeless planets must be terraformed (if/when it will be considered feasible/necessary). Human needs are greatly overweight the "sacred" planetary chemistry and geology.

 

I'm an anthropocentrist, I'm all about human-need. My issue is that if terraforming even is within human interest, as it's also human-need to preserve the environment for research, and study but lets go deeper. I don't mind exploiting it for resources, and extracting ores and minerals, but covering half the planet in water barely seems like a reasonable reaction to creating a habitable place to live. I'm not speaking against colonization, I'm against terraforming for the sake of colonization. It feels like completely going overboard for the sake of a simple need-- habitation-- in sacrifice of a whole LOT of other human needs like research, stability, and efficiency of growth.

 

People seem to underestimate the level of scientific research and knowledge that can be gained from planets in other solar systems. It comes from the ignorance of biocentrism, and the idea that inanimate matter is not complex, and research of inanimate matter is not hugely beneficial towards humanity. May I list just a few of the scientific disciplines and sub disciplines that have to do with the study of inanimate matter, that would hugely benefit from trying to maintain a planetary environment that develops in unique conditions: Physics (Pretty much every discipline), Chemistry (Inorganic Chemistry, Environmental Chemistry, Astrochemistry), Oceanography (think about methane seas on titan, or ocean planets), Atmospheric Sciences (Metereology, Climatology, Atmospheric Chemistry, Atmospheric Physics), and so on and so on. I haven't even mentioned geology and the geosciences, things like Water science, minerology. And what would make the complexity of these disciplines diminish in the future? By the time we arrive to these planets, we'll have far more questions than answers that would last an indefinite amount of study.

 

Just look at the list of unsolved problems in geoscience to get an understanding: https://en.wikipedia...s_in_geoscience

 

The thing about changing the composition of a planet's entire atmosphere, as well as the geology (water alone would transform this), and the reaction between land and the new atmosphere, as well as from the actual process of terraforming (as that would require either a vast extraction of resources of the planet to develop an atmosphere or remove an atmosphere or the addition of resources from out of the planet to develop a new atmosphere) is that we don't know definitively what will happen. What if it causes a chain reaction that leads to disaster, what if it's accidentally toxic to the life there. No matter if these examples seem stupid (even though that's exactly what's happening right now with our own planetary exploitation), it's about the possibility of something going wrong-- something that could happen, even to our omnipresent descendants.This wouldn't lead just to an isolated issue, it would lead to a planet-wide issue that affects every person on the planet they're inhabiting and colonizing.

 

Just think about all the proposed methods of terraforming mars. Nuking the ice caps, or building a giant artificial magnetic field, or leading asteroids towards the planet, or literally mining the whole surface to release CO2. Does this sound entirely stable? In fact, this strain of arrogance towards an environment by supporters of terraforming is exactly what's causing our current environmental crisis.

 

And lastly, would it really even be wise to use so much resources towards terraforming, when our energy and resources could actually go towards resource extraction and the construction of isolated habitable environments. Terraforming a planet requires such a giant concentration of energy, resources, and power, towards something that doesn't benefit anything past providing a place to breath-- something that we can already do with isolated environments-- or exploring the environment-- which we can do with suits we can create and we can expect to create far better than now. What about creating an earth-like planet for research? We already have an earth-like planet for research where life developed for billions of years. Building another earth-like planet for research when its developed for a few centuries, hell even tens of thousands years is ignorant of how long it actually takes for life to develop and will do little in the way of profitable research that can't also be done in small isolated environments.

 

It's a waste of resources towards actual colonization and growth, things like asteroid mining, resource extraction from planets, construction of habitats to house humans in the present and not in the hundreds-of-years later.

 

Lastly, the gradient you provide is ignorant not just of the inorganic sciences, but organic ones on well, which adds another level of complexity, and my argument carries on from there as well.


Outlook's secret song of the ~week: https://youtu.be/DGe_Sluth3A


#6
Outlook

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In short:

 

1) Lifeless planets must be terraformed (if/when it will be considered feasible/necessary). Human needs are greatly overweight the "sacred" planetary chemistry and geology.

 

 

Honestly, I've never understood this "sacred" argument with regards to biologically sterile planets. It is surprisingly common in my experience. It seems strange that people would hold the very human idea that the place is sacred while the planet and everything it is composed of doesn't care either way. I don't think these people realise that this point really speaks more to the "sacredness" of human intelligence to judge something as "sacred" rather than a sort of absolute, intrinsic sacredness of these sterile planets.

 

There are an innumerable number of planets out there with basic geology and chemistry, but at the most, an absolute minuscule number that harbours complex life (relatively speaking at least). So if anything is sacred, it is life itself and the intelligence to comprehend these things. 

 

The benefits of terraforming a lifeless planet far outweigh the costs of supposed impaired research. At least for now, the process of terraforming would take so long I don't think we would lose many insights about planetary processes by the time we terraformed.

 

In my opinion, the best argument against terraforming is (like Outlook mentions) the integration of biology with technology, thus bypassing the need for planetary alteration.

 

 

An old Native American man in cultural clothing, chants, face creased and scarred by the centuries of genocide and exploitation suffered by his people. He stops singing, and then says "This sacred argument is a strawman argument used to decry reasons behind conservation. The only thing missing is the spirit of my ancestors inhabiting the rocks and the use of the planets for our traditional way of living. The white man has taken everything from us, he can't take Gliese 581g as well."

 

The argument that I want to address though is the idea that there are innumerable number of planets, so why don't we use a few? I already responded why terraforming doesn't outweigh the benefits gained against PR. So, regarding this argument, I agree. The day that humanity spreads across all the galaxy, I'd be interested to see the skill and science behind the transformation and manipulation of planets.

 

But it shouldn't decry the uniqueness of each planet, lifeless or not, in its chemistry, size, and history of development. Think about humans, we have 7 billion people, and while similarities definitely exist among us, there is a level of uniqueness within us that decries a lack of interest. An argument can be made that humans are biological, they aren't inorganic. It doesn't matter, since the development of a planet requires just as much chaos, unique characteristics and attributes that are probably even more variant than a human being. We aren't looking at the same type of tree in a forest, we are looking at incomprehensibly massive objects acting chaotically over the course of incomprehensibly massive spans of time.

 

Just as well, the planet not only has an isolated action, but also an action towards its solar system, how it reacts with its satellites, and how its development could be brought influenced by the properties of other bodies within its solar system. What is the age, what is the general comparison between these objects?

 

Imagine the unique characteristic of our stars, and apply that to much more variant and variable planets. It is important to study each star to be able to compare and group them. The greater our data-set the more accuracy and the larger scope we hold, as well as a greater understanding we have of our own star. Likewise, each civilization around a solar system benefits as well, in the understanding of their own star. And so this carries onto planets, who arguably hold much more variability from their less volatile and homogeneous nature.

 

And so each planet matters. To massively change its composition for exploitation, marring what we can test and what we can know does have an effect.

 

Another thing is the possibility of damaging unique planets. Lets say we think a planet is lifeless, but realize after we massively overhauled the environment that life developed in a way that is far different from our conception, and we just significantly damaged the environment in which they lived.


Outlook's secret song of the ~week: https://youtu.be/DGe_Sluth3A


#7
Zaphod

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I think the way I'm looking at it is a bit different based on my views about technology and "humans" advancement at the point we would be able to terraform. I can only give a vague answer as I can only make a vague prediction.

 

In my view, terraforming will only be possible when resource use becomes near limitless compared by today's standards - the whole process could be achieved by self-replicating nanofabricators. Thus, I am imaging a scenario where the decision to terraform a planet does not negatively impact resource use elsewhere, as such there is little not to be gained from terraforming other than intrinsic impacts to the planet itself. By extension, this era of near limitless resources would also be accompanied by highly sophisticated AI and research (this is what has led to near limitless resources). So I would not expect the terraforming process to encounter unexpected outcomes that would not have been easily predicted. High-resolution data sets on every possible research metric beyond anything we could imagine would have already been carried out on scouting missions. 

 

I agree that there is not necessarily any benefit to terraforming multiple planets or even to terraforming them at all. If humans integrate with technology, then it becomes unnecessary - and IMO this is likely to happen at the same time terraforming would be possible. Who knows? We might just download our minds and just shrink down our entire population into a dense computer and have a highly energy efficient micro-colonies the size of a bowling ball. I wouldn't want terraforming to happen just for the sake of terraforming - no, I'm imagining a few cases of terraforming on sterile planets. If 1 planet out of every 1000 or 1,000,000 sterile, lifeless planets was terraformed then the impacts would still be small.

 

The other issue is, scientific expeditions can have impacts on the planet itself - they already suspect many of the Martain rovers have microbes, contamination is difficult to avoid.

 

An old Native American man in cultural clothing, chants, face creased and scarred by the centuries of genocide and exploitation suffered by his people. He stops singing, and then says "This sacred argument is a strawman argument used to decry reasons behind conservation. The only thing missing is the spirit of my ancestors inhabiting the rocks and the use of the planets for our traditional way of living. The white man has taken everything from us, he can't take Gliese 581g as well."

 

 

I don't really understand this analogy. 


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#8
funkervogt

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First, let's agree on what "terraforming" means. It is a process by which a planet is transformed into an Earth-like condition, allowing humans to live on its surface without any special life support technology. So if we've used various geoengineering techniques to vastly increase Mars' oxygen levels, and have even seeded the planet with extremophile bacteria from Earth, but the atmosphere is still too thin for humans to breathe and everyone is living in pressurized dome habitats, then Mars doesn't count as being "terraformed" yet. 

 

I don't think there's anything wrong with humans building sealed colonies in space or on any lifeless celestial body. 

 

I think it would be OK for humans to terraform planets that already have life, so long as that life is still at the microbial/pond scum stage. 

 

I don't think we should terraform anything else. Humans aren't so important that we have the right to muscle out alien life forms just to make more living space for ourselves. It's unethical to destroy diversity in a universe where, by all evidence, life is incredibly rare. 



#9
funkervogt

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Also, let me note that I doubt any planet in our solar system except Mars can be terraformed, and even doing that is a very bad idea considering how wasteful an exercise it would be. Even if we could make Mars into a planet where the warmest part of it were barely above freezing and the air was just barely thick enough for humans to breathe without passing out, it would be a constant struggle to keep the planet like that since the solar wind would constantly blow away its atmosphere. Life would actually be cheaper and more pleasant living in an underwater city on Earth. 



#10
Outlook

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Also, let me note that I doubt any planet in our solar system except Mars can be terraformed, and even doing that is a very bad idea considering how wasteful an exercise it would be. Even if we could make Mars into a planet where the warmest part of it were barely above freezing and the air was just barely thick enough for humans to breathe without passing out, it would be a constant struggle to keep the planet like that since the solar wind would constantly blow away its atmosphere. Life would actually be cheaper and more pleasant living in an underwater city on Earth.


Actually I think Venus was a better suggested planet for terraforming, and the only trouble was the atmosphere of which there is too much.

Outlook's secret song of the ~week: https://youtu.be/DGe_Sluth3A


#11
funkervogt

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Also, let me note that I doubt any planet in our solar system except Mars can be terraformed, and even doing that is a very bad idea considering how wasteful an exercise it would be. Even if we could make Mars into a planet where the warmest part of it were barely above freezing and the air was just barely thick enough for humans to breathe without passing out, it would be a constant struggle to keep the planet like that since the solar wind would constantly blow away its atmosphere. Life would actually be cheaper and more pleasant living in an underwater city on Earth.


Actually I think Venus was a better suggested planet for terraforming, and the only trouble was the atmosphere of which there is too much.

 

It is? One day on Venus is 243 Earth days long. How would human colonists deal with spending months on end roasting in sunlight and months in darkness? 

 

Even if we could thin Venus' atmosphere to Earth levels, the long days and shorter distance to the Sun would probably raise temperatures on the "daytime" side to levels unbearable for humans.  



#12
Outlook

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Dynamic movement of the atmosphere is theorised to keep temperatures fairly equal throughout the planet. Its only in planets like mercury where there isnt an atmosphere to dissipate heat that one side is horribly hot and another horribly cold.

From Wikipedia, the definitive source for all internet arguments:

"It has until recently been assumed that the rotation rate or day-night cycle of Venus would have to be increased for successful terraformation to be achieved. More recent research has, however, shown that the current slow rotation rate of Venus is not at all detrimental to the planet's capability to support an Earth-like climate. Rather, the slow rotation rate would, given an Earth-like atmosphere, enable the formation of thick cloud layers on the side of the planet facing the sun. This in turn would raise planetary albedo and act to cool the global temperature to Earth-like levels, despite the greater proximity to the Sun. According to calculations, maximum temperatures would be just around 35 °C, given an Earth-like atmosphere."
https://en.m.wikiped...orming_of_Venus

And 243 days isn't as bad as low G biological risks. It's an alteration in the way animals and plants behave, in regards to their diurnal And seasonal cycle, not a significant risk to their developmental biology.

Outlook's secret song of the ~week: https://youtu.be/DGe_Sluth3A


#13
funkervogt

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Interesting. I'd like to see those estimates double-checked by another group. 


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#14
Astralator

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I like to subscribe to the Isaac Arthur way of thinking - Since life tends to (roughly) be located on the surface of a planet, and those are typically spherical, its the most inefficient shape for a habitat.

A much greater population could be supported by not terraforming but instead disassembling a planet and adding to the the systems dyson swarm.

 

In the (very) long term I don't expect planets to be all that relevant, given the small relative fraction of a systems population they would actually be hosting.


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#15
funkervogt

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I like to subscribe to the Isaac Arthur way of thinking - Since life tends to (roughly) be located on the surface of a planet, and those are typically spherical, its the most inefficient shape for a habitat.

A much greater population could be supported by not terraforming but instead disassembling a planet and adding to the the systems dyson swarm.

 

In the (very) long term I don't expect planets to be all that relevant, given the small relative fraction of a systems population they would actually be hosting.

I agree. When we transition to being machine-based intelligences, we'll inevitably build a Dyson Swarm around the Sun. The Asteroid Belt and Mercury will be obvious sources of building material, and nothing important would be lost if they were cannibalized. I only wonder if Earth will also be disassembled. I hope not. 



#16
Maximum7

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While obviously we need a new home and terraforming Mars is an attractive option; it would probably cost QUADRILLIONS of dollars and probably if we started now, wouldn’t be done until 2200.

The best bets are air tight dome cities on the Moon, Space habitats or putting us in cryosleep and traveling to a new Star system.
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#17
eacao

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I don't think Mars is going to be terraformed--altered to reproduce Earth-like conditions per se. 

 

I think alterations to Mars could follow one of two roads. 

 

First, as per Landauer's limit, Mars might be left cold (even if atmospheric specific density & specific heat is increased) to maximise the efficiency of computation / work. 

 

The second assumes that liquid water will be desired on the surface. Organic chemistry-based life seems excellent for stabilising environments. They can maintain homeostatic temperatures, atmospheric chemistry, and pressures over time (provided an artificial magnetosphere as Will wrote into The Timeline). In this case, I think the atmospheric composition will differ markedly from Earth's to account for the lower gravity of Mars (an atmosphere composed primarily of a denser substance than nitrogen so the thermosphere doesn't reach stupidly high--a point Isaac Arthur pointed out; he suggests sulfur hexafluoride). This biosphere might be built (via intelligent design) on PNA or another xenobiological substrate to account for higher-than-Earth radiation levels, which would reduce the level of a-biological environmental adjustment required.

 

Liquid water is integral to chemical processing and manufacturing in today's civilisation. It might be useful for those terraforming (altering) Mars to produce an environment where liquid water can exist on the surface so industry can make use of this very useful input. 

 

In any case, I don't think Mars will ever be altered to cater for human biological needs (or Earth-life in general). I take it as a given that past this century, organic life will be totally displaced by inorganic life (one might call it AI if they have to. It's inorganic life in my mind). I don't know whether much of this inorganic-life based civilisation will have an ancestry of biological humans (intelligence that was once human but was uploaded) but I doubt it. I think inorganic life will usurp organic life as the head-honcho of our civilisation this century and whether we are able to tag along (via mind-uploading) or not, it's a superfluous point and will be minimal to the continuation of intelligence. 

 

I think Mars will be altered (as the Earth will) to suit the needs of this inorganic life's endeavours. Suffice it to say, it won't be altered to be suitable for human habitation. 

 

In my mind, it might find keeping the planet cold to maximise Landauer's limit preferable, or it might prioritise the presence of liquid water on its surface preferable. In the latter case, it might co-create (simultaneously) both conditions for liquid surface water + an artificial organic-chemistry biosphere to maintain (/create) those conditions. 

 

I doubt we (organic humans) will be around to see it, though (let alone be the masterminds of it).


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