‘Terraform’ Goes to Mars to Explore the Morality of Geoengineering

I hope you’ll forgive me for being a little Mars-obsessed this week, but I couldn’t resist this gorgeous French short film called Terraform, that sketches a deft and lovely scenario by which we might remake Mars’ environment to be more hospitable to ourselves:

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Terraforming and geoengineering are the kinds of things that feel terribly far away, but aren’t as distant as they seem. Through tremendous effort, the U.S. government managed to reclaim some of the Dust Bowl. Israel has massive reforestation efforts underway. Scientists are experimenting with iron fertilization of phytoplankton blooms as a way to sequester carbon in the ocean. We aren’t using solar mirrors or releasing new species into the atmosphere yet, but it’s hard to imagine that as the pressures of global warming increase, we won’t try more expansive means to moderate our environment, avoiding extreme weather and the human catastrophes that result from it.

This dramatic approach to climates and atmospheres, whether Earth’s or another planet’s, would make for epic storytelling and grand, non-disaster storytelling. And it’s incredibly rich ground for science fictional discussions of ethical issues and our attachments to and arrogance about our residence on Earth. In comments at io9, from whence this video came, folks are discussing our willingness to destroy microbial life on Mars to make the atmosphere breathable for humans. Then, there are changes to geography itself: if we felt strongly about the destruction of Buddhas by the Taliban, should we feel equally strongly about changes we might make that would dramatically change key geographical features of the landscape? It all comes down to a central question: does the world belong to us, or us to the world? That answer determines how much we feel the right to change the world around us, and how much we feel an obligation to adapt ourselves to the world we’ve made, and have to live in.