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NASA

Elections, climate change, and the colonization of Mars

With the mid-term elections just hours away, we are all being bombarded with TV ads, mailing flyers and publications telling who they endorse and how to vote. However, in all likelihood most people have already decided who and what they will vote for or against, or if they will or won't be voting at all (we hope those that aren't are very few). So, now all that's left is to cast our ballots and sit and wait.

Amidst all this, in the past week, as its editor, I've had the Marin Post link a number of articles about the breadth of the catastrophic environmental events unfolding in real time all around us. These are not just about what may happen in fifty or one hundred years, but about the almost unimaginable loss of species and habitat and wilderness that we're witnessing at an unprecedented rate, daily.

Perhaps I did this in the hope of rising above the din and reminding us that none of our political opinions or grand personal plans will be worth a hill of beans if even half of what could happen actually does. Perhaps it's to point out that at the end of the day, the health of the planet is the one thing we all share and we will all suffer from should we fail to take care of it.

It's somewhat astonishing to me that as this decade has progressed, elected leaders, on both sides of the aisle, have intentionally chosen to say less and less about the degradation of our planet, even as all scientific evidence suggests the dire consequences are dramatically increasing. They admit they are afraid to talk about it because it might make them "unpopular" with the electorate.

How pathetic.

The recent IPCC Report on Climate Change noted that our buildings are the largest consumer of energy on the planet, using 39% of all our energy production. And, the greenhouse gas emissions impacts of their construction is many times that. Yet, we continue to forge ahead, seemingly hell-bent on promoting more and more growth using the same planning and construction methods we've been using for almost a century.

We know that the planet is a finite resource, but that's not really the issue. It's not the planet I'm worried about. The planet has endured far worse than man's impact and life in some form will endure no matter what we do. No, what I'm worried about is us and the kind of life we're leaving generations to come. That's what is in real jeopardy.

The story of Easter Island is a cautionary tale. After their golden era, when the inhabitants carved those gigantic stone heads as monuments to their own achievements, after their remote island had become depleted of all its live supporting resources, their civilization faltered. Those who survived turned their hopes toward a new religion, the Birdman Cult, which idealized the common white-tipped tern.

It was a cult that honored athletic competition and self-sacrifice, which ultimately devolved into fierce rivalries and cannibalism. Still, for the residents of Easter Island, these migrating birds were a source of inspiration, perhaps because their ability to fly off to a better place was deeply envied. Some even held that true believers could transcend their harsh life and one day ascend into the heavens.

All this brings me back to a subject I've spent the past 25 years writing about: planning and growth. It seems clear to me that at this moment in history, here on our earth island, "slow growth" is the only socially, economically and environmentally responsible policy we can pursue until such a time as we can find new methods and technologies that will reduce the enormous environmental harms growth and development are causing.

Do we really have any other choice?

Darran Anderson, writing for the Atlantic noted that

Proclaiming that “technology will save us” fails to acknowledge that technology got us to this catastrophe in the first place (contaminated Superfund sites were once a symbol of progress, too). For the foreseeable future, the dream of terra-forming other planets is nothing but an unhinged aristocratic escape plan.

I think we have to ask ourselves, aren't Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos and all the other tech billionaires intent on going to Mars just a modern version of the "fly away to a better world" Birdman cult? Just think how much good the money they are spending could do right here, right now, in our communities.

Let’s hope that sanity prevails in our elections on Tuesday.