To Whom?



Jaybird is Birdmojo on Xbox Live and Jaybirdmojo on Playstation's network. He's been playing consoles since the Atari 2600 and it was Zork that taught him how to touch-type. If you've got a song for Wednesday, a commercial for Saturday, a recommendation for Tuesday, an essay for Monday, or, heck, just a handful a questions, fire off an email to

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31 Responses

  1. Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

    There is a further moral obligation on the other side, which Stephen Hawking pointed out — we’re going to want a backup planet in the event we ever do something truly stupid to this one.


  2. Avatar Mike Schilling says:

    My biggest question is where this moral/aesthetic obligation would come from.

    In the hypothetical situation where terraforming would make a planet unlivable for its entire native ecosystem, it would amount to the most extreme form of genocide possible.Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

      True, but not necessarily dispositive.

      If the entire ecosystem amounted to a few varieties of unicellular life, and if there were a credible threat to all life on earth, I’d still want to buy the planetary insurance policy, because saving the various species of our own planet, including humanity but also many others, would seem more important.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

        That’s clear enough.  It gets harder if the “highest” form of life is equivalent to one of:

        • Trees
        • Fish
        • Canines
        • Whales
        • Primates


    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      Oh, I understand the argument against committing genocide against a, for lack of a better word, “living” planet.

      I don’t understand the argument against colonizing a “dead” one.Report

      • I’m not sure I understand it, either; and I don’t think I agree with it.

        Have you looked into the writings of Holmes Rolston.  I remember as an undergrad I read an article (or was it a book chapter?) by him in which he made substantially the argument that it was a moral imperative to keep the world pristine.  He wasn’t talking about the settlement of dead planets, and I’m sure I’m bungling both his argument and choice of words, but it might be somewhere to look.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

        I don’t understand why an argument about leaving extraterrestrial life untouched would apply to a dead world.Report

      • Avatar Dan Miller says:

        I think it has to do with the aesthetic value of the unspoiled Martian landscape.  He’d argue that we shouldn’t terraform for the same reason that we don’t build condos in the Grand Canyon, that it has its own value as a beautiful wilderness.

        I’m not a moral philosopher, but I don’t really buy his argument.  I mean, it’s not as if there’s a shortage of dead planets.  You have to factor in the scarcity value or lack thereof.Report

    • Avatar Christopher Carr says:

      I’m sure future generations will comdemn the genocide while simultaneously existing only because of it.Report

      • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

        Dang, Mr. Carr, but don’t poetry sometimes get where prose cannot.  It is said, with much truth, that every nation begins with a crime.

        OTOH, though, there’s also a poetry in “excuse me for living,” or, “I didn’t ask to be born.”  I remain unapologetic about both.  I didn’t oppress nobody and anybody who says I do or did by my very existence, is oppressing me.Report

  3. Avatar North says:

     That segways well with another post he had talking about whether, from a long astrobiological view, civilization was a good thing or would things be better off (astrobiologically) if humans had never progressed beyond hunter/gatherer. To wit civilization is in great danger of destroying much of the life on Earth long before it would otherwise have been wiped out (by an asteroid strike or by the Sun dying).

    My own answer: it’s a gamble but I’d say that astrobiologically Civilization is the better bet. If civilization identifies and deflects a single asteroid then the world would get a massive boost in biological survival and if civilization succeeds in bridging the world gap and colonizing another world(s) then our worlds biology would have hit the equivalent of the Powerball since earths biology would then be extended beyond the hard limit for hunter/gatherers (the lifespan of the sun). The possability of civilization exterminating all earth life on the other hand is far from a certainty so I’d say on balance even on the long view civilization is the winning bet.Report

    • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

      If civilization identifies and deflects a single asteroid then the world would get a massive boost in biological survival

      I don’t know: the previous asteroid gave mammals the chance to evolve into us.  Think of it as creative destruction.Report

      • Avatar North says:

        I’m gonna make a point to stomp on some bug in the next little while that is looking uppity. *stomp*stomp* Take that, don’t you go gettin any big ideas. There ain’t no asteroid falling yet.Report

  4. Avatar Jaybird says:

    It seems odd to think that the two options when it comes to interaction with life on another planet is either Manifest Destiny or John Birch.Report

  5. Avatar BSK says:

    How would we feel if a life form so advanced that they viewed us a life form on par with how we view trees or microbes decided to “terraform” our planet?Report

    • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

      Ever read any John Varley?Report

      • Avatar BSK says:

        I have not.  What’s he got going on?

        I think about this a lot, especially when I think about animal rights.  Is there an absolute level to be achieved wherein a species gains rights?  Or is it all relative?  Could we morally object to an alien species wiping us out if we were the equivalent of cows to them?  Or have we crossed some threshold that is inviolate?Report

        • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

          Read H. Beam Piper’s “Little Fuzzy”.  Scalzi’s redo isn’t as good.Report

        • Avatar dexter says:

          BSK, I have worked some with cattle, and let me asure you that they complain in their cowlike way when we do things to them they don’t like.  I especially remember one time when we were making steers out of baby bulls.  I have sat in the woods and heard rabbits scream when the foxes caught them.  I vividly remember a box spider bowing up when a friend got to close to him.  So, what I am taking a very long time to say is this, yes, we have the right to complain when a super advanced something shows up and starts eating killingus.Report

          • Avatar dexter says:

            ARRGH. That last sentence looks like something I would send before I checked for flaws.  At the very least, I hope the first advanced race to get here aren’t Klingons and like their food live.Report

            • Avatar BSK says:


              Of course we have a RIGHT to complain.  But would we have much moral standing to have our complaints recognized?  The cows complain but most folks dismiss it.  Few people take serious the notion that we should honor these complaints or that the cows of moral grounds for demanding a cessation to being made into steaks and hamburgers.

              If I planned to eat my neighbor and he complained, pretty much everyone would say that his complaints were legitimate and should be recognized as the morally correct position.  If I plan to eat ol’ Bessie and she mooed and stamped her feet, pretty much everyone would say, “Ain’t that cute?  She don’t want to be eaten!”  Should a response to our complaints be more like the former or the latter?Report

              • Avatar Murali says:

                 Few people take serious the notion that we should honor these complaints or that the cows of moral grounds for demanding a cessation to being made into steaks and hamburgers.

                You’re damn right we should. But as a libertarian, I respect your right to murder our less intelligent brethren in order to fulfill your hedonistic impulses.Report

    • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

      If we start terraforming planets with trees and microbes when we already have access to a bunch of planets that have no trees and likely no microbes, I say we got it comin’.

      Otherwise, I think we’re within our scope to say, “Bitch, go terraform Europa and leave Terra Firma alone!  The fact that we aren’t telepathic doesn’t make us non-sapient!”

      Situations in the middle are muddled.Report

  6. Avatar Kim says:

    So long as we go about it humbly, there is no problem. To reach and grasp for the sole sake of grasping is to be greedy, and that isn’t a good thing. But the Torah says to plant the fruit tree — not for your sake, but for someone else’s.

    “The best time to plant a fruit tree is twenty years ago. failing that, plant one today.”Report