Elon Musk is Dead Wrong about Mars!

I am inspired by the phenomenally innovative work of, California based, Elon Musk. You may know him as the founder and CEO of the ground breaking Tesla Company. You may know that in spite of Elon growing up with the smell of mind-numbing bureaucratic paralysis in the Pretoria air, his thinking on electric cars and battery storage is proving to be hugely disruptive. His bold ideas will absolutely and fundamentally change the way we all live and work. This dramatic transformation will happen very soon and I am very excited to see it all pan out.

But I heard Mr. Musk speaking the other day about his planned missions to Mars to build a colony there. I just can’t help feeling that this kind of thinking is just a lot of crap, perhaps not unlike the kind of thinking of other technologists like J. Robert Oppenheimer, who applied his incredible skill to enable our species to blow up Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

I can see that I think a little differently to Musk and Oppenheimer. In my reading and in my quiet time, I have come to see that we, as a species, have evolved here on this planet and are an integral part of it, perhaps like our gut bacteria are an integral part of us. To just plonk us somewhere else, is misunderstanding just how integral we are to our ecosystem and to what extent we are a product of it. I see this in the writings of brilliant and enlightened souls and I see this when I watch my cattle going about their business in the pasture.

Pasture and grasslands are a fascinating subject, but I do understand that it is quite possibly more interesting to me than it is to you. Books have been written about pasture. Entire library shelves filled. The important thing to take from our knowledge of pasture is the undeniable fact that we are dealing with a living interconnected system. In a very real and observable way, cattle and grass and soil are part of the same “organism”. Grass has evolved to thrive on nutrient provided by herbivore manure, which in turn is digested by specifically evolved soil based mycelium and bacteria.

Grass had evolved to look, taste and behave the way it has because of grazing animals like cattle. Cattle have developed their size, shape, and biology because they have evolved in the pasture (alongside their predators) eating the grasses that they do. These are not just curious facts of anatomy and biology. These are fundamental truths. They are absolute “laws”, that whether we choose to or not, are a governing force in all of our lives. It may appear to me that I, as an individual, am a separate organism to the people around me and to the things that I consume and to the things that try to consume me, but in truth, with the perspective of evolution and of time, I am not.

So much of what I see around us attempts to convince me that I am a separate organism, that I am able to survive even without this planet; that I am separate from the earth. The spectacular 1960’s project to send a man to the moon, walk around up there and take photographs of the blue planet from that far off position, is one in a sequence of events, since the beginnings of consciousness, that have made us feel more and more comfortable with the argument that we, human beings, are a separate and distinct organism.

But when I sit in the pasture. When I observe the earthworm magically building soil from excrement, when I appreciate the cattle, I let the picture remind me of who I am. I let the picture remind me that I am a part of an organism that is beginning to show signs of disease caused largely by people (people very much like me) that have somehow come to forget the obvious truth that they are only a small (yet very important) part of a big and complex organism. Perhaps, with time, we will come to see that the disease afflicting our planet is like the disease of cancer that afflicts so many of our bodies.( A disease that killed my own father.) Some doctors say that a cancer cell is a cell that has forgotten that it is part of the body, that it is part of an organism. A cancer cell consumes energy and replicates very rapidly, but it has forgotten its function within and as part of the organism.

Cancer cells grow and grow until they kill the very same body that it forgot that it was integrally part of. Cancer cells form tumours that are fuelled by excess sugar in the system. In the same way perhaps as our bodies make up rapidly growing populations that cluster in cities that have become distorted way beyond any useful shape and size by the injection of excess energy in the form of over exploited fossil fuels. Perhaps tumours, cities, and Elon Musk behave in this way because they have forgotten what our species has known since it has first emerged from the cradle of human kind all those years ago.

So what do we do about all this? I can only suggest that you come sit with me in the in the pasture one afternoon. Perhaps we can be still, observe and help each other remember.

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20 thoughts on “Elon Musk is Dead Wrong about Mars!

  1. Hey :-)
    I love this planet, I love the nature. And to see the sea and to hear the birds makes me always aware, how much the human needs it. But! I think there´s a mistake on earth: The humanity. Obviously it´s a mistake – we´re not in the balance of this nature and planet – we´re destroying, we´re a cancer of this wonderful world! But what we can do maybe, is to bring life to other planets, where is no life. To give a chance to heal what we crash on earth. To develop life on other places of the universe. And maybe this could be just a normal and natural way of the universe – to distribute life – maybe how it happened already on earth also?

    To go forward, to explore, to adjust unreal environment for life it´s the only way. The humanity needs to go to other planets, just alone for the reason, to relieve finally the planet Million of people, from the cancer which we´re.

    And by the way – there will be thousands of wonderful innovations which will help us, to keep the planet alive (…if it´s not late).

    1. The problem is that colonizing mars will cost the human race a massive amount of money/time/energy, and in the end it will not be done with a large enough volume of people to relieve the burden of our destructive ways from the Earth. The same money, if used to create ecological food systems and wild ecosystems, will restructure the human element toward benefit, rather than continuing patterns that are erosive/destructive to the ecology of which we are intrinsically a part. I completely agree with the article above, and feel that the idea of colonizing Mars is a lot like taking a drug to escape one’s problems. The problems remain, but there is this sort of fantasy that we are accomplishing something great in the moment of achieving such a colony, but the gains will be too small to have a positive effect on the Earth.

  2. wut… becoming extraplanetary, and extrasolar eventually is simply a matter of expanding our horizons like all previous generations of existence has done since forever. if we don’t we die as a species because the sun will eventually engulf us.

    Growing is not a comfortable thing, going to mars wont be comfortable and its not for everyone.. but we will evolve as a species, and one day it will be as normal and comfortable as you feel the pasture is.

    1. Perhaps the Sun will engulf us, but so too will it engulf Mars. I would rather my personal time and energy and money (as well as the greater resources of Musk and other philanthropic entrepreneurs) was put toward trying to do the right thing on Earth, trying to change the trajectory of humankind to one which acts in allegiance with it’s home environment.

      The idea of expanding our horizons as other generations have done is, in my opinion, part of the problem of imperialism and exploitation that drives colonialism in the first place. Most tribal peoples, whose lifestyle encompasses most of human history, did not have the expansive mindset/paradigm, and kept largely within their own territories. This idea of expanding our horizons is relatively recent as part of humanity’s greater trajectory, and has been the cause of a vast amount of human suffering in comparison. If we feel the need to expand, there is plenty of abandoned degraded land to colonize and rehabilitate, plenty of people to assist to reconnect with the land and other species in meaningful ecological ways; we don’t have to go to Mars to do it. Instead of the culture that is ‘expanding’, ours is actually contracting into urban centers, while continuing to extract-at great economic and ecological cost-from the vast areas that it came from. While I agree with the romantic notion that we could go to other planets and other stars, this will be a terrible move without healing our relationship with our mother world. In so doing, we send our energy out into the greater universe as a wounded race/species, which only serves to propagate further destruction.

  3. Yes, Mars seems a bit extreme to me as well, not my cup of tea. I also think we need to be actively rejuvenating our culture here on Earth and recreating that interdependence and permanence that Permaculture promises. But to arbitrarily decide no one should go to Mars, or we have no business mucking about in the Universe is simply that, arbitrary. It has nothing to do with the interdependence of species in a pasture “proving” that there is no other way to live. As if the life forms of other types of ecosystems in forests and oceans and ponds (and Mars?) are somehow less than those of the pasture.

    My guess would be that the very fact this article got published is testimony to the “unpastoral” acts of its’ author.

    I get what Bill was saying in an interview when he commented that the older he got, the less he knew. For me that means that the broader our experience, the fewer our expectations. What is good and what is bad can turn on a dime, and the seeming extravagance of space travel today, may become a saving grace later on. Seems there’s enough variation in human nature to accommodate a wide variety of possible outcomes.

    1. There is a certain arrogance and irresponsibility that I feel is inherent in the notion that we should go to Mars and make it’s hostile environment habitable for humans, while at the same time we are making Earth which was and is much more habitable for humans than Mars ever will be, into a place that is increasingly hostile to humans. I would not personally propose that venturing to Mars is a terrible idea never to be done, I just think that to put forward the idea that going to Mars is going to somehow save humanity, whereas not going to Mars is putting us in jeopardy, is a backward thinking of immense proportions. I think that we have the opportunity to put our resources towards planetary and cultural healing, and that this should be done, and, for the benefit of the universe-must be done, before we venture to other planets or stars to put our life-ways there. I don’t feel that it is an arbitrary decision to be sure that humans are ready to take responsibility for mucking about in the universe before they blast off full of ego that they can do whatever they please, wherever they please. Creating an industry towards colonizing Mars also seems to me like a vast misappropriation of resources towards dubious gains when so much work is desperately needed on Earth.

  4. Going to Mars at this point in our life on this little planet would be impossible, just from the view point of all the resources needed. We need to find our real identity as one family on one home planet before we can possibly pull the resources together and focus on such a project. Permaculture gives the foundation for our material continuance on the planet, but we need a spiritual awakening much bigger than any techniques or technologies to become the beings we think we are.

    Interplanetary travel may well be on the agenda for humanity, but it cannot happen with a fractured politic of the kind we see every day on our viewing machines. It is a sign of our immaturity that we think it is such a proximate step in our development. We have to grow up and become benign and gracious as a people, before we dare venture to other worlds.

    Dave Lea – Fish Creek, WI

  5. I followed the demise of the Cassini probe with great interest. It turns out the very scientists who spent their careers on the project told us why humans will never go to another planet (unless ordered to by politicians). The scientists burnt the probe to a crisp to destroy any earthly contaminants that could destroy all living biota there (which the scientific community admits there is a lot of out there). They are also terrified that anything that goes and returns from just about any celestial object could return with some very nasty microbiota that might find the earth their dream petri dish.

    It’s time to admit that the idea of manned interplanetary space flight is a sham and a scam. Let’s cut the cord and put all that wealth and brainpower into cleaning up the mess we have created right here on mother earth.

  6. I believe the darker reason for wanting a colony on Mars is the very real fear that humans will destroy this planet, and that humanity’s plan “B” is a colony on Mars.

    Thinking even further ahead, humanity could also be wiped out by our sun going nova, or by an asteroid. Or a gamma ray burst. There are lots of ways that all life on Earth could be quickly eradicated.

    Therefore, to secure the future of humanity, we must, some of us, leave the planet. It starts with colonizing another planet, and from there to spreading to the stars.

    That is the real impetus behind the drive to colonize Mars and beyond.

  7. There will soon be eight billion people living on the earth. I suggest that we have plenty to do here; the logistical challenges of sustaining life on other planets is, at least to me, an expensive distraction.

  8. If we leave Earth for Mars, as stated above, it would take too much money, time, and energy to accomplish with literally zero good to come from the endeavor. Those resources could have been used to develop the technologies Earth needs here and now. (Clean unlimited energy, food infrastructure for everyone, etc.) Or course this means goodbye oil companies rule over the economy. A sacrifice that must be made for the people and the planet. Mars won’t do a damn thing to help the Earth, it would be a complete waste. What we need to do is fix this planet first, the only one capable of holding life. Earth isn’t too far gone yet, not even close. If we focus our efforts in the right way we can ensure a better future for our children.

  9. For someone like Elon, Mars is not a destination, but merely another project in a giant portfolio. He’s all about finding sustainable options and fixing the Earth. He’s know for Tesla, but he has projects including Hyperloop, a low carbon footprint, hyspeed public transport, solar panel roofing and high capacity batteries for free energy and less reliance on fossil fuels.. SpaceX and his plans for Mars (IMHO) are simply another means to spark innovation in a somewhat stagnant industry.

    Technology acquired from space research has helped so many non-space travel industries, it’s ridiculous to think that we shouldn’t be doing this. (for example https://science.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/1999/essd08nov99_1/). Without the ‘purpose’ of going to colonize the moon/mars or exploring space in-general, this research likely would never happened.

  10. None of the comments so far have captured why Elon Musk wants to go to Mars. Colonising Mars as Earth2 is simply a matter of a backup planet in the event that ours is devastated by an asteroid or other calamity. There is a very real chance this can happen again. It isn’t just another project in Elon’s portfolio, it’s is his main project and the reason why SpaceX was created in the first place. At the same time he wants to save this planet from destruction, and sees getting the human race unhooked off fossil fuels as a first step – that’s why he created Tesla. Some reading here:
    http://www.slate.com/blogs/bad_astronomy/2015/04/16/elon_musk_and_mars_spacex_ceo_and_our_multi_planet_species.html

    I think it would be foolish to think that Musk doesn’t understand the complex web of ecology. He is very much a systems thinker.

  11. Well said sir! The symbiotic relationships that have evolved here to make this world habitable are not very well understood by people who study those things, much less scientists from NASA whose aim at the moment, for food on the mission, is trying to grow tomatoes in space! They cannot conceptualize the fact that it is the billions of unseen microbia and bacteria in soil and their myriad connections that are the building blocks of plants such as tomatoes. Also the myopic obsession with annual food sources, tomatoes for instance, illustrates their narrow, industrialized view of sustenance.

    If at some time they were to realize that only perennials could sustain humans in an off world colony they may come to find out that the biota of Earth may not behave the way that it does here. A space station is not off world, it’s just higher up than everything else. It receives all of the energies coming into our planet from outside. Still, most of the experiments with plants fail miserably.

    Off world, seeds may not even germinate at all. The symbiosis with the moon, to name only one, is not taken into consideration by the would-be colonizers. Other forces, like gravity, which plants have evolved a relationship with over eons, will be completely different on Mars. The gravitational difference will have serious effects on human bodies as well, fatal I believe.
    Even here on Earth, people at Antarctica have their food shipped to them. If we are unable to design a sustainable colony right here on earth, how will an off world colony fare? Mars is a far more hostile and distant place than Antarctica.

    Mollison has a very poignant quip in Chapter 1 of the Permaculture Design Manual, “The experience of the natural world and its laws has almost been abandoned for closed, artificial, and meaningless lives, perhaps best typified by the dreams of those who would live in space satellites and abandon a dying earth.”

  12. Whether we think Elon Musk should or should not go to Mars to establish a colony is immaterial. He will, if he can. To which I say, fat chance! Mars is 95% CO2, which means all the air they breathe would have to be either brought along in tanks, or somehow synthesized from the CO2 in the Martian atmosphere (a process requiring a huge energy input, for which there is no known source on or anywhere near Mars). And the supply line from Earth is so attenuated that supplying such a colony would be prohibitively expensive, and could possibly exhaust an already strained national budget, diverting it from far more urgent local needs. And of course any mishap along the way, such as an errant meteorite or a blast of radiation from a solar flare, would be catastrophic for the entire colony.

    Don’t get me wrong. I am all for basic research in space science, since all such research has all sorts of unimaginable spinoffs. But this idea strikes me as wasteful and hubristic. If we wish to learn how to terraform other planets, let’s start with our own–by studying and learning what our Mother Gaia has already done here, and healing the wounds we have inflicted on her!

  13. The image that you describe of people as cancer cells on the Earth, is one I have shared since I was seven years old and watched an episode of a cartoon called Once Upon a Time Life. The show featured all the different cells in the human body as walking speaking independent beings going about their daily lives more or less oblivious to the processes they were part of. In this one episode, a boy, Peter, has leukaemia and we see his lymphocytes being born as babies, go to school where they are supposed to learn all about virus, bacteria and whatever else the body’s police need to know about. However, as they grow, these white cell cops become rogue bullies and start smashing up the place. The good cops are overwhelmed and the production of cancer cells goes into overdrive. Finally the boy gets chemotherapy, all the lymphocytes are killed and he gets a bone marrow transplant with healthy white blood cells from a sibling. Anyway, I like to put this cartoon on for my kids and I do tell them that we are just like the little beings in it. The Earth is our body and we have a function in it that is essential but we have forgotten it, just like the cancerous lymphocytes. My son once asked me if the Earth would need a bone marrow transplant of Martians, maybe Musk feels it is the reverse, but it will be pointless unless we can find some healthy cells to send…

  14. I think it is a very good practice to plant trees with your kids so that they can develop an appreciation for how long it takes for a tree to grow and therefore develop a greater respect for the great forests here on earth.
    Likewise I think it will be a very important step for humans to develop life on another planet. In the process we will surely discover many many aspects of life here on earth that are absolutely essential that we used to take for granted. I think it will help us to develop a greater appreciation and understanding of life on earth.
    Please if you would like to disagree with me, then plant a few trees that will take 100+ years to reach maturity, then make your post

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