The Best Thing for the Planet

Standing in my living room, I look out the window and notice a group of chickadees moving about the branches of the maple tree in my backyard. The tree, which now stands at about 60 feet tall (20m) is one amongst a large number of trees, shrubs, and plants that live around my house. Some were there when we moved in. Others were planted over the years. In that little forest, and throughout the neighborhood, animals and insects are roaming. On the ground, fungi and other fascinating organisms process organic matter and nourish the soil. Nature flourishes and in the process provides me with a quality of life that makes me healthier and happier. The sounds of birds take away my stress while the wind bristling the leaves at night brings me to sleep. But as I take a deep breath and let the colors of nature relax me, I am reminded that this “natural landscape” on which my eyes are feasting on, is in fact the result of a privileged reality.

Looking around me, and mentally scanning everything that I am surrounded by, nothing “is” from here. Everything I have, and need to survive and thrive comes from somewhere else: the material used to build my house and my car, the energy that powers that house and car, the appliances and furniture that furnish the house, my clothes, even the food in my refrigerator, the wine in the basement and the water that flows to every room, everything has an origin far far away from where I am standing. Even in a reverse manner, all the excess I create whether biologically or artificially, is also taken far far away. Which leaves me with this land and the freedom to do with it what I wish. That is why I have trees, shrubs, and plants instead of a field of wheat, a garden, a farm, a mini-plant to process the sewage, a manufacturing plant, a generator, and a place to bury my garbage. My capacity to import the intake and export the outtake has given me the privilege to beautify and protect my surroundings.

Since the beginning of our species, we have harvested the planet, extracted its resources, and transformed its landscape in an effort to support our expansion. That drive we have had in redefining what was possible and what was not has led us to amazing and priceless discoveries. But also has come at tremendous ecological costs. While I am sure there are many that deplore the current state of the planet and our relationship with it, no one in their right mind would trade all of today’s advancements for the way life was 500 years ago.

In general, the countries able to outsource their needs (most of the time at the expense of the people where those resources are) show an increase in quality of life and manage a better use of their land. By the way, this behavior is not reserved to humans. Nature is full of opportunistic and manipulative species. (Cuckoos, Frigates, Crows, Jays, Hyenas, etc) Now, while the Earth is like no other in the solar system, most of the minerals mined here can be found elsewhere, either on a moon, an asteroids, or a planet like Mars. From an environmental perspective, extracting resources in space, instead of on Earth is not even a debate worth having. Of course, we prefer harvesting from barren and foreign lands instead of over and through rich diverse ecosystems. The question is not if but when we can make that reality economically sound. And the sooner we can, the better it will be for everyone – most importantly for the Earth.

Our history is filled with episodes when we have pushed the environment to the brink of collapse. On some of those events, people learned, adapted, and became better. On others, people failed and disappeared. And the failure of one became the success of another. Nature is built on conflict and life expands until it can’t so it would be naive to think humans fall outside of this rule. The reason why we are soon to be 8 billion and about to venture into space is not because we are a bad species but because we have a capacity to rise when we fall. That is what we do best: we push and risk, we break and innovate, we correct and fix, we learn and reevaluate, in other words, we figure out how to adapt, survive and move forward. And that is exactly how Nature works. We are the best and worst of Nature.

Our expansion into space will not solve all the problems on Earth. Like any new technology or new discovery, it will create a new reality with its own pros and cons. It will bring relief to some issues while creating new unforeseen challenges. One thing is for sure, space exploration will increase Earth’s value and lessen the extracting pressure that currently threatens its stability and longevity. From the perspective of the planet, it really can’t wait until we start sourcing elsewhere. Just like a parent that has raised a child who is now an adult, it is looking forward for that child to go get its laundry done somewhere else. It is looking forward to some well-deserved peace and tranquility. So yes! Go mine the Moon and Mars!