Land Use on Mars

National space agencies, including NASA, ESA, the Indian Space Agency, and the Chinese space program, all have Mars in sight. Current Mars exploration programs all have human spaceflight in mind for the near future, and eventual plans for exploration often turn to thoughts of permanent settlement or colonization. Several private corporations have also declared their intent to visit, or even colonize, Mars within the next several decades. Whether or not they succeed in their planned time frame, it seems evident that humans have their eyes on Mars.

The patterns of history show us plenty of examples of how land resources have benefited the few over the many, or how conflict over scarce land resources have led to violence and war in extreme cases. Even more fundamentally, the amount of land on a planet is finite, but it is only recently that the practice of homesteading became impossible on Earth. Mars holds the potential for settlers to once again lay claim to open areas of unclaimed land, but is this the best policy for using the resources of space?

In a book chapter published in the Springer edited volume Human Governance Beyond Earth: Implications for Freedom, I discuss my research and thoughts in an effort that will lead “Toward a Sustainable Land Use Policy for Mars.” I discuss the constrains of existing treaties governing the use of space resources, and I present a few possible alternatives for what a land use policy on Mars might look like.

Sky & Telescope article: Where have all the aliens gone?

If intelligent life is common in the galaxy, then the fact that we have not yet observed any extraterrestrials raises the question: where are they? The upcoming March issue of Sky & Telescope magazine features an article written by myself and Seth Baum where we discuss how the conspicuous absence of extraterrestrials may relate to the problem of sustainable development on Earth.

Funny story, we were initially slated for the January issue (we even made the table of contents), but a printing error lost the last 10 pages which sadly included our article. Nevertheless, the Sky & Telescope staff are excellent people to work with and made a fast turnaround. Be sure to check out the March issue!

Planetary Messenger

At long last my philosophical novel is complete! A journey through space, time, and dreams, Planetary Messenger explores the social, scientific, and spiritual consequences of discovering another planet in the galaxy just like our Earth. I began this project as a NaNoWriMo entry in 2007 and continued editing and revising for a year and a half.

From the back cover:

Since the dawn of humanity we have gazed at the stars to ponder our existence. To the naked eye the skies are dark and lifeless, but what if, through a glass, we looked to the heavens and saw our mirror image, a twin Earth from afar? If we found our uniqueness shattered in the vast cosmic arena, then what, if anything, could we still hold sacred?

Planetary Messenger is now available either directly from Createspace or through Amazon. Thanks to all of you who have been part of my life so far and helped make this possible. Happy reading!

Where have all the aliens gone?

The Milky Way is old enough that a slightly more advanced civilization than us could conceivably have colonized the galaxy several times over by now. Known as the Fermi Paradox, the absence of extraterrestrial observations is often taken to imply either the rarity of life or the impossibility of interstellar travel.

In a paper published in the February issue of the Journal of the British Interplanetary Society titled “The Sustainability Solution to the Fermi Paradox“, we challenge this conclusion with the possibility that exponential growth is an unsustainable development. That is, even if an extraterrestrial civilization has colonized the galaxy, it would have done so through rapid unsustainable growth and collapsed upon reaching a physical resource limit. Not enough time has yet passed for a sustainable growth civilization to colonize the galaxy, so there is still promise in the search for extraterrestrial life. Furthermore, though the absence of extraterrestrial civilization does not imply the unsustainability of exponential growth, it does increase the probability that humanity should transition to sustainable development in order to prevent its collapse. A more detailed writeup is available on the Lifeboat Foundation blog.

In other news, NASA’s Kepler Mission successfully launched yesterday evening! Over the next three years, Kepler will observe 100,000 stars in a patch of the Milky Way in search of Earth sized planets. This is the first mission with the capability of detecting Earth at a distance, so with any luck we’ll soon have a better idea of just how common small rocky planets are in the galaxy.